Marah and Brendan O’Flynn started life as the pampered (albeit illegitimate) children of an Irish lord, only for things to turn rough when he decides to dump his mistress for a younger model. Their mother returns to the career she knew, the stage, and her children carry on that tradition after her death – but it’s a hard life and the pains of childhood betrayal have left bitter scars and Marah eases the pain by leading on wealthy young men just to spurn them like her father did to her mother. Her latest conquest ends in near tragedy as she believes he’s shot himself over his lost love and she and Brendan flee for safer territory, not knowing that Julian asked his uncle Nicholas de Montaigne Chantale to exact revenge for Marah’s bitter perfidy.

Fast forward a couple of years and our pair is preparing to land in California at the height of the gold rush, but Brendan loses at cards and the winner convinces them to let Marah pose as his niece (it really is too complicated to explain why) and they’re off to a large California rancho for a little game of bait and switch, although when Nicholas shows up unexpectedly that ole’ house of cards might come tumbling down around them.

After more trials, tribulations and misunderstandings in San Francisco, Marah sees the writing on the wall and decides to return to London.  But, this being a romance novel and all events happen and she lands on the same boat as Nicholas headed towards New Orleans. Our pair is soon swept up into a mystery over the death of Nicholas’ father which resulted in Nicholas being banished and disinherited (no spoilers, it comes out very early in the book).

This was a highly enjoyable romance and one I had a hard time putting down. Originally published in 1979, I didn’t find it dated at all, nor overly endowed with heaving bosoms, forced seduction, rape or other tropes you’re used to finding in the old school romances. The sex was well done and rather tame by today’s standards, and you’ll have to wait until page 200 or so before you get any of that. Yes, there are some misunderstandings that keep our pair from declaring their true feelings, but again not as bad as the Big Misunderstandings you’ll find in some romances. Marah’s character was just right, a hardened gal with a good heart underneath it all, definitely not TSTL nor one of those run-out-into-danger-in-the-middle-of-the-night-so-the-hero-can-rescue-me kind of heroines. As for Nicholas? Be still my beating heart, a good gentle man and not OTT in the alpha-male department. I felt the early parts could have used some judicious editing, but that’s a common complaint about these older historical romances. I plan on hunting down and reading more from this author and kudos to Sourcebooks for giving these old gems new life.

FTC, advance copy courtesy of publisher. Thank you.