Lady Eleanor's Seventh Suitor
Lady Eleanor’s Seventh Suitor harkens back to a time in romance where heroes had a dark side and were willing to be cruel or manipulative in order to get what they wanted. Camden West has plans to marry Lady Eleanor Sutherland and has plotted meticulously to reach that endgame. That his bride-to-be has no idea that she’s bound for the altar is completely inconsequential.
After three seasons and five declined proposals Lady Eleanor has earned the nickname Lady Frost among the ton. She even has her own page in White’s betting book giving the odds on her marriage prospects. Eleanor has heard all of the whispers but it’s not enough for her to change her mind about any of the men she’s dismissed. Instead of settling for a typical ton marriage, Eleanor embraces her nickname while searching for the right man, one who loves her for herself rather than any property or status she would bring him. She’s unimpressed with her latest suitor Lord Tidmarsh, a man probably drawn to her more for the thrill of the chase than by the lure of actually catching her, and when he approaches her at a ball, she refuses to dance with him. Eleanor calmly explains that she’s not interested in a relationship and she refocuses her attention on the dance floor to locate her younger sister Charlotte.
Lady Charlotte Sutherland has gained a reputation as a flirt but she sees her actions as harmless fun. Eleanor has trouble relating to her sister’s spirited nature but she loves her sibling enough to play chaperone while Charlotte enjoys her freedom. Dealing with Tidmarsh takes Eleanor’s eyes off of Charlotte just long enough for her sister to leave the ballroom and Eleanor knows she has to get Charlotte back inside before others note her absence. A walk in the gardens reveals Eleanor’s worst nightmare – Charlotte practically undressed and in the arms of known rake Mr. Julian West. Things only get worse when Julian’s cousin Mr. Camden West arrives to witness Charlotte’s ruin. Eleanor pulls her sister away from the scene and both gentlemen seem contrite and willing to help the sisters avoid exposure. They leave the scene with Eleanor hopeful that both Mr. Wests will be honorable and keep quiet about the incident.
Camden West’s plans for the evening unfolded perfectly, from Charlotte’s seduction by his cousin to Eleanor’s desperation to keep everything hidden. With the groundwork laid for the remainder of his plan, Camden calls at the Sutherland town house to discuss the previous evening’s scandals. Once, Camden had approached Lady Eleanor as an honorable gentleman but her brisk dismissal of his attentions seemed fitting for a woman known as Lady Frost. Now he hopes to use Eleanor’s reserved nature against her. He explains that the two of them will be married immediately and if she doesn’t accept his proposal he threatens to expose Charlotte and ruin the Sutherland name. To Camden’s mind Eleanor’s marrying him would be no less impersonal than any other ton marriage and his reasons for seeking her hand are to benefit someone he loves dearly. The ends justify the means. It doesn’t surprise Camden when Eleanor balks at his proposal and threatens to use her brother’s influence as Earl of Carlisle to protect the family; however Camden knows Eleanor enough to see that her threats are empty. She won’t risk her two older brother’s lives in a duel when she could save her sister herself.
Unwilling to concede to blackmail Eleanor requests a two-week period wherein Camden will appear to court her so as not to arouse her brothers’ suspicions. In reality, Eleanor has plans of her own to thwart Camden at his own game and force him to end their engagement. Their mock courtship begins with Eleanor playing the simpleton and hoping Camden will lose patience with her. Her efforts do frustrate him, but all too soon Eleanor’s act slips and he begins to uncover her true nature. Discovering that Eleanor has a heart underneath her cool polish sparks Camden’s guilt about what he’s forcing her to do; however his reasons for wanting Eleanor as his bride haven’t changed. He continues to court her, revealing some of his own character in the hope she will agree to their marriage without his threat ever coming into play.
Lady Eleanor’s Seventh Suitor practically revels in how Machiavellian it can make Camden West before redeeming him in Eleanor’s eyes. Camden is shrewd, calculating and almost to the bitter end he’s unrepentant about manipulating Eleanor into their betrothal. I shouldn’t have liked his character and yet I fell so hard for the guy it was almost fun watching him tightening the screws on Eleanor. He’s saved from being a villain in hero’s clothing because everything he’s done in his life comes from a sense of love and protection for his baby sister Amelia. At each story beat where Camden plays up his viciousness there’s a moment where we see him considering how Eleanor fights to protect someone she loves and his own resolve fails. Eleanor starts noticing those cracks and she pounces fiercely to even up the playing field between them and without that advantage, Camden falls back on who he truly is underneath all the posturing. Camden’s love for Amelia matches Eleanor’s own for Charlotte and he wants his sister to have every advantage in life even if it costs him his soul to get it.
It’s surprising how well the romance develops despite Eleanor’s anger and Camden’s scheming. They start like two fighters circling around a ring, sizing up their opponent before throwing punches. That focus makes them hyper-aware of the changes that occur when a casual respect changes into regard. It’s slight at first but as the war of words eases, Camden sees his perception of Eleanor as an ice-queen are false. She is a warm person who gives freely of herself once someone has taken the time to look past her defences. Eleanor is at first annoyed by her awareness of Camden as a man because it could weaken her stance against him; however she learns to read his body language and it changes how she interprets his words. He can say that he’s using her or has no care for her feelings but each touch or caress shows how much he cares for her in that moment. It takes a while before they share their first kiss but the scenes leading up to it almost crackle with sexual tension. Every step of the relationship, from rebuilding trust to viewing their opponent as a potential lover is a slow build that feels very satisfying once Camden and Eleanor accept their enemy as their perfect partner.
Lady Eleanor’s Seventh Suitor is part one of a duo showcasing the Sutherland sisters. The glimpses we’ve received of Charlotte’s romance make it seem almost doomed from the start but if her journey to find love is as emotional and entertaining as Eleanor’s it will be a pair of books that I’m happy to recommend.