I like Mary Balogh, so I expected to enjoy this book; but I was surprised that I absolutely loved it!
Susanna Osbourne is a teacher at Miss Martin's school in Bath. She has no family, since her mother died in childbirth and her father died when she was twelve. She was sent to Miss Martin's by an anonymous benefactor as a charity student, and she remained to become a teacher. She is quite happy and content with her life.
While visiting a former teacher, who is now Countess of Edgecombe (see Simply Unforgettable), she happens to meet Peter Edgeworth, Viscount Whitleaf. He is handsome and charming, and seems to feel it's his mission in life to flirt with all the ladies, even the elderly spinster Miss Honeydew. Susanna is immediately on her guard, not just because she thinks he's shallow and frivolous, but because she met him once as a child and his presence brings up unhappy memories. During their two weeks in one another's company, however, they strike up a genuine friendship, which culminates in an afternoon of lovemaking before they part.
Susanna expects never to see Peter again, but when he comes to Bath for a wedding of yet another teacher (see Simply Love), Susanna realizes that she has indeed lost her heart to Peter. (And may I just add right here that being a teacher at Miss Martin's school looks to be a better way of finding a titled husband than attending dozens of balls in London.) Peter proposes, but Susanna turns him down, feeling that he has made the offer out of guilt and obligation rather than love. She also has strong feelings about remaining independent, and she truly loves her life at the school. Again, Peter leaves, and they don't expect to meet again.
I won't go into detail about the rest of their story, but their pasts turn out to be more complicated, and intertwined, than first suspected. Peter has a lot of maturing to do, and he needs to get out from under his mother's domination.
Peter is not a rake or an alpha hero; he's really more of an overgrown boy, but he truly wants to live a meaningful, productive life, having a family and running his estate successfully. At the same time, Susanna has to stop ignoring terrible events from her past, and with help from Peter (and sometimes a little interference from him), she comes to envision a future much different from that which she had long thought was inevitable.
The obstacles to their HEA are serious and real and don't seem contrived. This is just a really sweet story that will leave you feeling happy at the end.