Almost Heaven (Sequels #3) - Judith McNaught My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book. This one's got 4 parts.

Note: It's quite big! Many might not like big reviews but I stand by mine since I've done a very thorough one which includes the story in general, quotes and my own whinnings thrown in here and there! :)

After my 2nd reading of the book...

This book so hilarious in some places, I had to put my face in the pillows so that my parents don't think I've gone nuts! But, I'll come to that point soon.

At the beginning, we meet Elizabeth, who's a countess by birthright, trying to scrimp away for living. How come a countess fell into such a dire situation? Really bad luck, that's how! Poor girl. Elizabeth, who was the Ton's reigning beauty one and a half yr ago at her debut, now is an outcast. It's a long story. She was orphaned young but had a half-brother, who was fond of gambling and losing money. This leaves them in serious monitary troubles. So, the brother Robert, comes up with a plan to give Elizabeth a London debut and then marry her off to a rich, titled man. One of their mother's friend, one Lady someone graciously accedes to sponsor her. This lady had two daughters; elder Charise, who's now living the sophisticated life of a young Ton widow and younger Valerie, who made Elizabeth believe she was her friend but ultimately becomes the reason behind her downfall. As a sheltered girl, Elizabeth had no idea of peoples' jealousy and avarice. The people in Havenhurst, her home, were good people which made her too trusting. And, she pays a dear price for putting that trust in the wrong people when she was enjoying her debut in London. On one weekened houseparty given by Charise, she meets Ian, our hero. Everyone is either in awe of him or contempts him. Ian has a mysterious past, part Scottish and very handsome. He's rumored to be a notorious gambler and a rake. So, when Valerie convinces Elizabeth (who was already "the success" of the latest season with her fair beauty and guileless charm) that she must extract a promise from Ian for a dance as a dare, Elizabeth not knowing what she's doing, accepts. And, then starts her series of bad luck and a lot of misunderstanding.

Sometimes I really hate such ironical situations. After a few encounters and once supporting Ian in a bad situation while he was gambling, Elizabeth won Ian's interest. I liked the dancing in the garden scene. Then, they meet in a cottage on Ian's persuation. It was a very intriguing scene and they end up doing a bit more than kissing. There, as Ian said the lines like "we're already falling in love" and while Elizabeth was confused about her feelings, said (have to quote this one):

“A gently bred Englishwoman,” she shakily quoted Lucinda’s lecture. “feels nothing stronger than affection. We do not fall in love.”

His warm lips covered hers. “I’m a Scot,” he murmured huskily. “We do.”

... I had a leap and a flutter in my stomach. I believe I started liking Ian just then on my 1st reading. In this, I had the very same feeling which was amazing in comparison to what I've experienced in the other JM HRs. So, their meeting at the cottage leaks (Valerie again) and then, they're caught in a greenhouse by Robert. Elizabeth, being scared of her feelings about Ian and his marriage proposal along with the thoughts of her duty to Havenhurst, asked Robert to come and take her away before the houseparty ended. So, they're caught in a trap, lead by two notes none of them penned and a duel follows where Robert ends up injuring Ian. Robert then convinces Elizabeth that Ian is a scoundrel and a lowlife and more. Elizabeth is disillusioned and begins hating Ian. But the scandal costs her her engagement with one viscount. A week after the duel, Robert disappears. She returns to Havenhurst, lost and sad but not broken in spirits. She stared moving on and was doing well, until now. Her uncle, who is now her guardian and ever resentful of her and her dead father, comes up with a plan to marry her off, again. He picks up the name of her old suitors and pens them letters seeking matrimony. Only 3 replies come and her uncle orders her to spent time with them and decide whom to marry. One of the suitors were Ian and knowing this, Elizabeth was shocked. Then, with her childhood friend Alexandra's help (the heroine of "Something Wonderful") she plans to thwart all 3 of these unwanted suitors.

