By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
I grew up with alcoholic parents, and when I'm reading, I often notice a character's drinking habits even when I'm not meant to notice. Let me be clear that I'm not a teetotaler; I drink in moderation, and I have no problem at all with typical historical romance references to ratafia at balls, wine with dinner, after-dinner port or brandy, or a pint of ale at the pub. But the heroine's drinking in this book was distractingly problematic. When we meet Elizabeth, she has drunk two bottles of booze and literally passed out in the hero's rose bushes, insensible to thorns and dew and the potential hazards that might befall a woman of society passing the night unconscious in a stranger's garden. Then, throughout the story, she's constantly either drinking, planning/looking forward to drinking, or suffering from having drunk too much. She's got money troubles and a lot of people who depend upon her, and mostly she drinks to take her mind off of things, but her good intentions aside, she is clearly an alcoholic.
Toward the end of the book, upon becoming far too drunk in public, Elizabeth finally starts to grasp that her drinking is a problem, but she's full of an addict's excuses: She never drinks alone. It's only polite to drink to keep up with the toasts at parties. She didn't mean to get so drunk; it's just because she drank on an empty stomach. At least she's not as drunk as that one time when she passed out in Lord Whosiwhatsis's water closet.
She and Michael, the hero, even discuss it, briefly. He says if he is the cause of her drinking, he'll leave immediately, and she says no, it started before she knew him. But then the scene is interrupted by the arrival of Elizabeth's blackmailing ex-lover, and the plot wraps up the blackmail element but Elizabeth's addiction is never brought up again.
I don't know how a reader can have any hope in the main characters' happy ever after where such a huge problem remains unresolved. Elizabeth's alcoholism is even more problematic because most of the plot revolves around Michael trying to resolve issues caused in part by his late sister-in-law's opium addiction. In the final scene, Michael shakes off all of the doubts about love that had held him back from committing to Elizabeth, because he realizes he trusts her completely -- but I know from hard experience that you can't trust an addict.
I generally like Meredith Duran, but this book didn't work for me at all.