Received for review thanks to Joni at Paragraph Books and Books With Bite
Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple is no longer considered a lady by her peers. Stripped of her title when she and her brothers were declared bastards as her father's first marriage came to light, she is now posing as her father's nurse in order to observe the man who's ruined her life.
Ash Turner has been seeking revenge on the Dalrymple family since Margaret's father the duke denied him any assistance when he was younger despite his desperate pleading. Now, Ash has moved into the ducal manor to set his affairs in order as he is confident Parliament will rule in his favor and give him the dukedom despite the legal protests of Margaret's older brothers. He expects his retribution to heal the wounds inflicted by the duke's negligence, but what he's not expecting is Margaret herself.
Margaret tries to hate Ash for what he's done, but she finds herself not as immune to his attentions as she wishes to be, making her duty to her family difficult to fulfill as she does not wish to betray the man she's coming to care for. She knows when her secret is revealed, Ash's affections will be withdrawn and he'll reject her for what she's done and who she is, but she's simply unable to let it stop her from experiencing the man who makes her feel important as a woman whether she's a servant or a lady.
Unveiled reveals to us a time in history when wealth and social standing were the sole defining characteristics of a person's worth, their entire being summed up in a fancy title and a series of numbers on paper. In the midst of the glittering superficiality of this world to which few of us can possibly relate, Ms. Milan creates for us two protagonists who draw us into their story with ease, and we read utterly enraptured as Ash and Margaret's conflicting goals begin to shift and alter as their relationship progresses, but the weight of society's expectations is ever present and a constant reminder of the time in which they live. We plow recklessly forward with the two of them, hearts in our throats as we are painfully aware of the pressure resulting from their respective stations and watch helplessly as it wreaks havoc on their romantic entanglement.
One of the shining strengths of this story is male lead Ash, a man who unequivocally knows what he wants, sets out to claim it, and achieves his purpose with a charm and grace expected of a gentleman of the time, but also with a lack of artifice and mock dignity so many of the social elite thoroughly embrace as they hide their selfishness and greed behind a good family name. Ash is nothing other than honest, his intentions toward Margaret sometimes slightly less than honorable as he makes his attraction abundantly clear, but his feelings never waffle and his affection never abates despite outside familial and societal influence. Though he is plagued by a need for vengeance for the suffering endured by his two younger brothers, it's always those he cares about who come first. He often hurts others in his haste to please those he loves, but it's a flaw we ultimately understand and can't entirely hold against him, especially when the men of influence around him gladly sacrifice friend, family, or foe to gain more sure footing among the privileged.
So many times in romance novels, the focus on the male and female protagonists is so singular secondary characters become merely fleeting references instead of flesh and bone individuals who earn our loyalty and affection as much as the main characters do. This is most certainly not the case in Unveiled, as the emphasis on family dynamics and the joys and pains that result from interacting with those who know us best, and therefore can hurt us most deeply, is prominent. Ash's relationship with younger brother Mark and Margaret's connection to her invalid father are as emotionally taxing as the sensual turbulence between the two of them, creating an additional level of intimate knowledge we didn't necessarily expect but are more than grateful is included. For Ash and Margaret, two people with exceptional fortitude and strength of will, family is their greatest vulnerability–the one thing that belies the impenetrable mask they present to society, and our access to both their passionate relationship with one another and their personal struggles with those who share their blood is an enchanting combination that results in a richer, deeper, and far more memorable reading experience.
Lovers of historical romance will surely delight in this story, but it's appeal will certainly extend to those who love to be swept up in strong characters and engaging stories regardless of the time period in which they are set.