My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
My 1st Annabel Joseph book but it left me conflicted about the rating. It was a pretty uneven read for me. There were some scenes I really loved, love scenes I found intense and real but there were some other things, I found, were either unbelievable or just plain boring. One was the dialogue between the H/h of this book; I had a lot of problem with those. They were too sweet, sugary sweet... Just sappy to TBH. I didn’t really like it. I mean it’s lovely to hear endearments but how many times of ‘dearest’ you can take? But, I did love James a lot and how crazy he was about Lily. I also had some troubles with Lily and her immature behaviors. No, I wasn’t annoyed with her and yet, not very impressed either.
Lily’s family just abandoned her for a ‘crime’ she didn’t even commit. Her father, who was a head gardener to a Lord’s family, has just been robbed off his job because of Lily’s ‘questionable moral behavior’. Lily is the oldest of 5 sisters, all of whom are named after some flowers, goes to show their parents’ love for flowers. Her mother died giving birth to the youngest one and Lily has been taking care of her sisters as well as accompanying her father to work in that Lord something’s garden. But, a few days ago, one of the sons rapes her in a secluded area of the garden. Lily didn’t even know she was being raped because she thought even though she didn’t want it, she agreed to something when she went with him. I didn’t know what to think of it. She kinda blamed herself for this and hoped no one would know. Though she’s beautiful, at 21 and being a daughter of the commoner, Lily knew she had no real prospect of marriage to speak of. But somehow the words leaked, Lily’s father got fired. Then, in a rage, the coward threw her out of the house, telling her to earn her keep ‘on her back’. Lord but that made me sooo angry! Lily didn’t know what to do. The only trade she knew was of gardening, something she loved as well. So she tried to get a job somewhere far away from London. She scraped whatever little money she had with her and moved. This day, she was trying to sell her pots with seedlings but to no avail. She was tired, hungry and on the verge of tear when one woman showed her the manor house of a reclusive Earl, called ‘Lilyvale’. The name struck her and she was hoping that this little co-incidence would bring some positive results. When she knocked, the butler kind of went wide eyed seeing her and took her immediately to the Earl, though Lily kept saying it’d be ok to talk to the housekeeper only. The Earl isn’t anything she was hoping for or imagined. He’s young, maybe in his late twenties, very good-looking, kind and exceptionally polite to her. Lily felt some tensions arising when he gazed upon her but his face give nothing away. He not only bought her pots for an exuberant price but also asked after her and appointed her as his gardener. When Lily came out, she decided she had to save money so she detoured to the Earl’s stable, thinking to spend the night there.
James couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Lily. She looked like a twin of his erstwhile wife Lilliana, only Lilliana had no twins and her family is a noble one and not a commoner. He’s in a fix at the moment because his new wife jilted him for her lover and ran away. James doesn’t like scandal but he was also thinking of Lilliana’s younger sister Chloe, who is a very nice girl and not yet out for a season, doesn’t deserve what would befell them once this scandal is out. So, James was now living the life of a recluse, ‘showing’ the Ton that he’s enjoying his new life with his wife. He let go most of his servants except for the very trustworthy ones such as his longtime butler Hanover and his almost demented mother, Mrs. Gertrude, the cook. His life is boring, staid, he doesn’t like it but as I’ve mentioned before, James is the nicest guy on the block. He was never the rakish type, has always been the responsible son and wanted to be a responsible and loving husband as well. Lilliana was his choice; he thought he was in love with her, only to be slapped back with rejection. Oh, that was quite sad; I mean I totally thought Lilliana was a fool. Now, he’s quite shocked to see Lily but not sure how it’s possible that they look so alike! Then, a plan comes to James; a plan of deception, only for the time of Chloe’s season and the discovery of Lilliana’s whereabouts in the Continent. Lily would play Lilliana and in return, he’d recompense her nicely with the flower store she so wants to set up once she has enough money. Then Hanover informs him that she was sleeping in the stables. James brought Lily in and comes forth with his proposal. Lily was pretty confused and a bit suspicious of James at first (she was thinking was ‘ruined’ written on her face?) but soon, she knew that he’s harmless and agreed to this scheme. She was given a room but James asks her to move into the Countess’s room once he hires new servants so that no one gossips.
