REVIEW: Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas
Dear Ms. Kleypas,
Last fall, I read Cold-Hearted Rake, the first book in your new series set in the Victorian era. While I enjoyed the book, I thought the main romance was somewhat overshadowed by the secondary storyline about the heroine’s sister-in-law, the aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel, and the hero’s friend, department store business magnate Rhys Winterborne.
In Cold-Hearted Rake, Helen and Rhys met when he was invited to the Ravenels’ country estate. On the way there, a train accident took place, one that left Rhys injured and blindfolded. This situation irritated the normally active Rhys and only Helen’s gentle ministrations could soothe him. When he recovered, he and Helen became engaged, but after his demanding kiss scared her, their engagement was broken.
Marrying Winterborne, Rhys and Helen’s story, picks up where Cold-Hearted Rake left off. Rhys had offended Helen’s guardian, Devon, with his angry threat to Kathleen, the woman Devon loves, so when Helen decides to mend their broken engagement, she has to sneak out of the Ravenels’ London house.
Helen arrives at Winterborne’s, Rhys’s magnificent department store, and demands to see him just when Rhys is brooding over the loss of her. When she gently refutes Rhys’s assumptions about her – that she doesn’t want to marry him, or is only there because of his wealth — Rhys finally gives in to her demand to resume their engagement, on one condition: that she allow him to ruin her first.
Rhys needs to sleep with her to ensure that Devon will allow the marriage to take place, but he also wants to be with Helen almost more than he can bear. He is afraid that he will be too rough and scare or traumatize the delicate Helen again.
So when Rhys and Helen steal away to his living quarters above the store, the slow seduction that follows is scorching hot, at least, if an innocent heroine’s first experience of intense passion is your jam. The sex is wonderful, but Helen nonetheless insists on a five month long engagement, and Rhys is not certain he can stand to wait that long or that something won’t come between them in the meantime.
There are still Devon and Kathleen to confront and persuade, then another injury to Rhys, and a falling out between Rhys and his friend Tom Severin, but above and beyond those events, the thing that truly threatens to separate Helen from Rhys is the discovery Helen makes, of a shocking secret about herself—one that she fears could put Rhys off from marrying her forever.
Going into this book, one of my chief concerns was Rhys’s portrayal. I wasn’t thrilled with the way he came across in Cold-Hearted Rake, specifically, the description of him as “swarthy” and rough, both of which seemed to be connected to his Welsh, middle class background.
While these issues were still present in Marrying Winterborne, they bothered me less in this book. The word “swarthy,” which I dislike intensely, since I associate it strongly with many a stereotypical portrayal of characters in various books, thankfully appears here only once.
Rhys is still portrayed as rough relative to the refined Helen, something I’m not keen on, but he’s rounded out and shown to be capable of great restraint and thoughtfulness, which makes him more appealing and less of a coarse commoner stereotype.
But it is Helen who is the true heroine of this story, most especially for the way she ultimately deals with the fallout from the secret about her own background. Late in the book, Helen takes on a daunting task on her own. At that stage, Rhys isn’t on the page for around 12% of the book, which is unusual in today’s romances, but I didn’t mind it one bit, because it gave an opportunity for Helen to grow, develop, and really shine.
The chemistry between Helen and Rhys is terrific, with hot sex scenes and tender moments of vulnerability shared between them. I did want Rhys to take at least a few moments to wrestle with Helen’s secret when it came out – after all the build up, I felt that more of a reaction was needed.
Maybe it was because I was more absorbed in this book than in some of the author’s other works, but I didn’t feel that it lacked spontaneity as I’ve sometimes felt about other Kleypas novels. The second half was especially satisfying in that regard.
A nice cast of secondary characters surround Helen and Rhys, from Rhys’s female secretary, Mrs. Fernsby and Dr. Havelock, the irascible store physician with a soft spot for her, to Rhys’s businessman friend, Tom Severin, to another doctor, this one an intrepid woman, Garrett Gibson, who comes close to stealing the show.
Kathleen and Devon make another appearance here, and while I really like them as individuals, I still find them less interesting as a couple than Helen and Rhys. Helen’s sisters, Cassandra and Pandora, have an immature streak that isn’t entirely believable, but I think it will be interesting to see how they grow out of it in the next two books.
Interesting details about Rhys’s department store, Winterborne’s, make it come alive and show what a magical place it is to characters who have never shopped in a department store before. I also liked the use of Rhys’s favorite peppermint creams.
A couple of the sex scenes between Rhys and Helen had me doubting whether these scenarios would have taken place in the real Victorian England.
Spoiler (plot spoiler): Show
While this wasn’t a perfect book, I had a lot of fun reading it, and plan to be there for Devil in Spring. B/B+ for Marrying Winterborne.