Soooo much right about this book.
When I say there are better romance wordsmiths than Elizabeth Hoyt, Sherry Thomas is the first one I have in mind. Her prose and her imagery are lovely, and since I'm a prose > plot person, her books just plain work for me. Especially this one.
I was a little lukewarm about Private Arrangements, and, though I liked Delicious quite a bit, by the end I was more invested in the secondary romance than the primary. But NQAH fired on all cylinders. I can't think of an HEA more hard-earned than Leo's and Bryony's (even Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth hadn't done such outright awful things to one another), and, sadistic fan of H/H suffering that I am, I loved every misstep, every regret, every moment when one or the other had to face the fact they'd let something precious slip out of their grasp. (Or maybe "willfully thrown it away with both hands" is a more accurate representation.)
I'm an absolute sucker for shame, and Thomas deploys it beautifully, in Bryony's reaction to Leo's pre-marital betrayal (not rage, or disgust, or even heartbreak, but overwhelming shame, which I wouldn't have expected but which rang incredibly true) and of course in Leo's feelings about his own behavior, as well as the failure of his and Bryony's intimate relationship. (Yes! More shame! Bring it on! Put 'em through the wringer! Seriously, there's a reason that particular emotion drove all the Greek tragedies.)
I'm also a sucker for a warm-hearted, quietly confident hero and a prickly, no-nonsense heroine. I will read about that pairing any time, anywhere.
The book only weakened a bit toward the end, when they were back in England and the barriers to their HEA seemed pretty much to have been overcome. (Once Leo makes up his mind, on the boat, that he's going to take that leap with her, as far as I can see there's really nothing holding them back.) The appearance of Verity/Vera is a tangent that sort of stalls the plot, and only seems to be there to set up a future story with her grown son as the hero. I think. (If she wasn't in there for that reason, then her appearance was really a weird, dead-end, railroad-spur kind of tangent.)
But so what. By that point I loved the book enough to forgive a whole roll-call of irrelevant character cameos. I can't imagine what Thomas could write that would work better for me than NQAH, but I look forward to finding out.