Romance readers are familiar with unrequited love. If we are lucky, then fate steps in and shows the clueless man what is standing right before him, and the couple goes on to live happily ever after. Seldom do we see a man succumb to this devastating affliction. Rarely do we see it handled more honorably than Michael Stirling, who manages to hide his love for Francesca Bridgerton as she marries his beloved cousin John.
Because he holds John in high esteem, Michael cannot remove himself completely from their circle of friends. Content to remain a family friend and confidante, Michael is glad that the couple made a true love match. When John suddenly dies, he is devastated. Now he is the Earl, and responsible for Francesca’s future. The guilt of his love overwhelms him. He can barely handle his own loss and is completely unable to support Francesca in her hour of need. He knows that his hidden feelings will come racing out and that this knowledge will cause a rift that cannot be healed. He takes the honorable road and, leaving her in charge of the estate, heads to India, hoping that time and distance will provide perspective.
Four years pass, and Michael has returned home just in time to find that Francesca has decided that it is time to remarry. She desperately wants children and a home of her own. Can Michael stand by and watch her marry someone else? The thought horrifies him, but he cannot possibly claim her for his own. That smacks of disloyalty to John. As he tries to keep his distance, Francesca is dismayed to learn that her closest friend is unwilling to support her in this quest. Doesn’t he want her to be happy?
Author Julia Quinn has penned an emotional story that left me in tears on several pages. Michael’s love is poignant and touching. His honor demands that he watch her walk away. He doesn’t realize that some things really are meant to be. Fate, in the form of a philosophical Colin Bridgerton, offers him the chance to make his dreams come true. The question is, will Francesca realize that they can be her dreams too? I loved When He Was Wicked and think that many of you will too.