Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
Hester Wyatt was born as a slave, because her father, originally a free man, sold himself into slavery to be with her mother. When she was born, her mother severed part of her finger to make her more easy to identify, and Hester was found and taken in by her aunt Katherine, who taught her to read and write and raised her as her own. Now she lives in her dead aunt's house, a valuable member of Michigan's Underground Railroad. One night, she's asked to hide a badly injured man. She discovers that he is "the Black Daniel", one of the most wanted members of the Underground Railroad. To hide him could put her in danger, and yet she doesn't hesitate.
"The Black Daniel" is actually Galen Vachon, a member of one of the free black families in New Orleans. He doesn't deal well with being hurt and having to stay hidden during his convalescence, and Hester finds him rude and deeply disagreeable at first. She also refuses to believe him when he claims to have been betrayed by someone in her little town. As Vachon recovers, his mood improves, not to mention his behaviour towards Hester. He's amused by her primness and innocence and her steadfast faithfulness to her fiancee, even though she admits their relationship is purely platonic. When he leaves, having recovered enough, Hester doesn't think she'll ever see him again.
She's wrong, of course. Galen, unable to forget the formidable little woman who tended him at his lowest, buys a big house in Whittaker, the town Hester lives in, and proceeds to try to win her heart. His quest is made easier by the fact that her platonic fiancee returns from England already married and seemingly madly in love with his young bride. He keeps lavishing Hester with gifts and attention, while trying to root out who the traitor in the area is.
I'd never read any Beverly Jenkins, but had heard the name when one of her books was selected as the monthly book club read at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and then this book came highly recommended from my online romance partner, Mrs. Julien. I can see why she rated it so highly, it's an amazing book.
Hester is a lovely character, independent and opinionated, yet not anachronistically so. She tries to always do the appropriate thing, and Vachon has so much fun tempting her into accepting more and more of his gifts, and luring her further into sensuality and giving into her desires. She's clearly an important member of the Whittaker community and has many valued friends. Her hands and feet are permanently stained with the indigo dyes she was forced to work with as a slave, and she's convinced they render her deeply unattractive. She's perfectly content to settle for a marriage of convenience with a man whose intellectual interests she shares, and is completely unprepared for the passion that Vachon awakens in her.
Vachon is a rake and a scoundrel of the first order, and has rejected his family to help as many slaves from the South gain their freedom as possible. His vicious old grandmother is clearly a nasty piece of business, manipulating everyone around her, and treated Vachon horribly until he came of age and into the money his parents left him. He turned his inheritance into a vast fortune, and uses his resources to help others, but clearly also loves a life of luxury. Once they're married, Hester keeps being uncomfortable being waited on, though Vachon's servants are clearly extremely well treated, and seem to love their jobs. She's shocked at the dressing rooms full of clothes he's gotten her, and the jewelry he gives her. I'm also deeply grateful that while he is Creole, the number of French/Cajun endearments used in the book are at a minimum. I hate that sort of thing.
Not everything is smooth sailing in the book. There's a vicious slave catcher in the area, who sets his mind on proving that Hester is an escaped slave. The missions that Vachon go on are clearly dangerous. There's a nice blend of quiet moments and action in the book.
I enjoyed the book a lot. The main reason I can't give the book a full five stars is the subplot involving Hester's former fiancee's new wife, and the way they both treat Hester, and the development of that whole story line plays out. I can see why Jenkins needed to find a way to free Hester from her former commitment, but I really didn't like the way that all played out. I don't want to spoil things, and will therefore not go into detail. This is mostly a very excellent romance, though, and I've already bought a few more Beverly Jenkins books that I am looking forward to reading.