Earl Hugh Dulonget of Hillcrest was a formidable knight, used to getting what he wanted. This time, he got himself into a bind. His uncle's will had a codicil: He must marry. And Hugh had just insulted his would-be bride by calling her a peasant! How could he win back her esteem--and her hand?
Everyone seemed to have advice. Some men-at-arms thought that Hugh could win the fair Willa's love by buying her baubles. The old witch who was her guardian wanted Hugh to crawl back on his belly. And his castle priest proffered De Secretis Mulierum, a book on the secrets of women. But Hugh had ideas of his own. He would overcome every hindrance--and all his friends' help--to show Willa that he had not only what she needed, but what she wanted. And that the two of them were meant for a lifetime of happiness.
Very good book with the author's trademark humor, independent heroine and a hero who is strong but somewhat inept with the ladies. Hugh has just inherited the earldom and has discovered that he must marry his uncle's ward. Before listening to the entire will, he goes rushing off to try to get out of this marriage that he doesn't want. He believes her to be his uncle's bastard daughter with a peasant woman and is careless enough to say so in front of her. When he discovers that he's wrong about her, and that he must marry her to receive his full inheritance, he has to find a way to get back into her good graces. He has the "benefit" of advice from several people, and his attempts to follow it do little to advance his cause. He does gain the prize, but things still do not progress smoothly.
Though Willa was already half in love with Hugh thanks to her daydreams, reconciling the fantasy Hugh with the real thing was a bit of a challenge. He isn't a smooth talker and trying to figure out how he feels frustrates her. When it comes to consummating the marriage, nothing goes the way it should. From an exhausted and ill groom to a bride suffering from a dose of poison, then each getting advice that works against them, it's a wonder they were able to get together at all. But once all those obstacles were overcome, the heat between them is scorching. I loved seeing Hugh's determination to make things good for Willa. It was wonderful to see the way that she healed the hurts of the betrayals he'd suffered in the past, and he came to realize just how much she means to him.
There are questions about Willa's identity that are unanswered, as they seek a letter from her guardian that is supposed to reveal all. Apparently linked to this mystery are several attacks, obviously meant to end her life. Hugh is determined to keep her safe, even though her independent nature sometimes makes it difficult. Once her identity is revealed, the question becomes one of who is carrying out the attacks. Each one is different, and their resolutions do nothing to reveal the instigator. One of the best things about the attacks was the way they made Hugh and Willa work together to survive them, causing them to grow emotionally closer. The final resolution of the mystery was very well done, with one of my suspects being cleared and the other definitely being proved guilty.
I enjoyed the secondary characters and their parts in the story. Willa's foster mother, the witch Eada, had some great moments with her various predictions. She was also quite funny with her treatment of Hugh's boil. I loved Hugh's friend Luccan and how he was always there when Hugh needed him, but could also call Hugh out when he was being an idiot. Hugh's foppish cousin was hilarious with his fussiness and way of talking, but came through like a champ during one of the attacks. It was really funny to see some of the reactions. The final scene of the book, with the men's reactions to her labor were hysterical.