When Nicola Coldyngham was young, she tagged along after her brothers and their friend, Fergus Melrose. Though he never gave her the time of day and viewed her as an utter nuisance, she worshipped him and even fell in love with him... until the day he utterly broke her heart. To protect herself from greater pain, she swore to have nothing to do with him, even though their fathers had made an agreement to betroth the two to each other.
Now, years later, Nicola lives on her own in the house she once shared with her father and brothers. Many men admire her and wish to court her, but Nicola views them all as friends and doesn't want to give up her enviable position as the sun to which the male flowers all look and turn their heads to. But when Fergus Melrose turns up and says he will marry her to fulfill his father's last request, Nicola wants nothing to do with him, and her brothers warn Fergus that winning her will be a great deal of work, for she only views him with contempt now.
Nicola finds herself frustrated when Fergus begins showing up everywhere she is, and beats her at every concievable contest she essays. He tells her several home truths about her male friends, including Ruford, the one she is closest to, who believes her to be not a virgin and only playing at the role. He also says he will bed her soon, with her permission or not. Oh, and did she know Ruford is married, with children?
Nicola's calm, ordered life is soon crumbling around her ears when she tracks Ruford to a tavern he frequents and finds out the truth of Fergus' claims for herself. But she earns the man's enmity when she accepts Fergus' suit, and finds herself kidnapped by her former "friend" with orders that she be sold to a flesh peddlar in Venice. She is nearly raped by Ruford and must deal with the shame and embarrassment that provides. Fergus only makes it worse when he assumes the beating she gives Ruford at her own hands shows she is unaffected by what has happened to her. It is only after she collapses in tears that he learns she is not as strong as the mask she pretends to, and that he must give, and not simply steamroll over her in his quest to get her to marry him.
Mixed in with this is Nicola's discovery of a half-sister her father concieved with a nun from the nunnery next door to her home, a half-sister sent to be raised by Fergus's father in Scotland. The nun, now the abbess, is a long-time friend and confidant of Nicola, and her death impels Nicola to track down her sister in Scotland.
I spent a lot of time not really liking this book. The author makes Nicola out to be extremely naive and bad at making decisions, because all of the men she is friends with are apparently all out merely to get into her pants, and Nicola never senses this. Except for the state of Nicola's emotions, Fergus is always right and always able to beat her or best her at whatever she attempts, whether swordplay or racing horses. I never like these sorts of book because the balance of power in the relationship is too uneven. The heroine has no area she excels at in comparison to the hero. He seems to be better than her in everything, and I find that unrealistic at best. In this book, Fergus only makes one mistake, and Nicola makes all the rest. It seems the character has no true friend who doesn't want her for themselves, with the exception of the abbess and members of her family or relatives.
Yes, she's pretty and feisty, but what does he really see in her? Someone who can't even make real friends who aren't users who want something out of her? It baffles me when authors write romances like this. I don't find one character being wrong about everything to be romantic at all, with the implication that once she marries Mr. Always Right, she'll have someone with perceptions she can trust to make decisions for her. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It's certainly not a situation I would consider romantic to find myself in, and since romance is supposed to be about identifying with the heroine, I find it hard to do that in a case like this also. I'm supposed to identify with someone who can't be trusted to make friends with others? Huh?
But I am sure that there is an audience for books like these because they continue to get written and published. If this sort of story appeals to you, go and seek it out. Otherwise, run, don't walk, as fast as you can in the opposite direction. You will be just as irritated as I was with this book.