OK, this book is a real problem for me. On the one hand, it is not my kind of romance. On the other hand, I recognize that it is a kind of story that is very popular with a lot of readers – light, funny, and very sexy. And I recognize that it is a good example of this type of romance. Hence the four hearts, but I don't want anyone (you know who you are) complaining that Cabot is no Putney. No, she isn't, but she's a bit like Julia Quinn at the top of her form.
Portrait of My Heart is the sequel to Cabot's first novel, Where Roses Grow Wild, but I can assure you that it stands alone very well. The story begins in 1871 when Lord Edward Rawlings is meeting with his twenty-one-year-old nephew Jeremy, the 17th Duke of Rawlings. Jeremy has been sent down from Oxford (having previously been expelled from Eton and Harrow) for killing a man in a duel. It is quite clear that Jeremy's title and position (which he doesn't much want) have allowed have allowed him to live a life of irresponsibility and dissipation.
Jeremy's Aunt Pegeen (Lady Edward) is entertaining her neighbor Lady Herbert and two of her daughters. The eldest, Anne, is respectably married; the youngest, Maggie, is the family black sheep. Approaching her seventeenth birthday, Maggie has no interest in making her debut and finding a husband. She wants to study art.
When Maggie hears that Jeremy is returning to Rawlings Manor for the first time in five years, she decides to ambush him. Despite the difference in age, they had been playmates. The last time they had met, Maggie had achieved her full growth of 5'8" while Jeremy was still shorter than she was. Imagine her surprise when she discovers that Jeremy now towers over her. Imagine Jeremy's surprise when he discovers that skinny Mags has become voluptuous Margaret.
Jeremy decides to revenge himself for all he had put up with by seducing Maggie. And he might have succeeded; his practiced skill has a melting effect on Maggie. But she comes to her senses in time, and punches him in the mouth – the first woman to spurn his attentions. This, of course, convinces Jeremy that Maggie is the girl for him.
But Maggie declines his offer of marriage; she fears that being a duchess will prevent her from pursuing her art. So Jeremy goes off to join the army in India and Maggie goes to Paris to study art.
Five years later, Jeremy returns from India. He has had an incredibly successful army career but has come home because his aunt has told him that Maggie is engaged to another man. Maggie is staying at the Rawlings townhouse, having been cut off from her family because she insisted on becoming a real artist. Jeremy is delighted to find her
under his roof, and begins a determined campaign to woo the only woman he has ever loved. And what a campaign. Be sure to read the love scenes in a cool spot.
The path to true love is complicated by Maggie's belief that Jeremy has brought home an Indian princess as well as by the presence of her stalwart and worthy fiancé.
As I said at the outset, this is not my kind of romance. It is full of the errors, anachronisms and improbabilities that detract from my reading pleasure. And, to be frank, I found the hero and heroine somewhat immature, although I became rather fond of them both.
Still, there is much to like about Portrait of My Heart. There are humorous moments, the love scenes are very well done, and the story moves right along. If you like Julia Quinn, you'll like Patricia Cabot. If you prefer Laura Kinsale, well, Portrait of My Heart is probably not for you