My rating: 4 stars / I really liked it
Sophie Dupont, daughter of a portrait painter, assists her father in his studio, keeping her own artwork out of sight. She often walks the cliffside path along the north Devon coast, popular with artists and poets. It's where she met the handsome Wesley Overtree, the first man to tell her she's beautiful.
Captain Stephen Overtree is accustomed to taking on his brother's neglected duties. Home on leave, he's sent to find Wesley. Knowing his brother rented a cottage from a fellow painter, he travels to Devonshire and meets Miss Dupont, the painter's daughter. He's startled to recognize her from a miniature portrait he carries with him--one of Wesley's discarded works. But his happiness plummets when he realizes Wesley has left her with child and sailed away to Italy in search of a new muse.
Wanting to do something worthwhile with his life, Stephen proposes to Sophie. He does not offer love, or even a future together, but he can save her from scandal. If he dies in battle, as he believes he will, she'll be a respectable widow with the protection of his family.
Desperate for a way to escape her predicament, Sophie agrees to marry a stranger and travel to his family's estate. But at Overtree Hall, her problems are just beginning. Will she regret marrying Captain Overtree when a repentant Wesley returns? Or will she find herself torn between the father of her child and her growing affection for the husband she barely knows?
I enjoy marriage of convenience stories in particular, and this one had the added twist of Sophie being in love with her new husband's brother. While I felt compassion for Sophie and her difficult circumstances, I didn't admire her weakness for Wesley and the choices she initially made. She reveals herself as a strong character however as she makes the best of her situation and works to become loyal to Stephen. He was definitely my favorite character in the story, a Mr. Darcy type that has vulnerabilities and a gentle nature behind his gruff exterior, and a secret longing for his wife. In fact, there are a few Austenesque phrases that jumped out at me as I read, which was fun :) The plot really revolves around Sophie and her feelings for the brothers, so it was like waiting for the hammer to drop until Wesley returned and created more conflict. There are several family members and friends who are distinct in their personalities and create a wonderful cast for Sophie to interact with, some holding secrets of their own... A wonderful book with themes of accountability, sacrifice, and forgiveness.
(Thank you to the author and Bethany House Publishing for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review)