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Helen Ravenel isn't the first frail, but strong beauty that Lisa Kleypas has written about: there's Evie from The Devil in Winter, there's Win from Seduce Me at Sunrise, there's Tasia from Midnight Angel -- and Kleypas always pairs them with very strong, very capable men. It's a great pairing that always produces very interesting chemistry, as the couples explore the dichotomy between strong/fragile, virile/ultra-feminine, dark/luminous -- but Kleypas never does a disservice to her heroines by suggesting that they are less than their male counterparts -- she always shows that, hidden beneath that delicacy and innocence are cores of steel that do not bend or break when tested.
Rhys is Welsh and a businessman, which makes him an outsider of Helen's world, and Rhys has always felt that he needed to prove himself to society. Despite his wealth and success, Rhys feels he still doesn't have what he needs to validate himself: society's acceptance and approval. In the early chapters of the book, Rhys remembers how he thought Helen was repulsed by his size, his lack of upbringing, etc, and he resented her for it.
Despite my excitement (and love) for Cold-Hearted Rake, it took me a while to finally buy and then read Marrying Winterborne, the second book in the Ravenel series. Here's why -- I wasn't certain there was a story left to tell here: Rhys and Helen are attracted to each other, and got engaged very quickly in the first book -- yes, there was that kiss and the grand misunderstanding that ensued, leaving Rhys to believe that Helen had broken off their engagement, and for Helen to wonder what she did wrong. This picks up a few weeks after the first book, and Helen and Rhys are trying to negotiate the new terms of their newly-restarted engagement. I wondered what sort of tension and obstacle Kleypas would come up with to test our couple's love and resolve --
I didn't like the bargain Rhys and Helen struck -- exchanging sex for the engagement, and there were times I felt that our couple only "communicated" when they were physically intimate. Outside of the bedroom, their conversation didn't seem to progress beyond Rhys's hatred for Albion Vance (the villain in this story) and also how he feels he isn't gentle enough with Helen. In return, Helen's only role seems to be to placate and assure him that he takes very good care of her. I understand that Helen wanted to delay the wedding, so that she could observe the mourning period for her brother, but, they way they behaved in society (traveling from Eversby Priory to Ravenel House in London, and then back) and then going out to Winterborne's didn't seem characteristic of people in mourning. Yes, it added to the tension of "will they or won't they (get married)" -- but it felt more like a convenient excuse rather than a sincere desire to me.
The obstacle Kleypas placed in the path of our hero and heroine is Albion Vance -- I'm trying to recall if this enmity is something that was established in the previous story, but I could see why Helen was hesitant to talk to Rhys about Albion Vance. A lot of the conflict is really internal: Helen carried the burden and guilt of her secret, which she knew, could potentially destroy her relationship with Rhys.
What I did like is how Helen gradually becomes more and more assertive as she spends more time with Rhys. I love how she ventured out on her own, with the help of Dr. Garret Gibson -- and how, eventually, she realizes that she is her own person, and that she doesn't need her family or Rhys to define who she is. Her one great act of courage came at the end when she had to make a difficult decision between pursuing her own happiness, or to continue as she is -- and be content in making others happy.
The standout characters here are Dr. Gibson and Mrs. Fernby -- both employed at Winterborne's. Mrs. Fernby is the unblinking, and terribly loyal secretary, who handles all of Rhy's affairs. It's amazing she handles everything so capably, and that she doesn't cower to Rhys -- she voices out something that I kept thinking about: that Rhys ought to do the decent thing and protect Helen's reputation. Dr. Gibson is a revelation -- literally and figuratively -- I look forward to reading more about the new doctor Rhys has hired in future books. (There seem to be some sparks between her and Tom Severin.) ^_^
Marrying Winterborne is the second book in the Ravenel Family series. To find out more about Lisa Kleypas and her books, click below: