When Senator Jeff Dylan passes away, Nick finds himself mourning not the memory of his father, but the knowledge of his father's lifelong disappointment in him, as well as the relationship they never had. Although he'd never been the son his mother wanted either, Nick still finds himself drawn to her side when he hears reports of brandy and sleeping pills. He moves back into his father's house to care for his mother, who had never gotten the fact that she was Jeff's housemaid until he got her pregnant. Then Nick learns that Jeff's will demands that his son marry for love within a year and live in the family home for the first year of the marriage.
The sight of the Atherton house at foot of his family's estate always produces pangs of helpless guilt in Nick. Derelict and forgotten, the Federation era house once known as The Oaks slowly decays. Jeff only bought the mortgage and closed on it to wound the Arthertons. It was Jeff's way to take vengeance on the man who'd married Sylvia Atherton, the only woman he had ever loved. Nick sees Sylvia's daughter at the way to right the past. In return for marriage, he'll give The Oaks back to Clair.
Their family history seems an insurmountable barrier between them. His father the Senator defines Nick's identity to their small town, and no one seems to understand that his name has nothing to do with who he really is. They can't talk about the things that really matter without inflicting pain. Coming from a loving family, Clair Atherton can't possibly understand how his existence embarrassed his mother Leota and father Jeff. Yet their shared pain in the past seems to connect Nick and Clair in the most unlikely way.
Leota and Clair are both strong, but neither seems to be able to use it to benefit others without Nick's delicate influence. His delicate determination to love them offers a bright future if only both women will accept themselves and the love he offers. Instead, it seems Leota is determined to get lost in her jealousy of the younger woman, to destroy rather than to build a future. She becomes a mother on a mission, determined to free her son from the Atherton woman. Nothing would hurt her more than to let Sylvia Artherton's daughter win.
Anna Adams skillfully writes in a distinctly crisp, sharp tone that uniquely reflects the tension between her characters, at times relaxing into a softer prose that reflects the emotions beneath the tension. The brittle tension periodically allows the glow of passion and love to shine through like sunlight on a cloudy day, lending Adams' prose a polish and sophistication quite rare in genre romance. Very highly recommended.