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Whitney, My Love (Westmoreland, #2) by Judith McNaught
This review contains spoilers -
Reading Whitney, My Love took me on such a roller coaster ride of emotions that I’ve been struggling with exactly how to review it and how to rate it. When I was upset and sobbing I wanted to give it a 1 star rating. When I was laughing, smiling and sighing, I wanted to give it a 5 star rating. Then it dawned on me – for Judith McNaught to be able to make me feel such a wide range of emotions – joy, despair, passion, pain, betrayal, hatred and love – and feel them deeply enough to bring me to tears more than just a couple of times, she must truly be an amazing author.
When writing Whitney’s role in the story, Ms. McNaught gave us such a well defined, deeply complex character, that I was able to understand and forgive all of her perceived shortcomings. Having been raised without a mother’s affection and gentle nurturing to guide her, her upbringing was overseen by a father who had taken little interest in her, leaving her to her own devices only to chastise and criticize her when she disappointed him. I loved the young girl, and her adventurous nature - her unabashed ‘love’ for Paul Sevarin and her sneaky little tricks to draw his attention. No stunt was too outlandish as long as he noticed her. My heart ached for her upon learning that her father was sending her to France to live with an aunt and uncle because he was simply at his wits end with her. Whitney didn’t know it at the time, but that was the best thing that could have happened to her. Her aunt and uncle both adored her and for the last few years of her ‘childhood’ gave her a taste of what a real, loving family felt like. She grew up to become an accomplished young woman – beautiful, sophisticated and confident. When her father finally and most unexpectedly sends for her to return home to England, she is thrilled. She would miss her aunt and uncle desperately, but she wanted to hurry home and show her father that she had become a woman he could be proud of – and of course to show Paul Sevarin the same thing and to once again begin her pursuit of him with increased fervor. What she doesn’t know, and doesn’t find out for awhile, is that her father has betrothed her to another man.
Whitney returns home and immediately begins going out into Society where she meets one Clayton Westmorland who just happens to live but a few miles away from her. He is a handsome but annoying man who is pursuing her with the same fervor in which she is pursuing Paul. In the beginning she is extremely irritated by him but eventually comes to see him as a friend, but because he learns that Paul is about to ask for her hand in marriage, it becomes necessary to tell her the truth – that she was, in Whitney’s words, sold to Clayton, a man she could barely tolerate to pay off her father’s debts. It had been Clayton’s plan to keep their betrothal a secret – even from her because he wanted to woo her, to make her come to care for him on her own without having to force her into the marriage. But the truth had to come out, she learned that Clayton Westland was actually Clayton Westmoreland, Duke of Claymore and from that point on, everything went to hell in the proverbial hand basket.
Sadly, there was very little, if any, background to Clayton’s character and the story suffered because of it. He first appears at a masquerade ball – wearing a mask – where he approaches Whitney, flirts outrageously with her and decides he must have her. Time passes, but he goes about finding out everything he can about her and learns of her father’s dire financial situation. Clayton approaches the father and a betrothal contract is drawn up for a tidy £100,000 but again, he wants to keep this a secret so that his independent, free spirited fiancé won’t get her panties in a bunch. Sorry, Clay – you must have known there was no way to prevent that. I have to give him credit, though – he really did try hard to earn her affection. He watched her throw herself at Paul, behave outlandishly, defy his wishes and still tried to make her care for him. He put up with a lot from her, and he did it understanding that she had just had her entire life turned upside down. All the hopes and dreams she had had as a young girl were erased by his and her father’s signatures on a contract. He really was being very patient and understanding.
This is where I begin having trouble with the story in general and not because of a plot deficiency of any sort. The problem for me is that Ms. McNaught failed to explain to me why Clayton suddenly turned into such an ass. Granted, there were some misunderstandings that took place, but instead of asking Whitney about them, he lashed out and I could find no excuse for these behaviors. I’ll try to explain what I mean: He was raised in a clearly loving home by parents who cared deeply for their children and each other. He was wealthy and never had to go without food, clothing or shelter. He was respected not merely because he was a Duke but because he deserved it. So why was he so distrustful and so easily angered? We can’t say it was because he was spoiled and used to getting whatever he wanted, because while yes, he did live a life of means and leisure, he also handled the maintenance of his estates, took care of his tenants, invested his own monies …he worked hard – not at all like the self absorbed titled noblemen we read so much about. Even after they finally married, he wasn’t able to trust her – it makes no sense to me – maybe I’m dense but I like to have it all laid out in black and white.