Like this, their new life starts. It was more of a narration of what they did than conversations, which is why I couldn’t believe it much when they started feeling something for each-other. I mean, you have to read some conversations between the two to understand where their new found friendship stands, rather than have it narrated. I got it that it was very pleasant. Lily was angry at Lilliana on James’s behalf because the woman did come off as vain, self-centered and an arrogant twit. What did James found in her in the 1st place I have no idea. But, now as he compared Lily to her, he saw his mistakes. Soon James felt he was falling for Lily. Lily was also very fond of James so they give into their mutual desire. It also helped that in Lilyvale, everyone except Hanover thinks they are married. James taught her to read and to write, among other things. I wasn’t much impressed with the 1st love scene. Lily wasn’t surprised when James wanted to bind her hands. Oh, huh? After what happened to her? And James was very happy with Lily and their sex life (his musings tell us that his taste made his earlier endeavors with his past lovers rather uncomfortable) that he’d do anything for her now. He was one insane SOB and couldn’t get enough of her. Lily reciprocated wholeheartedly. Their time was passing so nicely that I was bored soon. Er, well, sorry about that. I was hoping for much exciting stuff and that might’ve made my expectations high.
Then, throughout the book, I was very confused about the state of James and Lilliana’s marriage. The blurb said she was the fiancée. But in the book, I got that they got married and stayed for a very short while after which she ran away with her lover to the continent and married (?) him there. Then, in one scene, James reveals that the marriage was annulled afterwards. So was it consummated because I know a consummated marriage can’t be annulled? How long was she there before she ran away? If the marriage is annulled then why throughout the book James kept waiting for Lilliana to come back and ‘take’ her place (as his wife)? HOW? WHY? I understood his reason for the deception but I didn’t like it much because I knew it’s gonna make trouble, they both would end up hurting. Then again, the book was based on this deception thing and how his and Lily’s relationship grew in between. I already talked about the dialogue which annoyed me a lot, marred my fun, mostly after I got to learn of James’s taste for BDSM. It felt so out of place. Maybe it’s just me but it did. I was also amazed at how Lily had no problem with sex, given the fact that she was raped. It was James who made her understand that she was raped and it wasn’t her fault. I know James has been nice to her, except for in bed with some of those BDSM plays. I was pretty surprised that Lily never freaked out by James’s choices and bed plays. She just evolved into this siren (oh, puhleez!) who was doing anything and everything that James asked for! I gotta give you that the BDSM was rather tame by the measure of some other books out there but I couldn’t believe Lily just fit herself into James’s choices so easily. Lily did felt immature at times, when I compared her with James’s experience and with her thoughts and actions as well. Even when they had misunderstandings, I thought Lily was being immature. It was mainly because when I started the book, somehow I expected her to be a mature and level headed heroine. Another thing that bugged me was, Lily was illiterate when she first came to Lilyvale but in about 2/3 months, James taught her so well that she was reading Erotic books! Sorry but had me rolling my eyes more than once.
