Mary Jo Putney
1998 reissue of 1997 release, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Ivy, $5.99, 432 pages, Amazon ASIN 0449000184 Part of a series
One Perfect Rose is the final book in Mary Jo Putney's Fallen Angels series and features Stephen Kenyon, the Duke of Ashburton and older brother of Michael Kenyon from Shattered Rainbows. I was surprised to find that there was no AAR review for One Perfect Rose for it has always been special to me. This is the first romance novel I ever read that made me cry. In a good way.
Stephen has been given a death sentence by his doctor. The stomach pain he has experienced for several months is diagnosed as a "tumefaction of the stomach and liver" and Stephen is given three to six months to live. Stephen always played by the rules - duty and honor rule his life - but now he is angry. This is to be his reward? An excruciating death? Stephen was just embarking on a new phase in his life. With the war in Europe over and now out of mourning for his equally dutiful, but emotionless wife, Stephen planned to travel, to do things for no other reason than to give himself some pleasure. After years of being the staid, perfect duke, he wants to discover if he is capable of passion and joy. Stephen decides to get away from it all for a while, to come to grips with the news while not under the watchful eyes of his staff and neighbors. For the first time, he travels alone simply as "Stephen" and not the duke.
After a week of wandering, he knows it is time to go home and get his affairs in order. That night he attends a showing of Shakespeare's The Tempest put on by the traveling Fitzgerald Troupe. They are surprisingly good and he is quite taken with the woman in a bit part, Rosalind Jordan. It is a nice reminder to Stephen that he is not quite dead yet, and indeed, he finds a new appreciation for simple things, like rain, the smell of baking bread, and the tug of attraction to a beautiful woman.
Rosalind Jordan was orphaned and abandoned on the London waterfront when three years old. Thomas and Maria Fitzgerald found and adopted her and Rosalind grew into the sensible and practical member of the acting family. She is their stage manager, keeping everyone on track and acting small parts when needed. She loves her adopted family fiercely, but a part of her longs to settle down in one place.
The day after the play, Stephen saves the youngest Fitzgerald child from drowning and is injured in the process. He stays with the company while he recovers and, on a lark, agrees to play the small part of the Duke of Athens in A Midsummer Night's Dream - everyone agrees that he makes a pretty good fake duke. Stephen has a ball, and the attraction he feels with Rosalind only strengthens as he finds excuse after excuse not to leave.
The connection between Rosalind and Stephen is very well done. The pull each feels is palpable and, as mature adults, they discuss it, but resist becoming lovers for both know, though for different reasons, that the affair could only be of short duration. But when the attraction becomes love, truths must be told and decisions must be made.
Stephen's journey through the book is one filled with joy and pain. He was always a good man, but watching him come to terms with his fate makes him a remarkable one. There is a delicious sense of melancholy that pervades the story. Stephen rarely broods over his fate, but the knowledge that his time is short is always with him and colors his experiences. His decision to love and find what happiness he can with Rosalind is a bittersweet one, and the scenes of reconciliation with his siblings are intense and poignant.
One Perfect Roseis a romance, and so there is the requisite HEA, though the way this is achieved is my only small point of contention with the novel. But this is a tiny niggle in an incredibly moving and emotional read. Forget your two-hanky reads - grab the whole box of tissues, unplug your phone, send your family away for the day and settle in for one of the most affecting and touching romances you will ever read in One Perfect Rose.
-- Cheryl Sneed
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