Chloe Muirhead became the companion to the Duchess of Worthingham, Chloe's mother's godmother as well as her grandmother's good friend, when her last season had once again ended in a disaster the gossip mongers won't soon forget. At twenty-seven years old, Chloe feels that spinsterhood is her future and is desperate to find a way out of her predicament.
Ralph Stockwood, the Earl of Berwick, is reminded by his grandmother of his duty to produce an heir. As the next duke, he can no longer continue to put off starting a family since his grandfather, who is the current Duke of Worthingham, is very ill. The duchess pushes her grandson back to London to make it known that he wishes to marry because as an heir to a dukedom he will be most eligible. Financial eligibility and his scarred face aside, Ralph feels he's the worst choice a woman can make since he has nothing of himself to offer.
Before Ralph leaves, Chloe proposes that he marry her. Chloe's brother Graham was one of Ralph's school mates but they never saw eye-to-eye on much, including the war. In truth, they were more like enemies for a while and he sees a resemblance to Graham in Chloe. Does he even like her? Chloe knows he'd rather avoid having every mama pushing their daughters at him. Her proposal of convenience to provide children and a home, in exchange for freedom to do as they wish separately, is appealing.
Due to the public disgrace of Chloe's younger sister running off with a married man, and the suspicion created by Chloe's resemblance to another man's daughter, Chloe's reputation is irreparable. Ralph considers Chloe's proposal even more after returning to London. He can't imagine marrying one of this season's young hopeful girls. Ralph unexpectedly returns to his grandparents' home and proposes to Chloe because she doesn't want anything he can't give.
Ralph understands his duty but his mental scars from the war convince him that he's ineligible for anyone other than Chloe. She convinces Ralph that she doesn't want love. She wants to be a wife, run a household and have children. That will be enough for her.
Can a marriage of convenience be enough for two broken souls?
ONLY A PROMISE reads quickly because this scarred couple is heartbreaking in their need while magical in their strength. It's also written seamlessly so that it absorbs the reader and aids, as well as encourages, speed-reading.
Ralph is a tough hero. His experience at war, witnessing his three friends killed in front of him, then his own physical injuries and mental recovery has created one messed-up, hollow of a man. Even so, Ralph is a man of honor, therefore he will take care of Chloe as he promises, but will he ever truly care for her as a husband should?
I sobbed early on in this book. The examples of love that Chloe and Ralph have are breathtaking and yet, they're not sure they're capable of it themselves. Mary Balogh's characters spring from the page, capturing your heart, and their dialogue is first rate entertainment. I was connected to the main characters by the third chapter, even though I wasn't sure I liked Ralph much at all. This couple continued to grow and change in ways I didn't think was possible, based on their life so far. By the end, Ralph won me over by his actions and personal growth. Chloe is a remarkable woman who earns her position in society with her strength and fortitude.
If you love a book that kicks off with a marriage of convenience and then follows a couple through their individual trials and successes, then you'll love this story. Chloe and Ralph can't love each other until they learn how to love themselves which is a journey that's genuine and inspiring. We're given welcome glimpses of several members of the Survival Club -- their reunions are always so precious, exemplifying their camaraderie. If you haven't read any of this series yet, you can easily start here but I think you'll want to read all the books as much as I crave them. I loved ONLY ENCHANTING because of Flavian and highly recommended it, but ONLY A PROMISE is just as good for many reasons. It's a bit darker because it takes a while for Ralph to find the light, but when he does, you'll be so glad you were a witness and be prepared to cry for joy.
Heartrending, absorbing, full of multi-character scenes with crazy aunts and friends who will make you laugh amongst the darkness this couple wades through to find their happy-ever-after, ONLY A PROMISE is an addictive historical romance.