Catriona Cameron was used to being the most beautiful woman in the room. She hid her less than innocent past and her selfishness behind her beauty and was being courted by a Duke when she was in a horrific carriage accident that left her badly permanently scarred and limping. After she recovers from her physical injuries, she still carries emotional scars so deep that she may never recover, donning a thick lace veil, becoming a complete hermit in the gilded cage of her rooms, and even shunning food. So her aunt Dina enlists the services of an Edinburgh doctor to try and reach the decent and caring Catriona she was just starting to uncover and whom she knows is still inside the damaged shell. But because of Catriona's understandable dislike of doctors, Dr. Mark Thorburn will have to masquerade as a footman to get close to Catriona, to help her to accept her new reality, and to bring her back to life.
Mark Thorburn is not only not a footman, he is actually the grandson of an Earl and will one day inherit the title himself. But he is uncomfortable with his class' tendency to rest on their inherited wealth and so he's pursued his career as a doctor, finding an affinity for the profession and a passion for healing. He treats not only the monied class but also donates his time to the underserved and desperately poverty stricken who live in the slums of Old Town Edinburgh. Although she is not one of his deserving charity cases, he is fascinated by Catriona's case and in fact by the woman herself. As he pretends to be Catriona's new, stubborn footman, he enjoys sparring with her and watching her become a more introspective, caring person, less appearance driven, and more outwardly focused. Catriona is as attracted to her handsome footman as he is to her but they have secrets and issues to overcome before they can possibly find happiness. And in addition to the truth of Mark's identity and Catriona's need to move beyond her fear of exposing her appearance to others, an old acquaintance will reappear, hellbent on destruction and revenge, threatening Mark and Catriona's relationship before it even has a chance.
The characters of Mark and Catriona are interesting, quite different than the usual romance hero and heroine. And while Catriona has already been described as being very in touch with her sexuality and her desires, promiscuous even, definitely unusual for the time period given her unmarried state, she and Mark are drawn to each other very quickly and completely and yet it is hard to understand why. She's a brat and snotty to him when they first meet, hardly an aphrodisiac, although she does mature some as the book goes on, becoming less of a selfish and spoiled character and that helps make her character more appealing than she starts out. The revenge plot line is far fetched and less engaging than that of Catriona realizing that others live so much less well than she does and that her ruined looks are really a superficial concern. Coming into her own as a decent and compassionate person, worthy of the good doctor, is far more interesting than any demented madman storyline. But the theme of revealing one's true self, either because of a well-intentioned ruse or because the actions of the past have obscured it, is an interesting one and handled surprisingly here. The sexual tension between the lead characters may not be as thick or convincing as in many romances but the uniqueness of turning the Beauty and the Beast trope on its head will happily engage most historical romance readers even without it.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.