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Marcus Westruther, the Earl of Beckenham, is known by most ladies as a great lover, but, to one lady, Georgie Black, he is known simply as Marcus, the one who got away. They grew up in neighbouring estates and had been engaged from a young age and both moved with a comfortable certainty that, someday, they would be married and live happily ever after. When the time came, however, they had not counted on how age would affect them or how London society would change them, and so, two people who have always gotten along now find themselves at odds with each other.
While his cousin Jonathon's story was about a man finding his way back to life, Marcus's story is about finding his way back to love. The idea of a "one true love" is the prevalent theme in this story and Marcus and Georgie were lucky enough to have found it. One would think that this couple have been favoured by destiny: good looks, wealth, estates that would be united by their marriage, but, the more powerful message that Christina Brooke's story sends is that love takes more. It is a lesson that would take Marcus and Georgie six years to learn.
From the first chapter, one already gets the idea that their encounters seem a bit repetitive and tedious from the way Georgie anticipates Marcus's reactions to her behaviour and she braces herself from it. It's a vicious cycle where Georgie would behave scandalously, and Marcus would chastise her about it, which would lead Georgie to act even more scandalously out of spite. It was quite frustrating to read this, especially as these scenes are interspersed with Marcus's own recollections of the Georgie he knew -- and I think this was the point Brooke was trying to make. Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Marcus could not make sense of Georgie. He knows he cares about her deeply and knows that she is just acting out because he knows the real her. But he can't figure out how to deal with this Georgie. History does repeat itself, when, after six years, the original players that set forth the terrible argument that caused their broken engagement all find themselves in the same place and in almost the same situation.
It was painful and bordered on irritating seeing the interaction between Georgie and Marcus and I couldn't decide who I was more annoyed with: Marcus and his pompous ways or Georgie and her rebellious ways. I think both of them needed to change their attitude a bit if they were going to have their happily ever after.
When their engagement is broken, it comes as a source of relief, but also a cause of much heartache for the two of them. Now what? They've live their entire lives knowing they would be together -- their future was fixed ... and, now, suddenly, it isn't. For the next six years, both exist in a half-life, without acknowledging it: Beckenham avoided balls, fearing he might encounter Georgie there and Georgie retired to the country, waiting to reach her majority and gain her financial independence. Both pretended that they were no longer affected by the other -- but they were not fooling anyone: everyone around them knew that they were still battling the aftereffects of each other.
Oh, God, it was awful and humiliating and ... and wonderful to see him.
- Chapter 1
* * *
The intimacy of standing here in a bedchamber with the Earl of Beckenham as he performed his ablutions made Georgie ache for what might have been. If only she hadn't been so rash, so stupid. If only he'd loved her. If only he'd understood.
She knew a corrosive, blinding hatred for those women who had enjoyed him.
He belonged to her. He always had.
- Chapter 2
This story felt like an unlit firework, full of potential energy, full of unrealised passion -- it is a small, silent, seemingly harmless thing -- held in one's hands, one is keenly aware of the explosive light it can make once it is lit. You could feel it in every interaction between Georgie and Marcus: the attraction between these two is undeniable. It is baffling how two people who share the same love for the land, for horses, for the outdoors and for each other could clash so frequently.
It would take a house party, with some of London's most eligible ladies (including Georgie's sister) to help the "star-crossed" lovers. (Are they star-crossed? I'm not really sure because all of what stands between the two of them is internal.)
Georgie's sister, Violet, is a subplot in this novel -- and I felt a bit misled by the sinister tone of the letters that Violet was exchanging with her good friend. It hints at a man that Violet has been secretly meeting and one wonders who this is, that Violet could not openly claim him as a suitor. I can't say that the author presents one relationship as a foil for the other, because I didn't feel it to be that way. What Violet's mystery does is contribute to the already-heightened sense of anticipation in this story: the feeling that something is going to happen and soon.
Brooke works on building up the reader's (and her characters') emotions in this story. I was holding my breath for a long time, just waiting and waiting and wondering if this scene or the next would be "the moment" when things would fall into place for Marcus and Georgie, but, when the moment finally came, I felt a bit disappointed -- that's it? The lightbulb moment comes too subtly and too quickly that, if you blink, you might miss the implication of that moment. Still, it was a beautiful, heartbreaking moment. (Read Chapter 15)
While Marcus and Georgie do get their happy ending, I can't help but wonder beyond the story -- Georgie really affected Marcus all those years and his cousins really haven't warmed up to her. Georgie will continue to be beautiful and draw attention to herself (even when she doesn't mean to) and I wonder if their marriage will really solve that problem.
Did I enjoy this story? Yes. Did I enjoy this as much as I enjoyed Jonathon's story? No. Will I continue to read this series? Definitely yes. The next instalment features Xavier, the Marquis of Steyne and the teaser for his story at the end of Marcus's book is amazing.
The Greatest Lover Ever is book 5 in The Ministry of Marriage series and book 2 in the Westruthers sub-series. To find out more about Christina Brooke and her books, click below: