When a Marquess Loves a Woman, latest in Vivienne Lorret’s Season’s Original series, is a satisfying enemies-to-lovers romance.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
[For Mature Audiences; Some Spoilers]
In all honesty, Max’s and Juliet’s book is really the one I’ve been waiting for since the beginning of the Season’s Original series. When a Marquess Loves a Woman doesn’t disappoint because the drama is angsty and romance is juicy!
In the first book, The Debutante is Mine, we meet Lady Juliet Granworth and Maxwell Harwick, the Marquess of Thayne. From the beginning we can tell Juliet and Max’s relationship is incredibly contentious. Things escalate when he buys her old family home out from under her. Juliet comes up with a bet to win the house back—both she and Max will attempt to turn a person of their choosing into this year’s Season’s Original (“the one person whose style and character shined above all others, the one person whom everyone wanted to imitate”).
By the time we get to the events of When a Marquess Loves a Woman, Juliet’s choice (Lilah) and Max’s choice (Liam) are both married and out of the running. Therefore, they make a slight alteration to the bet: both Max and Juliet will guess who the Season’s Original will be. If she’s right, he will sell her the house, but if he’s right, he keeps the house and Juliet must leave London.
Right off the bat, we learn the source of Max and Juliet’s animosity. Five years ago, Max is deeply in love with Juliet, but his older brother Bram has been courting her. When Max learns that Bram plans to propose to another woman (incidentally, the Season’s Original of that year), Max wants to warn Juliet. His attempt to comfort her leads to an intense kiss, one that others walk in on. Max plans to do the right thing and offers to marry Juliet… I mean, he’s wanted her for years, anyway. But by the time Max shows up to Juliet’s home the next day, he learns she has left town to elope with the elderly Lord Granworth. Max is heartbroken and resentful.
In time we learn that Juliet’s father essentially sells her to Lord Granworth. He is in deep debt and Granworth offers to pay everything in exchange for Juliet as his wife. Her time with Granworth is very difficult because he sees her as nothing more than a beautiful object to make people jealous. Juliet’s ability to live a full life is severely curtailed.
Five years later, Juliet is a widow out of mourning and wanting to live a life of independence in London. Max continues to make things difficult! Yet, if Juliet and Max are being fully honest, they quite like being in each other’s orbit, and maybe their bet is a convenient excuse. Everytime they’re together, the chemistry just sizzles… and you know how they say there’s a thin line between love and hate… heated and angry exchanges become heated and amorous exchanges. But even when Max and Juliet recognize their mutual attraction (maybe even love?), both still have hang-ups. Max still resents Juliet for choosing other men before him (Bram, Lord Granworth). Can he actually trust her feelings? And after being in a terrible marriage, Juliet doesn’t want to give up her independence to any man, even Max.
I really like Juliet and her gumption. For most of her life and marriage, she’s been on a pedestal, treated as a “Hollow Goddess.” On the face of it, being called a goddess sounds like a great thing. But, in the process, Juliet is denied all the joys of real life, including romance, love, and family. Despite her past experiences, Juliet still hopes for happiness and will do whatever is in her power to achieve it for herself.
Similarly, Max is someone who is easy to identify with. I can understand the resentment he feels about growing up in his older brother’s shadow. Having to lose Juliet, first to Bram and then to Granworth, would harden my heart too.
Both Juliet and Max are dealing with trauma, so we can understand each of their relationship hangups. At the same time, I so enjoy Juliet and Max’s interactions. It’s hard to see how much they hate each other at the beginning. They push and pull at each other, and eventually, the chemistry goes *kaboom*
“Perhaps you don’t recall, but I have always been fully prepared to face the consequences of my actions. You were the one who ran.”
She scoffed and jabbed him again. “I was right! All along, this has been about what happened between us five years ago. Oh, I apologize for wounding your poor ego when I left, though it seems you’ve managed to recover, as you are busy narrowing down your list of bridal candidates.”
“Ego?” He took her by the shoulders, his grip firm but not cruel, as contempt burned in his dark gaze. “I wanted to marry you. There was more than ego involved.”
“That kiss happened because you were consoling me, and we both know it.”
“Do we, Lady Granworth? Or is that something you told yourself to validate running away to marry a rich old man?”
Gritting his teeth, seething as much as she was, he spun her around and pressed her back against the wall just inside the bedchamber.
“And if you think for one instant that I’m going to sit back and watch you bring your next husband here to live, not four doors down from my mother’s house, then you are sorely mistaken.”
Then, without warning, he crushed his mouth to hers…
…Max set his hands over her wrists and slowly drew them down from his face, his gaze fierce.
“I am not going to be the one to stop this, Juliet. Do you understand? It will be you, like always.” He shook his head, pressing his forehead to hers. “I have reached my limit, and this game of ours must conclude, one way or the other.”
Her first impulse was to challenge him in return, but when she read his expression, she couldn’t. The edgy mockery she typically saw was no longer there. He searched her gaze, his dark eyes seeming vulnerable, and the furrows between his brows no longer angry but pained. He was open and exposed, revealing a raw desire so potent that it almost frightened her. Mostly because she felt it too. She realized this was no longer about the house or any of their arguments. In fact, she wasn’t sure if it ever was. No, this was about something more, that tangible thing between them that she couldn’t shake loose…
…The battle lines disintegrated in that next kiss. He released her wrists, his arms engulfing her, his hands pulling her flush against him. The strength and sureness of his embrace made her breathless and hot. In tune with her, as Max had always been…
…He knew exactly where and how to touch her, intermixing small decadent circles with sinuous caresses, and—oh—the sinfully slow slide into the undiscovered swollen tissue. He lifted his head, seeking her mouth with urgent, demanding kisses. His hand was still between them, where the fall of his trousers touched her inner thighs, his knuckles brushing against her most sensitive flesh. Seeking more, she spread her legs wider, tilting her hips toward him, a mewl of unabashed desire rising in her throat…
…”You are perfect,” he rasped. “Even more than I imagined…”
…Beneath her hands, she felt him tremble, revealing his restraint. He began to move in slow upward thrusts. He murmured against her neck, her ear, her temple—indistinct words that formed an intimately erotic lexicon…
…How there was a difference in his eyes now—a tender but untamed intensity that darkened his pupils. The way his arms held her with utter possession, made her want to offer more of herself. His scent filled her lungs, every breath hot and tantalizingly musky in the combined essence of their joined bodies. Those intimate whispers of how it felt to be inside her were like another caress, stroking her mind, permeating every thought. This was far more than mere sexual congress. It was a life-altering, wholly necessary, completion of her being. In this moment, she felt as if she was born solely for him. This was the reason she had lips—so that Max could kiss them. She had breasts for him to taste, to tease, and to suck. And Max had arms so that he could hold her. Firm buttocks so that he could thrust, again and again. And her flesh was soft and yielding, solely for Max’s hardness to plunge inside, filling her.
Juliet and Max are so great together, and it’s really wonderful how, even with their romantic relationship, the teasing banter between them persists.
There’s still a dilemma though:
…Before now, the only man she’d ever thought she loved had been his brother, Bram. The result of that experience had left her defenseless. With Max, she shared a history, a deeper connection that was more than smiles and flirtations. Somehow, she knew that loving him would be worse when it ended. Catastrophic, in fact. After all, he needed a wife before he left for Lancashire, while she . . . did not need or want a husband. She enjoyed her new life of independence. Loving Max put that in jeopardy. He was the type of man who would want everything she could give.
And what about their wager???
This story ends with a fulfilling HEA, which involves a sweet and hilarious public declaration… just perfect for Max and Juliet!
I thoroughly enjoy When a Marquess Loves a Woman. Historical Romance fans will love this, especially those who are looking for an intense enemies-to-lovers story.