Kate, once known as Kitty, took a vow to never marry despite the social expectation that all girls of a certain age must settle down into their identities as wives. Kate has her music, and her aunt in India has secured her means of passage so that together, they may live out their years as single women. Well, Kate’s mother does not particularly like this plan, and she lays down a bargain disguised as an ultimatum: unless Kate can secure (and reject) three marriage proposals within her visit to Blackmoore (a friend’s estate that she has always wanted to visit but, up until now, has never been invited) then Kate must submit to her mother’s every whim.
Knowing how capricious her mother can be, this is a dangerous thing to agree to, but if Kate succeeds, she is free to go to India. And leave she must, if she is to ever have the life she craves outside the confines of her current existence.
The steps Kate finds herself forced to take to achieve her ends slowly turn her into someone she abhors, and in attempting to find a means to keep herself together and yet win the prize of her independence, she strikes another bargain with equally disastrous implications — she promises her childhood best friend, Henry, that if he will only propose to her three times, she will reject him summarily.
She knows he is promised to another, and she considers that if they agree in advance that such proposals and rejections mean nothing, then he will not be hurt or impacted socially. But the Blackmoore estate has its own sort of magic, and it sheds light on things perhaps better left in the dark. For some things, once exposed, cannot be made secret again, and too much is held in the balance of a confession.
Ms. Donaldson employs the English language like a conductor of a symphony brings a collection of musical instruments to life through the artful direction of the musicians. She is the rare author who can invoke a scene with just the right amount of description, enthralling us with her vivid and poetic world. (Fans of her debut novel, Edenbrooke, will be delighted to discover Blackmoore. Though be warned: her fiction may be addictive.)
The love story was brilliant — it has the pacing of the best sort of historical romance, where tension is captured in looks, the merest of touches, and in so many things left unsaid. It also contains charged stolen moments alone, familiar contact and closeness that takes on a shade of Something More, and that lovely tenderness that comes from two people who are best friends and love each other. The proposals are wonderfully captured, and as each one progresses we hold our breath — the ending is inevitable, for Henry is promised to someone else and Kate has promised herself to India and a different sort of life, but we hope for something miraculous anyway, that can allow for the things we wish could be expressed to finally come into the open. The story delivers, in a way that steals our breath for an entirely different reason.
Occasionally, the weave of past and present storytelling was hard to follow, but I enjoyed the overall sense of slowly discovering not only what kept Kate and Henry apart, but why. Throughout, we watch the shift from the girl once known as Kitty, to the young woman who only goes by Kate.
As a “Proper Romance” of Shadow Mountain (the publisher), it fulfills the goal to deliver a clean, but complete, romance. Sometimes with sweet romances I wish I had seen a little more expression, something in between the chaste kiss (or scarce handful of kisses that leave me asking “what kind of ending was that?”) and the hot-and-heavy bedroom scenes, but this was perfect. Even when it became clear that the only way to move forward meant moving away, I wasn’t disappointed. The story was true to itself, and yet ultimately satisfying in all the ways I wish for in a love story.