I bought and read this book for the first time in June 2012, which means it was among the first books I read when I began reading HRs after a 20 year break. Since that time I've read it three times - the most recent being on a mini vacay. This book has always stuck in my mind for reasons I'll attempt to outline below.
First of all, the heroine, Abigail Carrington, was a dream. She was beautiful, feisty and most importantly, she was gifted with a wonderfully generous soul. Her mother died when she was young resulting in her father taking her along as he traversed the oceans on his shipping expeditions. At some point, Abbey desperately needed a woman to take her in hand, so her father decided to kick his little beauty off his ship and send her to school, resulting in Abby living a very unusual life until she ultimately settled with her aunt and cousins in America. Since Michael Ingram worked for her father in his business, she had known him from an early age.
From the time she was a little girl, her father told her that one day she would marry Michael Ingram. He then proceeded to manipulate Abbey's entire life by using her future marriage to Michael in order to get her to comply with his desires, continually telling Abbey that Michael loved her and one day Michael would send for her and marry her - when in fact, Michael never gave Abbey a second thought once she left her father's ship. In Michael's mind, Abbey was simply the little bratty daughter of his former boss. Abbey had no idea that her father and Michael had some business dealings involving a loan which Mr. Carrington had made to Michael.
There was a reason for the duplicitous and deceptive scheme perpetrated by Abbey's father in his business dealings with Michael. What Michael thought was a straightforward loan from Mr. Carrington to Michael ultimately became so complicated I won't begin to try and explain it because it never made sense to me. All one need know is pertinent details of the loan were set forth by Michael's unscrupulous father and Abbey's father. Therefore, Michael never realized one stipulation of the loan left him with no other option except to marry Abbey. When he learns this fact, he is livid.
So, what we have is a young woman who has prepared her entire life to be the wife of Michael Ingram. The same Michael who is now rich in his own right, having successfully built a shipping business, then worked toward rebuilding the family estate after his father passed and left him the title of the Marquis of Darfield. To say he's a hardened young man due to the hardships of his past might be putting it a bit mildly. When Abbey arrives from America, thinking to join the man for whom she's spent years preparing herself, she is in for the shock of her life.
Prepare yourself to dislike Michael for his treatment of Abbey. If your reaction is anything like mine, you'll be distressed for our sweet Abbey, you'll want to hammer Michael, then you'll hope they can work everything out. Once, it appears they have fallen in love and the Big Misunderstanding occurs, you may want to bring out your hammer again. This part was difficult. There are some sad times in store for both Abbey and Michael, but the fact Michael does have a period of suffering (which in my opinion he deserved) helps even out the storyline. Wow, do I sound revengeful? Perhaps, but I was tired of Abbey having to be a doormat, first by her father and later by Michael when in fact, she did have a strong backbone and she was a truly admirable young woman.
This book has a flavor of some of the older romance novels, where the heroes were, if anything, given carte blanche by the authors to be more heavy handed in their dealings with the women in their lives - not in a physical manner but still a measure of "I am the King of the Hill and never forget you are my Underling." Since I've made the foregoing statement, you may wonder why the four stars?? I felt that Michael redeemed himself and truly repented of his overtly domineering and hateful actions. I suspect many readers will disagree with me, but I really enjoyed this book.