Ian is a brooding hero, who is also very intelligent. He's quite reserved yet very perceptive. And, he also shares the boorish trait of judging people too easily of any other JM hero. So, after that debacle, he thought he's better off without that flirt and greedy debutantee. He's now engaged to be married, rich as Croesus and about to be announced as the rightful heir to the Stanhope dukedom. His childhood was simple yet warm; his father, a marquess married for love and was then disowned by the Duke. His mother was the sister of a Scottish vicar. Ian never cared for the titled as her father and dislikes his grandfather a lot. The rumor that he's the illegitimate (by disowning) heir to the Dukedom has been circulating for quite a while now, maybe since his parents and younger sister's death in a fire. Ian never felt like answering his grandfather's letters on doing his duty. But recetly, his grandfather has threatened to go ahead with the announcements. Ian is annoyed but still doesn't care.

So, in a mishap of letters by one of his secretaries, he finds Elizabeth at his doorstep in Scotland, where his old childhood home is. He came in this small cottage to find some peace. His only companion is a middle aged man Jake. When Elizabeth's uncle's letter arrived, Ian dismissed it as a joke and asked the secretary to ignore it. But, later he understood it wasn't her fault. He doesn't want her to stay at all. But, Elizabeth reluctantly explains some of her troubles to him and he, also very reluctantly, grants her some time. Elizabeth felt quite humiliated learning the fact that Ian originally never meant to sent a reply and then by Ian's cold, rude behaviour towards her but she has to stay here until her coach arrives. She's also quite terrified of what her uncle might do now.

Now, I really loved Lucinda; Elizabeth's duenna, a stiff-backed spinster with high morals and a Lady to boot! Underneath her graff exterior, she has a soft heart which is revealed by some of her musings and affections she has for Elizabeth. I like Jake too. It was fun to read the way Elizabeth's attempts to thwart the other two suitors. But, now I'd like to come to the point when I said the book is HILARIOUS in places. It started just after Elizabeth and Lucinda arrived at Ian's cottage. Everyting from the word exchanges from all the parties, the way Lucinda took charge over an ill-behaved horse to Jake's own musings, even his 'words' with Ian's horses were hilarious. It was SO good to read! :)

Ian's proving to be a whole different sort. He's not only brilliant, he's a hard working, self-made man, which I admire quite a lot.

As the story progresses, Lucinda and Jake takes off to find servants to cook and clean but after a little accident, they're stuck in the village. Ian and Elizabeth of course knew nothing about it, also the fact that Lucinda has a plan to bring these two together. Ian and Elizabeth was left alone for awhile and then, in one of their arguements, they figured what really happened that long ago weekendparty and Valerie's treachery. While it was all sorted out, Elizabeth still didn't know Ian isn't just a gambler but very rich while Ian still saw her as just another spoiled rich girl, who has no substance underneath. But they end up kissing afterwards. That's how Ian's uncle, vicar Duncun finds them. Duncun is kinda confused about this situation, also vexed about Ian's repeatedly ignoring his grandfather's summons. Duncan is here because Lucinda sent him to 'chaperone' them. He tries to understand what's Ian's relationship with Elizabeth but gets some vague answers from both parties.

Elizabeth is confused about Ian's attitude towards her. Now, he's cold, rude and distant and the next he's kissing her senseless. And reading about Ian's character has been a pleasure to me. He's excessively brilliant with anything he puts his mind to. He's one of those individuals others like to admire and respect. He's also adored everywhere for his confidence, exceedingly goodlooks and magnetic personality. And, then he might be the heir to a dukedom. Elizabeth is no different to all these deadly weapons, except the heir part since she has no idea about that. Elizabeth finds an old treehouse, which helps her understand a younger Ian. Duncan talks about him too. But, Elizabeth tries her best not to let them know about her situation and makes every effort of show she's what Ian thinks of her.

Then there was this scene in the night when Ian asks her to 'walk' with him. They talk about their past and then he kisses her senseless, again. Ian is also very disgusted about this 'uncontrollable lust'. He's almost engaged, doesn't need this incinvenience at this moment, specially from a girl like Elizabeth [ref: his misleading thoughts on her]. He's just dismissed Duncan's pleading on talking to his grandfather (his grandfather is sick, dying probably) as he did his feelings for her. It's like this, Ian dismisses something and packs it away to some distant place in his mind and does everything to forget about it. He doesn't like inconveniences and measures every step he takes, except when it comes to Elizabeth *oh the horror!*. I was in awe myself and felt for him when I read about how he reacted after knowing his parents and younger sister's death. I have to say, so far whatever I've read about Ian makes me only admire him more.

