It's been more than a decade since the last time Penelope saw her childhood friend Michael. They, along with a third boy named Tommy, had been an inseparable trio... until Tommy's father Langford duped Michael into gambling away his family fortune. Left with nothing but his title, Michael disappeared from society to make his own way. Sometimes his means were not the most scrupulous. But he never lost sight of his mission to reclaim what was once his --and Penelope never forgot the young man she once held so dear.
Penny's father now holds Michael's lands --having won them from Langford, himself, in yet another card game. And he has attached the property to Penny's dowry, in hopes of saving her from permanent spinsterhood. Once Michael finds out, he kidnaps Penny, threatening her with social ruin if she doesn't marry him. She agrees under the condition that he will help her remaining sisters find good husbands. That means Michael must make himself respectable to the ton... No easy task in light of the gaming hell he now runs. But a bad match for Penny would alienate suitors for her sisters. He agrees to go the distance --not only to keep his word-- but to fulfill a side deal with his new father-in-law.
In all the years they were apart, Penny never gave up on Michael. She wrote him letter after letter that went unanswered. And though she never realized it, she always loved him above all others. He grew into a hard man, however, and he is almost unrecognizable from the boy he once was. The physical relationship between them is on fire, but he cuts himself off emotionally from her completely. It's clear from the outside that he cares for her, but he simply won't allow himself to put anything before the dreams of revenge he has cultivated for so long. He puts on a great front in public to maintain the ruse of a love match for society. And there are times poor Penny even allows herself to hope that some of it's real, but he shuts her down time and time again.
It's hard to watch how Michael treats Penny. He isn't out-and-out cruel, but his indifference, his bluntness, and often, his absence, cut deeply. Penny is a good person, though a little too much of a martyr at times. But in the moments the two of them connect, both sexually and emotionally, it's impossible not to root for them to be together. There is alot of angst --and I wanted to shake Michael several times-- but I really did enjoy the romance. It was very gratifying to see Michael finally realize what matters in his life.
This is the first in a series set to follow the four owners of the gaming hell where Michael made his fortune. And the author has done a great job setting up the great characters whose stories are to come. While this is my first book by Sarah MacLean, it won't be my last. A little more than 4 stars.*ARC Provided by NetGalley