The Lady Behind the Mask
Harlequin Historical #1093
ISBN: 978-0-373-29693-4
June 2012
Historical Romance

Regency England

Miss Chloe Hardwick is buttoned up both figuratively and literally. She's repressed her natural personality and wears drab buttoned up clothing. With the addition of spectacles and unflattering hairdos, no one really looks at her. The question is why does she hide herself? Chloe has known loneliness and hunger in her time. Now that she is in a safe position, she wants more than anything to keep her job helping her adopted father with the new wing on the Marquess of Marland's castle and with his expanding antiquities collection.

The Marquess, Braedon Denning, comes home from the wars in Europe and is eager to see how the work is going at his estate in Northumberland. He put George Hardwick in charge when he left and expects to see him at once. His shouts for “Hardwick,” however, yield only a plain woman who informs him she has been working with her bedridden father for the last fifteen months. Marland is amazed at the progress that has been made and allows his new, terribly efficient “Hardwick” to continue.

One year later, with her father now dead and the new wing nearing completion, Chloe fears the loss of her job and the safety it gives. Also, strange longings invade her concerning the Marquess, but he's oblivious. To him, she's just Hardwick.

If Chloe is buttoned up, Marland is nailed shut. His childhood was difficult—we find out much later just how bad it was—and the only person he allows close to him is his younger sister, a fellow sufferer. That sister, Mairead, Countess of Ashton comes to her old home to ask her brother for help. Mary, as Braedon calls her, ends up hiring Chloe away to assist with a huge project in London . About this time, rumors fly about a legendary artifact known as Skanda's Spear. All collectors of antique arms are eager to posses it…none more avidly than Marland. He decides to go to London where he can track it down. Is he feeling lost without his Hardwick? If he is, he won't admit it even to himself, though he's given quite a shock when he sees the new, unbuttoned Hardwick.

UNBUTTONING MISS HARDWICK is strongly character driven with its two wounded protagonists. There seems to be more hope for Chloe's healing than Marland's, but what about the rest of her life? Will it be just more of surviving by making herself invaluable to others? Lady Ashton and her husband, as well as an unexpected youngster, will add more warmth to the whole, while the plot thickens around the mysterious artifact and its curse. Mostly it's a tale about two hurt souls who need to learn the powers of love.

For an emotional read with passion, touches of humor, and dashes of suspense, I gladly recommend UNBUTTONING MISS HARDWICK.

Jane Bowers