Then oneday, Elizabeth's coachman arrives with a summon from her uncle and they leave in a hurry. But before that, unknowing to Elizabeth, Lucinda gives this tirade which makes Duncun understand about Elizabeth's situation. When Ian comes back from hunting, Duncun, who was also angry at Ian makes him see reasons such as: he needs to offer for Elizabeth to save her and for that he must make good of his grandfather's offer because Elizabeth's uncle prefars anyone with a grand fortune and a grander title. Oh boy, this was one manipulation I couldn't find any fault with. Ian cares for his uncle so listens to his reasonings. He also felt tremendous guilt and sadness for what he put Elizabeth through.

Ian meets the Duke at his estate. I especially liked their 1st meeting and word exchanges. It's like looking at a mirror, his granfather and him; from their looks to their attitude. And maybe that's why the Duke is extremely happy to see his grandson in person. Later, Ian finds out (thanks to his great-aunt Charity, who was mentioned in "Once and Always") that the Duke's been keeping tracks of him since his day one through a detective, with reports and portraits. Ian reads them all. Was there everything in those reports Ian? :p Anyhoo, though he was irritated at first that he resembles his grandfather almost to a fault, after knowing about his failing health, Ian finds himself reluctantly getting worried.

In the meantime, Elizabeth it trying to buy some times as she's with Alexandra now. Though Ian knows most of the things about her, she still doesn't know about him. Alexandra is trying to pursue her to attend a ball. Later, the dowager tells Alexandra that Ian and Jordan have been fast friends for ages and ran with the same 'wild crowd' when they were younger... ermmm, I was hoping it wasn't the case [ref: my review of "Something Wonderful"].

I can't stop talking about this book, Ian is so damn good, so yummy and so so good ... See, I've started repeating myself which means I'm kinda losing it here. lmao

So far there have been so many beautiful scenes and most of it initiated by Ian that I'm rendered speechless because I've fallen for him hard. I've already mentioned about his genious and hardworking life, the kind of man he really is but underneath he's such a lovesick puppy, ah! I adore him. And he's in love with Elizabeth bad. Ian goes back to London when Elizabeth was attending a ball with Alexandra. He, at first, didn't know where she was but soon finds out from Jordan when he unwittingly tells Ian that his wife is helping out a friend. And, the plan Ian makes to make it all upto Elizabeth was so good, I was grinning ear to ear!

But Ian has his insecurities too, some of it has to do with the matter that he was involved in Robert's disappearence. No, of course he didn't kill Robert and dumped his body! He just put him on one of his ships to keep him away because after the duel, Robert tried to kill him twice more. Though I think this wasn't the right way, I agreed with Ian's reasoning. Ian is scared that upon knowing, Elizabeth'll hate him. When Elizabeth learned that Ian's already settled everything with her uncle, she was furious. The proud beauty didn't want her marriage to be a pity or charity. Ian soon dissuades her from her misunderstandings and proves how pleasant this marriage is going to be for them. The scenes as they toured Havenhurst left me very warm and fuzzy. The things Ian tells Elizabeth or his thoughts about her was just too wonderful to read. One quote I have to mention:

...Elizabeth glanced up at him with an embarrassed smile. “What is the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen?”
Dragging his gaze from the beauty of the gardens, Ian looked down at the beauty beside him. “Any place,” he said huskily, “where you are.”

Then Elizabeth informs him that she'd already hired a detective to trace Robert. This leaves Ian a bit tensed since he'd already done the same himself, had plans to let her know when he got some information himself. There's also a scene with Alexandra and Jordan where Jordan tells Alexandra things about Ian, loyalties of the Scots (my kinda guy) and also that Ian is his cousin. I don't get this dislike Alexandra, remember your husband? Though it seems he'd improved, he was not even fit to lick Ian's shoes before IMO! It's not likely that Ian lived a saintly life, there are mentions in the book but Ian's affairs are left very discreet; no names and stuff, no flaunting the whore and blackmailing the spouse either. I prefar it that way. Also, after reading the way Ian feels for Elizabeth, I saw no reason to dwell on those.

