Having ridden horses since I was little, I always enjoy the inclusion of horseback riding history in historical romance novels! Many people assume that women were quite content to sit "aside" in a sidesaddle, never wear trousers to be more comfortable, and allow the men to have all the fun in racing their prize horses. I loved that Kristi Ann Hunter took this opportunity to set the record straight. We not only learn more about the obstacles women faced if they wanted to succeed in the racing business, but also that even just riding horses in general came with its own set of struggles. The hero is an illegitimate son, facing his own societal hurdles, and so we also learn about how that sort of things was handled in society. I liked how the author didn't gloss over that distinction in life, not just from the perspective of fitting in, but also from the internal struggles the hero battled every day, not knowing where he fit in. Very eye opening and much appreciated.
Aaron Whitworth has grown up knowing many struggles - being illegitimate was just the first and most well known of them all. Not wanting to take handouts from his father, he has made a living as a stable manager, and he keeps his circle of friends small so as not to taint others with his presence. He knows who he is and, most importantly, what he is to society, and nothing he will ever do can change that. The most important things to him are his job, his friends, and his horses, and there is absolutely no room for a meddling woman. Enter Sophia Fitzroy, who threatens to upend all of that. He thought she was the male jockey he hired, but when she shows up very much a female, he is fit to be tied. Now he must decide if her dreams and livelihood are worth more than his reputation. Can he jeopardize everything he has worked for to bring her happiness? As they get to know each other, that becomes a harder question to answer.
I adored Sophia, with her babbling nervousness and her perseverance in spite of the treatment she received from others. She had to overcome so much ridicule and abuse to get where she did, and Aaron certainly didn't make it easy for her. Sophia's parents had died, leaving her and her twin brother on their own, trying to make ends meet. They moved from Ireland to escape one bad job, only to move into another that resulted in Sophia's brother to become seriously injured. With her skills in riding, she could be really successful, if not for the fact that she was a woman. Once she saw an opportunity to work for Aaron, she jumped at it, and only later realized the consequences of her actions, not only on herself, but also on him. She endeared herself to me quickly, as she very conscious of her actions from that point on and often put others before herself. Aaron was an enigma, rarely speaking and very sparse with his praise towards Sophia. I was frustrated that he didn't make more of an effort to be kind, although I understood why he kept his distance. As the book progressed, he became more and more endearing to me, and the lengths he went to make Sophia happy brought tears to my eyes. Their journey was long and difficult, but in the end, it was well worth the effort.
This was the second book in the series, and so now I need to go back and read the first. There is no doubt in my mind that it will be a fantastic read!
**I received a free copy via NetGalley and this is my honest review.**