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Review: Only Beloved by Mary Balogh

Title: Only Beloved (The Survivors' Club #7)
Author: Mary Balogh
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 381  Pages Paperback
Publisher: Signet
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Source: Purchase
Rating: 3 ½
Heat Rating: 3
Reviewed by: Vashti

From the legendary New York Times bestselling author of Only a Kiss and Only a Promise comes the final book in the rapturous Survivor’s Club series—as the future of one man lies within the heart of a lost but never-forgotten love...                                                        
For the first time since the death of his wife, the Duke of Stanbrook is considering remarrying and finally embracing happiness for himself. With that thought comes the treasured image of a woman he met briefly a year ago and never saw again.

Dora Debbins relinquished all hope to marry when a family scandal left her in charge of her younger sister. Earning a modest living as a music teacher, she’s left with only an unfulfilled dream. Then one afternoon, an unexpected visitor makes it come true.

For both George and Dora that brief first encounter was as fleeting as it was unforgettable. Now is the time for a second chance. And while even true love comes with a risk, who are two dreamers to argue with destiny?
Only Beloved, the seventh and final book in Mary Balogh’s Survivors series about a group of people – six men and one woman – who have all suffered injuries and trauma, both physical and mental, directly and indirectly as a result of the Napoleonic Wars.

In true classic Mary Balogh form, she brings to conclusion another wonderful, complex, emotional and even sometimes sad series ending.  Yet she manages to wrap everything up quite elegantly and leaves no question unanswered and no mystery left unsolved.  Each and every Survivor has their HEA and the wounds have begun to heal.  I started this book knowing I would be asking myself the question, "What do I do now that the series is over"?

I have been in anticipating  George's story since he was first introduced in  book one of the series "The Proposal". I was glad Mrs. Balogh saved his HEA as the conclusion to this series.

Having read the entire series I must say I  really thought that George and Imogen, from book six  "Only a Kiss" would end up together, but I also didn't want them to because that would have been the story of two of the Survivors and no 7th book. I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye!

At 48 years of age, George Crabbe, The Duke of Stanbrook, has seen all of his fellow Survivors happily married and continuing their lives with their growing families.  He finally feels that maybe he too can find some comfort in his middle age years.  Not looking for any youthful passions, he wants someone that he can spend his days with, to fill the loneliness that he has experienced. He has been a widower for 12 years and, as we come to find out in the book, a "pretty" wife does not equal a happy life, in regards to his first wife and marriage.

Dora Debbins, we first meet in "Only Enchanting" is a music teacher and older sister to Agnes, who is married to George's fellow Survivor Flavian Arnott, Viscount  Ponsonby. Dora has convinced herself that she is content with the life she has built for herself, independence, a little cottage, her modest savings, and is at peace with the fact that she will never have her happily ever after marriage or children of her own.  It is no wonder that Dora is left a bit speechless and stunned when the Duke of Stanbrook, George, therefore shows up at her door one afternoon, bungling a proposal by asking out of the blue "If she would do him the great honor of marrying him".

Only Beloved is not a  rushed love story, and at times moves a bit slow, but it is a heartfelt romance that develops between two people who realize they have both been lonely and agree to marry on the basis of mutual friendship, respect, and intimacy. They both soon discover however, that romance, passion, and  genuine love is no respecter of age.

George has been carrying very deep wounds, hurts, and deception for the past 20 or so years, that he has never shared with anyone and has no intention of sharing with Dora.   As a result of his life experiences he has the uncanny ability to care for, listen, love and soothe others as no one has ever done for him.   Dora brings to George a peace and tranquility that he didn't even realize his soul craved, and even begins to heal the old wounds.  Even though he has several properties and houses, George has finally has found his home with Dora.

As George soon discovers though, secrets harbored  always have a way of coming to light.  As we near the end of the book the mystery of those secrets is finally revealed, which I have to say I had already figured out, having read so many other of Mary Balogh's books, she does not shy away from taboo subjects.

As is always nice to read in an epilogue, we see a recap of all the Survivors introduced in previous books and it was very sweet to see how all the Survivors were now budding and thriving with their spouses and children, despite their previous wounds and emotional scars.  Perhaps a sneak peek of my favorite scene from the Epilogue sums it up best, as George states to the survivors as they walk the portrait gallery of his home:

“Something has occurred to me,” he said. “We have not had any of our late-night sessions this year, the seven of us. Other years we have scarcely missed a night, though we did miss several last year, I seem to recall.”

Those informal meetings, from which the spouses had always absented themselves though they had never been asked to, had characterized their reunions. It was during the late evenings, George had explained to Dora, that they discussed their progress—physical, mental, and emotional—their setbacks, their triumphs, all that was deep inside themselves and needed to be shared. It was really quite startling to realize that they had not met privately even once yet this year. She had not even noticed until now.

“Has anyone missed our meetings?” George asked.

“Perhaps,” Hugo said, “we do not need them any longer.”

“I believe you are right, Hugo,” Imogen said. “Perhaps all we need now when we are together is to celebrate friendship and love.”

“And life,” Ralph added.

“And memories.” George’s arm tightened about Dora’s waist. “We must never forget any of the people and events and emotions that have made us who we are today. Not that it is likely we ever will.”

I have to say, with the exception of The Huxtable Quintet, this was probably my favorite series by Mary Balogh thus far.   The characters, to some extent, in each story have more depth and more real problems (PTSD, blindness) that someone in the 21st century can relate to.  As opposed to someone who may be forced to marry in order to keep their estate or heaven forbid, they have to marry because they have compromised a women by dancing two sets with her back to back (exaggeration of course)

This could have been a stand alone book, but I would advise against it because the readers will be left questioning some of the character development as well as not having a true sense of relationship as the other survivors are brought into this story.

I will miss all of the Survivors very much, but I look forward to the new series.  An eight-part series, based on  the Westcott family

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