GENRE: Fiction/Historical Romance
SETTING: England, 1858

FROM PUBLISHER: Left penniless after her father's death, Alexandra Benjamin strikes an unusual bargain with John Damien Newell, the darkly seductive master of Cairncross Castle. Hired to teach his troubled younger brother Samuel to speak, she must first win her charge's trust. It is a daunting task, but one in which she is determined to succeed. Then the whispers start...

Crueler still are the secrets Cairncross Castle keeps. Secrets of a woman who cared for John Damien and Samuel as children, only to vanish amidst chilling rumors of murder. Secrets that tell of a ghost who still roams the castle's midnight passages, and seems to command the hearts and minds of both John Damien and Samuel. Secrets that lead Alexandra through a labyrinth of twisted lies and ancient mysteries, to where the answers lie waiting... in the darkest chambers of the heart.

MY THOUGHTS: This is definitely a gothic romance. Very gothic and more of a ghost mystery. The synopsis says Alexandria was left penniless but that's not true. She was left a small inheritance and could afford 'small luxuries' when her father died. The story spans at least four or five months.

Alexandria is twenty-five and has curly medium brown hair and hazel eyes. She had a lonely childhood. Her mother died when she was ten. Her father was into science and worked with deaf people. He never paid a whole lot of attention to her so she got involved with his work so she could try and bond with him. She was in love with Brian, a man who worked for her father but he didn't want to marry her so they parted ways.

Damien is thirty-four and has blond hair, blue eyes, and wears glasses. When he was fourteen he was falsely accused of rape by his governess (when she was caught fellating him against his wishes) and was banished from the house. He inherited his father's estate when he died and cares for his thirty year old brother, Sam, who looks just like him. Sam is mentally and speech impaired due to some incident involving Ursula. After finding out what that incident was I don't understand why he stopped talking. I'm real puzzled by it and wish I could ask the author about it.

His old governess is red-haired Ursula Pole. She disappeared twenty years ago, soon after Damien was banished. She's haunting the castle and Alexandra is trying to uncover the truth about what happened to her for the course of the entire story. She's described as an evil person but I'm not sure why. She seemed to be sexually attracted and obsessed with fourteen year old Damien and even wrote in her journal about wanting his 'seed and blood'. Damien wasn't interested in her in that way.

Damien is described as being very dark and seems to have a mental illness, based on him contemplating suicide with a gun twice in this story. I don't know why he's that way or if we're supposed to think that being lusted after by an older woman while a teenager and being kicked out of the house made him that way. What happened to him would surely have caused some anger but I don't think that explains his darkness. He says he doesn't enjoy life and has no heart or soul.

There was a disturbing incident where he was intentionally rough, and not in a playful way, while biting her nipple. Another time he was sitting in a chair and very roughly grabbed her by the back of the hair and pulled her down to his crotch, exposing himself and telling her to look at the scar (bite mark) that Ursula left on his penis. I really liked his character and wanted to see more of his darkness in action instead of just hearing about it.

Some things that bothered me were, for one, Sam stopped speaking when he was ten and all of a sudden, with Alexandra's help, began speaking some right after she began working with him. That wasn't believable. I think it would have taken him more time. Alexandra is half Jewish and we had to hear about it constantly. It played no part in the storyline and had nothing to do with anything so what was the author's point? The mystery as to what happened to Ursula wasn't much of a surprise and it got a bit tedious to read about.

Damien and Alexandra didn't spend too much time together so when I learned they were in love with each other I had to shake my head and ask myself when all these feelings developed. He got obsessed with her. I was sad for him yet loved the part when he told her no one would ever love her like he did. That was the best line in the book.

I absolutely loved the dark tone of the book but got tired of the ghost stuff and was glad when the book ended. This book needed a prequel novella, for sure. I wish the story had centered around their relationship a little more and centered less on Ursula. I have too many questions to be fully satisfied with the story and though I've graded this a B- I'm leaning more towards a C.

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