I really enjoyed this story. It was very close to a "Five Star," except for one unresolved issue at the end of the story.
Mariah's parents die when she is a young teen. Her ward (Edward) is a kind- hearted old man, who later marries her to save her from being forced to wed a cruel man. Edward still views her as a daughter, so he is uncomfortable sharing a bed with her. He does consummate the marriage, but rarely touches her after that. As he becomes too old to "make an heir," Edward begins to encourage Mariah to take a lover. Edward's wish is for her to bare a son whom he can claim as his own. This would provide an heir to his estate, protecting Mariah and all of Edward's people from becoming victims of his cruel brother, Osgood. Mariah refuses to be unfaithful, until she meets a man whom she cannot resist...
Falcon is a knight of King Henry. He is the youngest son in his family, so he has no land or title. Because he is loyal to his king, he hopes to be matched with an heiress. His hope is to gain land and a title through marriage. King Henry delivers an heiress with vast lands and money. However, two weeks before the wedding, Falcon is attacked by a band of thieves, knocked unconscious, and left for dead on a trail. A merchant man finds him and brings him to Mildenhall, Edward's estate. The resident healer, Edwina, nurses him back to health. With Mariah's help, Falcon becomes well in all ways except memory. Falcon has no idea whom he is, or where he comes from. Edward sees this man as a good potential father of his heir. He tells Falcon that he is Mariah's father, and that her husband has passed away.
Over the following weeks, Mariah and Falcon fall in love. Falcon becomes happy with the idea of staying at Mildenhall and sharing his life wit Mariah forever. Mariah has guilt over being unfaithful to her husband, but she is in love and she has Edward's blessing to find happiness with Falcon.
All is well until the day Falcon's memory returns. He realizes, with great pain, that he cannot stay with Mariah. He has already promised his hand to another woman, and he is a servant of the king. He hardens his heart and tells himself that Mariah isn't really what he wants anyway- a woman who will bring him land and a title. He returns to London to find his betrothed, Rosamond. When he arrives, he finds that Rosamond did not bother to morn him. She has already married another man. He is tempted to return to Mariah, but instead his anger leads him to return to war with his king.
Five years later, Edward has passed away. His evil brother, Osgood has raided Mildenhall. He plans to force Mariah to marry his son, Walter. However, Mariah has a 5 year- old son, Robbie, whom Edward had claimed as his heir. The king is too busy to answer Mariah's summons for help. Knowing that Falcon has spent time at Mildenhall, King Henry sends his loyal knight to sort out the mess and decide whom Mildenhall truly belongs to.
Mariah never expected Falcon to return to Mildenhall. She is desperate to hide Robbie's true identity from him. She is afraid Falcon will take Robbie from her. She is also afraid that knowledge of Robbie's real father will cause him to lose his claim to Mildenhall. She lies about Robbie's age to hide the truth. Osgood is determined to get rid of Robbie, releasing Mildenhall into his own hands. Falcon must become Robbie's protector.
Who will claim Mildenhall? Will Falcon reject Mariah if he finds out about her lies? Will he give up his hopes for wealth and find true love again? Battles of the sword and of the heart follow.
I really enjoyed the characters of this story.
For once, we have a hero who does not contain a mean streak. He is not cruel or bitter. He does not insult or belittle the woman he is supposed to love. I like this leading man. He is not without flaw, but he is not a barbarian. He loves deeply and completely.
Mariah is refreshing in the fact that she is not the typical foolish leading lady. She doesn't make rash or dumb decisions. She doesn't crawl on her hands and knees, begging for Falcon to return to her. She is a real woman, who is making her son her first concern. Even though she doesn't like having to lie to Falcon, she is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her little boy. Being a mom myself, I can identify with her chosen priority.
Mariah and Falcon have a strong and true love for one another. Even in the hard times, they never throw insults or plot to purposely hurt each other. Falcon does not treat her with disrespect, even after the truth is revealed. Although his trust of her is broken, and he believes it can never be repaired, he is still a gentleman when dealing with her. For once, I could read the whole story without thinking "She is weak and insane for wanting him."
One true disappointment is in the fact that Robbie never gets to take his father's name. Falcon's heart is torn to pieces when he realizes that he can never give his son his name. He vows to reveal the truth to his son, when Robbie is old enough to understand. I hurt for Falcon when the story ended this way. Falcon finds joy in the fact that his son has decided to consider him his "Papa" anyway. But it would have "put the icing on the cake" if Falcon could have claimed his son to the whole world.