This book has two things going on in it that I cannot stand. But this book is proof positive that a truly talented writer can make anything work. What are these things of which I speak? A blackmail plot and a widow. A historical widow. Blech. But Mary Balogh makes them work! How does she make it work? With the magic words: Friends to lovers! Are we sick of that yet? LOL
Sophie Armitage has been a widow for three years. Her husband died at Waterloo defending the Duke of Wellington and another soldier. Considered a war hero, the ton was eager to embrace his widow and Sophie has mingling with their kind ever since. One fine spring morning, walking in the park with her niece, who is about to make her come-out, Sophie runs into her 4 friends, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. During the war, these men kind of took Sophie under their wing and she did the same for them, taking care of them and feeding them. All the wives were sort of half in love with all of them and for Sophie her favorite was always Nathaniel Gascoigne, Baron Pelham. Pleased to see her friends after so many years, Sophie accepts their invitation to dinner later that week.
Nathaniel has been playing country squire for the last two years. After the war, he and his friends lived it up and partied hard. He did tire of it and eventually went home - with all his sisters underfoot. Now he's in town with his youngest sister and his niece. He plans to marry them off and enjoy bachelorhood. He is also looking forward to satisfying a hunger he spent two years ignoring but he finds visiting a brothel a cold thing and same with finding a willing actress. He wants something between equals and his friend decides to find him a widow.
Coming in for tea after dropping Sophie off at home after that dinner party, Nathaniel relaxes in Sophie's company and revels in the fact that he's found her and he's glad for it, for Sophie was always someone who's company he enjoyed. And then something happens:
He should go. He had stayed long enough. Too long. He must have been there for at least an hour. But he was warm and cozy and sleepy again. And there was something particularly pleasant lulling his senses. He had been largely unconscious of it. He breathed in deeply, moving his head a little closer to her.
"That perfume," he said. "You always wore it, Sophie. I have never smelled it on anyone else before or since."
"I wear none." She smiled. "It is soap you smell."
"Then other women should discover your secret," he said. "It is the most enticing perfume I have ever smelled."
They smiled at each other again, just as they had a dozen times during the hour. Except that this time something happened. A mere moment of silence. A locking of eyes. A sudden tension.
A sudden shockingly unexpected sexual tension.
And they're off!
Sophie and Nat come to an understanding with no one the wiser. Meanwhile, Nat's friend Eden is still trying to find him a willing widow. This scene I'm quoting from is one of my favorites. It's the four friends going for an early morning ride in the park and it's filled with inside jokes and a jovial humor that enriches characters, even secondary ones.
"Lady Gullis was there, Nat."
"Lady who?" Nathaniel raised his eyebrows.
Rex whistled. "Miss Maria Dart as was, Nat," he said. "Remember? Before Waterloo and afterward too?"
"The one with - the bosom?" Nathaniel asked, waggling his eyebrows.
"And the hips and the legs and the ankles," Rex said. "Not to mention the lips and the eyes."
"She remembers you Nat," Eden said. "When I started to talk about you, she set a hand on my sleeve and said, 'Lord Pelham, is he the one with the eyes?'"
They all roared with laughter, Nathaniel included.
Something about that scene just makes me smile right along with those guys. Like we're getting a peek into the little boys club or something. It definitely adds to the story, to see Nathaniel's side of things.
Besides the romance and the friendships, there is also the blackmail. This didn't really bother me. Blackmail plots in the past used to drive me insane, but this one is a good one I think. And it really shows what friendship really means to these characters. Fo sho.
The ending lags a little bit, but that's only because even after the blackmail stuff is resolved, Sophie and Nat still don't realize they're meant to be together. But they have caring friends that can see beyond the end of their nose and strive to set things right.
And that's why I'm giving Irresistible 5 stars. The romance is a total score but what made this book so much more enjoyable reading it again was discovering how important the secondary characters were. This story was so rich and everyone was important, not just Sophie and Nat. I just want to give this book a big hug. LOL