Eventually I did forgive him for the way he had treated her; forcing himself on her because he assumed other men had already ‘known’ her – which was no excuse – accusing her of having cheated on him because of a vague letter he found and rather than confronting her about it, he treats her like a common whore, saying humiliating things to her. Thankfully, after he calms down he realizes that there was no way she could possibly have done what he was accusing her of but by then it was too late. I was deeply moved by the scene where he had finally found out where Whitney had been staying after she left him, went to her, humbled himself before her by bathing her and drying her and attending her as a servant would – however, I didn’t finish the book with a feeling of absolute conviction that he could remain a changed man. The reason being that Ms. McNaught failed to convince me that his horrid actions were born of a troubled past or any other reason than he was just an ass. I suppose I can imagine that he changed because he realized how important she was to him and if he wanted to keep her he would have to change, but as a reader I need more than that – I needed to be able to empathize with him but that just wasn’t there and it is for this reason and this reason only that I was firmly convinced that Whitney, My Love was deserving of a 3.5 star rating from me rather than the 4 it would have gotten had Clayton’s character been as fully developed as Whitney’s had been. But it was the last chapter of the book that convinced me to give this 4.5 stars.
My absolute favorite parts of the story occur in chapter 42 when we are unexpectedly swept back in time to revisit Royce and Jennifer Westmoreland from A Kingdom of Dreams. After their wedding, when they return home, Clayton presents his new bride, Whitney, to his family, staff and friends, he leans down and tells her that what he is about to do is a family tradition and he then repeats the very words spoken by Royce when he presented his abducted bride, Jennifer, to his own family, friends and staff: “Behold your new mistress, my wife. And know that when she bids you, I have bidden you; what service you render her, you are rendering me; what loyalty you give or withhold from her, you give or withhold from me.”
And then once again, when Whitney is ‘lying-in’ after giving birth to Noel, we see another family tradition which Alicia, the dowager duchess called “the loveliest of all the traditions in the family” being carried out when Clayton and Alicia show her a ‘treasure chest’ which contains the writings beginning with Jennifer Westmoreland, and continued down through 7 more generations of the Duchesses recounting the tale of how each had met her husband. The Duke’s contribution through each successive generation was a likeness of his new bride, one if his choosing which he feels most accurately represents her appearance. As Whitney looked through the box, she chose what looked to be the oldest letter and began reading:
“I am Jennifer Merrick Westmoreland, Duchess of Claymore, wife of Royce Westmoreland and mother of William, born to us on the third day of January. I send you my loving greetings…” Whitney went on to read Jennifer’s telling of jousts and tournaments and battles fought by her husband “The Black Wolf.” The things she wrote about were not the things that would interest men, instead she wrote in great detail the things that would be important to women. She wrote of her outrage at being abducted by Royce from her family home then being forced to marry him. She wrote of all the things she thought the future Duchesses of Claymore would want to hear, but most importantly and what shone brightest through it all, she wrote of her love for her husband. Then we read: She ended her letter with an explanation that she was putting a likeness of herself in the chest with her scroll so that her future daughter in laws might know her face. “When I told my lord husband of my need for a small likeness and my plan for this chest to pass down through the generations, he commissioned an artist and presented me with this miniature. It is most flattering,” she confided modestly. “My eyes are not so large, nor my features so fine, but my husband swears it is a perfect likeness. It was also his thought that my name should be engraved upon the back of the frame so that if my hopes for this chest come about, then you will be able to find my face among the many likenesses of all the duchesses of Claymore contained within this chest. I pray that each of your husbands will do as mine has done. I only wish that I could know your faces.”
Later that evening, after Noel had fallen asleep, it was Whitney’s turn and as the 9th Duchess of Claymore, she begins writing her own story to add to the treasure chest and when she finished, it was time for Clayton to perform his part of the tradition by adding a likeness of his wife which he has inscribed on the back, “Whitney—my wife and my love.”
Note: I read Until You, Stephan Westmoreland’s book and really enjoyed the story and the part Clayton plays in it. He seems to be a different man – perhaps he was able to truly change and become the man Whitney deserved and the man he, himself, deserved to be.
Whitney, my love
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Want to make a request for any book? Author — Betty Neels. He appeared for his meals and ate them with evident enjoyment, but for the greater part of the day he was shut in the dining room with his typewriter and when he did emerge it was to put on his sheepskin jacket and go for a walk. Which gave Sadie a chance to rush through the cottage, making as much noise as she liked, polishing furniture and hoovering floors and cleaning windows. It took her all the morning, and after a quick lunch she sat down to write a list of all the things she would need to buy for Christmas. Mr Trentham had said spare no expense, and although she very much doubted if he would keep his plan to spend Christmas at the cottage, she would have to make all the preparations just the same.
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