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379 pages, Mass Market Paperback
First published February 7, 2017
"You are an incredibly strong person, Camille," he said. "But sometimes you build a wall about yourself. You are doing it now. Is that the only way you can hold yourself together?"
She was about to utter an angry retort. But she was feeling weary. Her feet were sore. "Yes," she said.
His eyes continued to search her face. "Yet behind the wall," he said, "you are amazingly tenderhearted. And loyal hearted."
"I was the perfect lady," she told him. "By design. I was very conscious of who my father was and what was due me as his daughter. From early childhood on I made every effort to do and be everything he would expect of Lady Camille Westcott. I was an obedient child and paid every attention to my nurse and my governess. I spoke and thought and behaved as a lady ought. I intended to grow up to be perfect. I intended to leave no room in my life for accident or catastrophe. I think I truly believed that I would never be exposed to trouble of any sort if I kept to the strict code of behavior set down for ladies of my class. There was never a rebellious bone in my body or a wayward thought in my mind. My world was narrow but utterly secure."She's been wallowing in (well-deserved IMO!) self-pity for a few months, and when the book starts she has decided she needs to shake herself out of it all, take her situation in hand, and move on. She feels lost though: she defined herself through her position, through this "perfect lady image" that she thought was all that mattered, that she thought her being loved was dependent on (though she doesn't make that connection immediately, of course). Who is she now? Where does she fit? What is her life supposed to be about?
... Viscount Uxbury [her former fiancé] now somehow represented the whole of her life as it had been, though she had not known it at the time. It had all been built not upon rock, but upon sand. And, like even the most carefully built sand castle, it had crumbled and fallen.She's adrift and completely lost—but not in any way that is annoying or self-pitying or turned me off in any way; I want to be clear about that, because if any of what I write gives you that impression, then the fault is through my description, not with Camille in the text. This is what made her so lovable and made me feel so strongly that I honestly teared up at a couple different points, my heart breaking for her: she's so strong, but also so vulnerable.
"We cannot change it by agonizing over it or imagining how different everything might have been. Why do you need to go to that orphanage, Cam? Are you trying to ... punish yourself somehow for the fact that it was she who grew up there when strictly speaking it ought to have been us?"Part of it is indeed a kind of self-imposed punishment, but it's also about rediscovering herself and who she is now—who she can and has to be. She wants to prove to herself and to everyone else that she's strong and can stand on her own, that she's as strong as she thought herself to be before all of this happened and she saw herself crumble in devastation, feeling lost and out of place.
She did not want to be attractive to any man. The very idea! Least of all did she want to attract the art teacher with his slovenly appearance and wicked, insolent grin and his dark, bold eyes, which seemed to see through to the back of her skull and the depths of her soul. He somehow represented chaos, and her life had always been characterized by order.Joel dislikes her and is annoyed by her at the beginning, but he's also a very good guy who is surprisingly understanding and sensitive, so even at the beginning, when he finds himself put off by her, he often ends up reaching out in a way that lowers her defenses a bit. He doesn't want to like her, but in spite of himself, he finds himself admiring and respecting her, and wanting to discover more.
Perfection as she had known it was no longer possible for Camille Westcott, and she was not willing to settle for anything less. She must search for something wholly new instead. It was not easy to like the woman, but he felt a grudging sort of respect for her.The summary is a bit misleading, in that while Joel is indeed hired to paint her portrait, the summary makes it seem like that's what the book centers around and that's not at all the case. Camille and Joel's interactions are grounded in her teaching at the school every day and the fact that he teaches art there twice a week; he sketches her during the book, but when the book ends he hasn't even started on her portrait yet. (Why do romance summaries always do this?? #petpeeve).
He amended his thought immediately, however, for when she was in the schoolroom, flushed and animated and in full military sergeant mode and surrounded by organized chaos, he almost did like her. Indeed, he was almost attracted to that teacher self of hers. Perhaps because that self suggested some underlying passion. Now that was a startling thought.
"I would warn you that I will not make it easy for you. But if you do get to know me, please let me know what you discover. I have no idea who I am."And later:
By God, he thought, she was a fascinating person. She was going to take some knowing, some understanding. For the first time in a long while he began to doubt his artistic abilities. How would he ever get her right? And what would he do if he never could?And ...
"Do you realize how incredibly fascinating you are, Camille?" he asked. And how irritating? [LOLOL]The chemistry between them is fabulous, as is the playfulness and sweetness that surprisingly emerges. Every time Cam laughs or lets herself break a rule she normally wouldn't think twice about, there's this joy that is just delightful to watch—both because of her, and because of Joel's reaction to it. He's so sweet, but also strong and reliable; this presence of warmth and strength that she so needs at this point in her life. It's not only one-sided though, which I also appreciated: he goes through difficult things that make him need her support, and I always like when an author does that. We're able to see both characters' vulnerabilities and strengths, and seeing the mutual support they provide one another is what makes the developing relationship so believable.
"Nonsense," she said. "I have never cultivated either beauty or charm, much less womanly wiles. I have cultivated only the will to do what I believe to be right in all circumstances."
He glanced up at her and smiled. She was looking prunish. "You will realize your own fascination," he said, "after I have painted you."
"Then your painting will be worthless," she told him. "I thought you refused to flatter your subjects. Why would you make an exception of me?"
It was chilly and blustery, but at least it was not raining. Camille set the direction and strode off toward the river, Mr. Cunningham—Joel—at her side. He was not talking, and she felt no inclination to carry on a conversation. She could not explain to herself why she had wanted him with her, but she was pleased with herself about one thing. She had never before suggested to a man that he take a walk with her. She had never called any man outside her family by his first name either. Not that she had called Mr. Cunningham by his yet.
"Joel," she said, and was surprised to realize she had spoken out loud.
"Camille," he answered.
And no man outside her family had ever called her by her first name—not even Viscount Uxbury after they were betrothed. But instead of feeling uncomfortable, she felt—freed. She was no longer bound by the old rules. She could set her own. She had wanted company, and she had got it by her own efforts.