Publication date: June 9th 2015
My rating: 4.5 stars
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Ralph Stockwood prides himself on being a leader, but when he convinced his friends to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, he never envisioned being the sole survivor. Racked with guilt over their deaths, Ralph must move on . . . and find a wife to secure an heir to his family's title and fortune.
Since her Seasons in London ended in disaster, Chloe Muirhead is resigned to spinsterhood. Driven by the need to escape her family, she takes refuge at the home of her mother's godmother, where she meets Ralph. He needs a wife. She wants a husband. So Chloe makes the outrageous suggestion to strike a bargain and get married. One condition: Ralph has to promise that he will never take her back to London. But circumstances change. And to Ralph, it was only a promise.
Chloe Muirhead chances at love have been dashed. Disgraced through a family scandal she’s basically ineligible for marriage, and at the age of twenty-seven she’s well on her way to becoming a spinster. Staying with her mother’s godmother, the Duchess of Worthingham has provided a escape of sorts, out of sight and mind from London society.
Ralph Stockwood only wishes he was ineligible, because he has no desire to fall in love or form any emotional attachment. His emotional scars from fighting in the Napoleonic War weighed him down with guilt, and for a time he didn’t even want to live, not feeling worthy. Marrying and letting someone in doesn’t sound appealing at all, but as the heir to the Duke of Worthingham Ralph must provide an heir for the title. With the current Duke, his grandfather, aging and ailing, he must find a wife soon.
When Chloe hears of Ralph’s predicament, she makes an offer of marriage with no expectations of emotional ties or love from him. She provides an heir, takes care of the house and Ralph can go on about with his life without much changing. Oh, how naïve we can be, right?
I adored Chloe! I admired her strength and courage, her determination to rely on herself to take what happiness she could from life and not to expect others to give it to her. She wasn’t bitter when Ralph was distant or pulled away after opening up to her, because she never expected him to in the first place. She counted every amount of tenderness he offered her as a happy surprise, but didn’t want to put too much stock in it and have her heart crushed by relying on it.
Ralph for his part was surprised when he found himself yearning for his wife and the affection and comfort she provided. Also, that he desired her; it didn’t really register how beautiful she was until right after they married. These feelings scared him:
And his very longing for the night, for her body, for her, had almost kept him away. For frankly he was a bit bewildered and more than a bit alarmed by his eagerness.
Ralph was happily surprised that Chloe enjoyed sex just as much as he did. It would be impossible not to form some emotional bond, not to fall in love when you allow someone in enough to enjoy sex on a regular basis, especially if you sleep with them, and grow attached to their presence in your bed every night. Chloe and Ralph were sincerely good people and therefore saw the good in each other, and that admiration along with physical attraction inevitably turned into love, much as neither wanted to admit it. Chloe and Ralph, with all their intentions of keeping at arm’s length emotionally, provided each other the support and motivation to face their fears and confront their individual baggage from the past.
For a beautiful historical romance that will tug at your heart, and fill you with joy, Mary Balogh’s Survivors’ Club series cannot be missed. Only a Promise was a gradual build toward love, full of small steps forward and some occasional steps back. Both the progress and the digression pulled at my emotions! While the story is part of the Survivors’ Club series, it’s not necessary to read the other books to enjoy Only a Promise. I did read Only Enchanting, the book previous, and completely loved it, though.
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