I loved the scene where Ian tells Elizabeth he loves her and he knows she does too. This was where Ian invited Elizabeth to visit his estate. He wanted to see if Elizabeth knew about his wealth or not and when he understood that she didn't, Ian just couldn't help himself. Some lines I adored:

“Because,” he said quietly as she stood up, “until you walked into it, this was an ordinary garden.”
Puzzled, Elizabeth tipped her head. “What is it now?” “Heaven.”

Elizabeth says I love you back to him on while dancing in a ball, it was very beautiful! Then trouble arises when the detective Elizabeth hired, a Scot hater to boots, gives her some information about Robert and Ian's involvement in this. Though the basic information was correct, the way he tried to convince Elizabeth that she better not marry Ian was too much for me. I felt like killing the man and I'm so glad that even though a bit confused, Elizabeth stood firm and married him.

Now, life's good for both of them. Their wedding night could've been another debacle like "Once and Always" since Elizabeth's informer on all things physical love was Lucinda! I adored Ian for handling the situation so very gently and being very understanding. And, then there's one of my most favorite scene of this book, which I remembered from my 1st reading. The scene takes place in Ian's London townhouse, where a committee Elizabeth is a part of, held their discussion on hospitals. Elizabeth hoped that Ian would help them with his suggesions. By now, she knows that Ian is a genious after two incidents ... LOVED THOSE! ... So, in the middle of that discussion, while all of the others are discussing various matters, Ian's gaze starts to move all over Elizabeth and ... God, I can't describe the scene the way it's in the book but it was so damn good and I loved it so much, I had to mention it.

There are things happening and they'd probably create a lot of misunderstandings but for now, Ian and Elizabeth just can't seem to get enough of each-other and who can blame them? Certainly not me! I'd feel the same if I were married to someone like Ian. hmmmm... *dreamy sigh*

I'm in tears because I'm really gonna miss Ian and this book. God, so beautiful! Last few chapters were SO good, scenes, the climax and dialogues alltogether ... This is the JM I wish to read, this is the book that'll be my most favorite JM HR.

Already mentioned that Ian was scared of Elizabeth's finding Robert's whereabouts out. Disaster struck as that coward comes back while Elizabeth was at Havenhurts. He convinces her that he's the victim here while Ian made him suffer. Elizabeth, still in shock to see the whip marks on Robert's back, immediately believes him and does everything he asks for. She sells her jewellery. She makes sure when Ian comes to take her home, they quarrel so that when she disappears, no one suspects anything. She doesn't even leave a note. And, I was SO mad! If you loved him this much Elizabeth, wasn't it fair that you talk to him at least? Have you forgotten that Robert lied to you before? But, I didn't stay angry for long because she proved she's worthy of Ian soon afterwards.

Ian was shocked. After the arguement that really hurt him, her disappearence was the final blow. After a thorough search, it was deemed that Elizabeth might've gone with a lover. I couldn't blame him at all for coming to that conclusion. He is hurt, betrayed and that proud man dealt with it as he always does, going numb and try move on as if this never happened.

Now Elizabeth, who was hiding from Ian with Robert, through a series of incidents finds out Robert's lies and also, that he's obsessed with ruining Ian. She learns Ian's been charged with murder, might hang for this. Now, she's desparate to get to him. Even after everything, Elizabeth gives Robert money to runaway and I had to agree with her. Back in London, no one seems to believe Elizabeth, not even the Dowager Duchess. The courtroom scene was excellent, very gripping. Elizabeth handled the questioning well. After winning the case, Ian leaves without saying a word to her. Elizabeth had to confront him and there's another extraordinary confrontation between the two takes place. You just can't not love this scene and the rest that follows.

Elizabeth tries her best to communicate with Ian, who, of couse, keeps ignoring her. Then he does the awful thing, sending her divorce papers. Elizabeth knew she couldn't survive this (I was in tears by this time) and goes away again. Few months passed by without any sign from her, with Ian realising he can't survive without her either. I loved his thoughts in those scenes. That man blew me away with his devotion and yearning. I know he's a bit extreme when it comes to treating hurt feelings but everything else about him is superb! Ian knows in his heart that he's finally pushed her away completely. To seek some much needed peace, Ian decides to go back to that cottage in Scotland. And there, he finds his answers...

I'll leave the last little part and the epilogue alone. This book was just delightful! I wish JM would write more HRs such as this one. A huge 5 stars and I'm keeping that rating. What a book! *teary sigh*