Their idyllic existence (or rather an existence based on falsehood) came to a halt when the season was upon them and they had to go to London. Lily didn’t know how she’s going to face Lilliana’s parents. When she finally did, it was embarrassing to say the least. They knew about James’s plans and what their daughter did, yet that didn’t stop Lilliana’s mother to try to humiliate Lily by insinuating that she’s greedy and whoring herself for money and position. Yes, both Lord and Lady Holt got the level of their intimacy from their looks and touches. James fought on Lily’s side but he hurt Lily nevertheless when he kept on inquiring about Lilliana. I mean this is what I thought immature. She knew the terms, she went to his bed knowing the consequences, yet she’s feeling mad and jealous, getting hurt, wanting that Lilliana would never return (she even said that to James once) etc. etc. James also felt vulnerable when Lily wanted to know about her own family, of how they’re faring. So, as nice as he was, James hired a detective to look after her family and bring news, secretly of course knowing that Lily’s father disowned her. The stress of London was taking a toll too. They have a fight over Lilliana and their impossible situation once. This is the part I thought was a bit exciting, as in something was happening finally! James’s words on how their relationship would go on after Lilliana’s return suggested that he wants to keep Lily as his mistress, which hurts her. Of course Lily wants marriage and she angrily tells him she won’t let it happen. Trust me, I believed in James’s feelings for her. I knew it was genuine because the way he begged her not to leave her no matter what did tug at my heart. I felt his desperation, which made me wanna hold him tight. And yet he couldn’t bring himself to break the society’s tradition. Then, after a week or so Lily decided WTH and they were together again and having sex. Well, whatever! These two never really had any kind of real conflict. It should’ve been great but considering their quite impossible situation, I found it hard to believe that they could be so lost in each-other.
Anyway, it was soon proven that the shy and apparently reserved Lily can’t match Lilliana’s vivacity, not to mention her so-called sophistication. After much confusions, thoughts and hurts, James finally decides that after Christmas they’d retire to Lilyvale once more and marry Lily ASAP, society be damned. James can’t think about Chloe or the Holts’ situation anymore. Lily knew nothing of his plans BTW. So on the Christmas day, they pay one last visit to the Holts when disasters, one after another, strike. First it was the singing. Lilliana was a great singer, while Lily can’t sing at all. This makes trouble for them when Lilliana’s grandmother pressures Lily to sing for them. And then, after that debacle, it had to be Lilliana to create the next piece of catastrophe by returning at the same moment. Now it was all out in the open because she didn’t care that her extended family members were present in the room when she burst in and start whining away about her ‘husband’ and all the misadventures in the Continent. James sent Lily home before he took care of this mess. Lily misunderstood James’s words, thinking later on he’d only to send her away. So she did the stupidest thing possible and left, just leaving a note. At the Holt’s place, the investigator who was looking into Lily’s family, comes to see James and gives him a very bad news that there was a fire and all of Lily’s family perished in one night. WOW! I was shocked and really saddened by this. Lily, when she left, at first goes to see her family and learns of tragedy. Since she had no communication with them and was living outside London, she never heard of the news. How she really coped with it afterwards was very conveniently left off or at least that’s how I felt. But later on, Lily surprised me with her reaction.
After taking care of the mess that is Lilliana, James comes back home to find his Lily gone. He takes the investigator with him and runs out to search for her. It takes more than a month for him to find her out but it was just a happenstance because James, beforehand, couldn’t trace Lily at all and went back to Lilyvale thinking he’ll never see her again. Lily, meanwhile, was still in London, working in a seedy area of the big city. But the inn she was working at was not that bad and the proprietress let her earn her food and stay. Anyway, you can guess James found her out, yada yada yada and all the misunderstandings were sorted out. But what surprised me the most was how cool Lily was about the fact that her whole family has perished. From her part, I saw no grief of that proportion and when she saw James, they had sex that very night... I mean I don’t know, 5 people of your family died at once in a horrible fire while you were having fun (no matter the circumstances). She may have learned of it 2 months after it happened but wasn’t it supposed to have the same horrible impact? Wasn’t she supposed to grieve a little? I felt NOTHING of the sort from her. She seemed so ‘ok’ with it all! I mean, you may have had trouble with your father but God, 4 of your sisters died too- the youngest being, I don’t know, 10 or something? This was so unbelievable that I was astonished! I didn’t care for the other more scintillating discovery on Lily’s birthright. I kept on thinking how easily she moved on even as I finished the book.
Even James thought (before she left) that she would be so distraught and because of it, he won’t propose to her right away, giving her time to grieve.
Simply unbelievable! 3.75 stars.