She spies him in the deepening dusk of a Wales evening - a lone figure of breathtaking strength and masculinity, his handsome face branded by a secret pain. For single mother and teacher Anne Jewell, newly arrived with her son at a sprawling estate in Wales, Sydnam Butler is a man whose sorrows - and passions - run deeper than she could have ever imagined.
As steward of a remote seaside manor, Sydnam lives a reclusive existence far from the pity and disdain of others. Yet almost from the moment Anne first appears on the cliffs, he senses in this lovely stranger a kindred soul, and between these two wary hearts, desire stirs. Unable to resist the passion that has rescued them both from loneliness, Anne and Sydnam share an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking. Now the unwed single mother and war-scarred veteran must make a decision that could forever alter their lives.
Contains mature themes.
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This is a wonderfully touching book that is unwaveringly focused on the relationship of Anne and Sydnam, without much drama or action to distract from the main story. I had wanted to listen to this book for a while, but I try not to start in the middle of a series. Accordingly I started with the first in the Quartet series, Simply Unforgettable, and it is still languishing in my 'Did not finish' pile. I found the lead characters in that story boring and irritating (and all too forgettable), and I worried that this book too would not live up to my expectations. I am delighted that my worries were for nought.
Unlike many in the genre, this book did not revolve around a 'misunderstanding', but real psychological problems resulting from severe traumas. Both Anne and Sydnam had suffered greatly in their past, and had worked hard to provide themselves with peace and stability. After the turbulence of their pasts, they are contented to live uneventful, safe, quiet lives, alone. However, when they meet, they challenge each other's supposed contentment, and each begins to question whether they really are happy with the lives they have made for themselves. Are they alone, or are they lonely?
The development of the relationship between Anne and Sydnam is slow, painful and realistic. They both have to face uncomfortable truths which they have not in the past been strong enough to confront. They both have self-esteem issues and think themselves not good enough for the other. Although their past traumas are different in nature, it has given them a unique insight into the other, and they instinctively understand aspects in the other's character that others do not. They challenge and support each other to overcome the barriers preventing them from being truly happy. The ending is incredibly moving.
The only thing that I find jarring in this book is the ease and speed with which Anne forgives her family. Having dedicated the whole book to the slow building of the relationship between Anne and Sydnam, I don't understand why Balogh decided that Anne could forgive the incredible betrayals of her family, and the decade-long estrangement within a couple of paragraphs. The way Anne's family have treated her for ten years is despicable. They come across as very weak-minded, and caring more about what the neighbours think than the health and wellbeing of their daughter and grandchild. They have done nothing in all that time to assist her, even from afar.
Then, when Anne (without any invitation or encouragement from any of them) goes to see them, her father actually tells her to her face that she must have invited her rape by trying to attract her rapist. He then says that if she had wanted to, she could have stopped him, then caps it all by saying that it is the man who is always blamed!! Then he says that while he is sorry for his actions (or lack thereof) he had been concerned about what the neighbours would say, and perhaps, after all, it was better that she had not faced the gossip. AS IF SHE WAS NOT GOSSIPPED ABOUT AND OSTRACISED EVERYWHERE SHE WENT AS AN UNMARRIED MOTHER WHO HAD NO FAMILY TO SUPPORT HER!! Her mother, brother, sister and brother-in-law/ex-fiancé are all pathetic characters who do nothing but beg forgiveness which they don't deserve. This had me absolutely boiling with anger, and yet Anne apparently turned around and forgave them all because she wanted her son to know his family. Why you would encourage your child to rely on people who would turn their backs at the first sign of trouble is beyond me. Sydnam, who had forced her against her will to visit her family, did nothing to support her in the confrontation. For me this who scene was unnecessary, and really compromised the trust they had built up between them.
Other than Anne's useless family, there are some good supporting characters who do not overpower the book. Most of the Balogh I have read is the old Heyer-like stuff, and so I am not conversant with the more modern Balogh-world, but I gather that most of the supporting characters, such as the Bedwyn brood, are from her other books and series.
Do I really need to say anything about Rosalyn Landor's performance? Exceptional as always! Landor is such a safe pair of hands, that you can sink into a book, and not worry about unsustained characterisation, poor pronunciation or dodgy accents!
- D. Mark