My rating: 4 stars / I really liked it
Lydia King knows what it's like to be in need, so when she joins the Teaville Moral Society, she genuinely hopes to help the town's poor. But with her father's debts increasing by the day and her mother growing sicker by the week, she wonders how long it will be until she ends up in the poor house herself. Her best chance at a financially secure future is to impress the politician courting her, and it certainly doesn't hurt that the moral society's president is her suitor's mother. Her first task as a moral society member—to obtain a donation from Nicholas Lowe, the wealthiest man in town—should be easy . . . except he flat-out refuses.
Despite appearances, Nicholas wants to help others but prefers to do it his own way, keeping his charity private. When Lydia proves persistent, they agree to a bargain, though Nicholas has a few surprises up his sleeve. Neither foresee the harrowing complications that will arise from working together. When town secrets are brought to light, this unlikely pair must decide where their beliefs—and hearts—truly align.
I really appreciated the compassion of the main characters in this book. Both Lydia and Nicholas have strong ideas of the most effective way to improve society and the circumstances of the poor, and their differences complement each other as they compromise a little and teach each other a lot. The problem of prostitution is addressed head-on, and many attitudes about it are represented in the various community members. I appreciated that Lydia and Nicholas learned from each other's unique way of solving problems while still sharing a common goal of helping those in need. The first half of the book was a bit slow paced for me, but the author did an excellent job of providing a foundation for the events that came later in the plot where there was much more happening and the suspense is heightened. I loved that Lydia is a voracious reader! She uses her love of books to connect not only with Nicholas but other women from different walks of life. Nicholas definitely reminded me of Mr. Thorton from North and South (but more more philanthropic)- a hard, unyielding exterior but a heart of gold inside, just trying his best in the way he knows how. The feelings between Lydia and Nicholas are a slow simmer through most of the book but when they finally express their feelings it is full heat! Their special moment is descriptive with emotion, words, and action, and it made the book for me since I'm one who reads for the romance ;)
(Thank you to Bethany House Publishing and the author for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review)