Once and Always

Once and Always - Judith McNaught 3.5-4 starsIt's tough for me to rate this book, because so much of it is a 4-star book... the main characters are richly drawn, the story is engaging, and one cheers on the Hero and Heroine as they come together.The problem is that the Hero has some very old, very deep emotional wounds that won't go away with a little love. We see him want to open his heart, and then cruelly close it again - jumping to some rash conclusion about the Heroine and what she's thinking or feeling. His behavior reflects his wounds throughout the book, until *suddenly* we're at the end of the story, and the Hero seems healed all at once. Perhaps I overstate the end?Victoria (Tory) is a wonderful American heroine. She's sweet but feisty, compassionate but with a biting wit, and as innocent as they come. She's almost constantly wide-eyed at the world and people around her. She befriends and tames a half-dog/half-wolf. And while one would expect her to have difficulty navigating the ways of the "ton", she seems to glide effortlessly through it. Although she does mention the strange rules that the "ton" has often. Being an American (Irish-American at that), I wondered if even a title and a betrothal to a marquess was enough for the "ton" to overcome its blatant class distinctions. But those aren't of any consequence in this book.Lord Jason Fielding (Marquess of Wakefield) is living a lie. He's supposed to be the nephew of Charles Fielding (Duke of Atherton), but in reality, he's Charles' by-blow from an affair with a French dancer. Charles placed him with his youngest brother, a missionary sailing to India, and only years later realized how cruel and harsh his life was there; rather than take care of him, his brother's wife beat him and publicly humiliated and berated him as "the devil's spawn". Jason escaped that life by the grace of a man who became his best friend, and then Jason built a life and an empire for himself in India... including a beautiful wife. But Jason's idea of love left something to be desired, and his wife's interest quickly waned despite all the expensive gifts he gave her. She also publicly humiliated him by having open affairs, and in the end, she ran off with a lover, taking Jason's only beloved son, intending to ransom him back to his father; except the ship they were sailing on was lost at sea, no survivors.Charles Fielding loved Victoria's mother, but in the usual way, family intervened; Charles was engaged to another, and Katherine (Victoria's mother) was supposed to be engaged to a man who'd bring a powerful alliance to her family - at her mother's behest. Knowing that they'd both be disinherited if they eloped and believing that Katherine wouldn't know how to be poor and would leave him, Charles decided to go forward with his marriage to his fiancee. Katherine hastily eloped to America (where she wanted to go with Charles) with an Irish doctor. Now Charles feels he has a second-chance to "make things right" for Katherine's daughter, Victoria. But how he could have the unmitigated gall to believe that she and Jason would be perfect for one another and announce their engagement in the London Times without even meeting Victoria... beyond me.And that's another part of the problem... yes, in this time families often made decisions on behalf of their young without consulting them. But without seeing them or knowing them?As it turns out, Jason and Victoria are a good match, but both have some healing to do. Victoria believes that her American sweetheart, who's on a six-month Grand Tour in Europe, will come for her upon learning that her parents are dead and that she's in England. But everyone conspires to tell her differently - that her father didn't really want the match, that Andrew's mother will never let him go, and so on, until she gets the fateful letter from Andrew's mother telling her that Andrew has married a second-cousin in Switzerland. Now Victoria is heart-broken and bitter against men. Jason is broken and bitter against everyone, but especially women. What a match!How they come together is the intriguing and engaging part of the story. And this is a romance, so I should cut the author some slack. Because it is a beautiful, dreamy romance, fraught with the "issues" of the tortured hero and the problems caused by his behavior towards the heroine.I did enjoy this book, and I intend to read the next one in this series.