Here’s the plot: Our hero, Hunt (the Marquess of Huntercombe), lost his wife and children to smallpox years ago, and now that his remaining heir has died, he urgently needs to marry and start begetting again. His sisters are pushing him towards newly-out candidates, but the prospect of a bride young enough to be his daughter appals him. How about a widow, one with children already as proof of her fertility? And almost at once he meets a most unlikely prospect, the impoverished widow of a duke’s younger son, living outside good society. He’s strongly attracted to Lady Emma Lacy, and her children, Harry and Georgiana, take to him, so what can go wrong? Only that she refuses him, that’s what. But when her son, now heir to the dukedom, is at risk of being taken from her, she realises she has to have a husband who can protect her children.
So the stage is set for a marriage of convenience, and this aspect of the book is beautifully written and very powerful. Both of them have to learn to make accommodations for their new situation, they both have pasts that haunt them and the children create a whole swathe of unexpected tensions between them. I particularly liked the awkwardness of marital sex with a relative stranger (yes, there are some graphic sex scenes, so avoid if that’s not your thing).
And then there’s the difficulty of re-introducing the scandalous Emma into the upper echelons of society again. But this is where the plot starts to go slightly off the rails. Firstly, there’s a deluge of relations, on his side, on hers and from her husband’s family, who are uniformly hostile towards Emma and hellbent on interfering. It would be lovely if these various families could include at least one or two members who were as friendly and downright normal as Hunt and Emma themselves.
Then there are the left-over characters from what is clearly a previous book in the series, which I hadn’t read. This wasn’t a problem, plotwise, but they were wheeled out with the clear expectation that readers would fall on their necks with cries of joyful recognition, which falls a bit flat when one hasn’t actually read that book. I discovered that I already own it, so I will be reading it, but it was a tad disconcerting, all the same.
And then there’s the drama part of the story. I won’t go into the details of this to avoid spoilers, but to my mind it made zero sense. If the villain had set out with a certain aim, then there were far simpler ways of going about it, and it seemed to me that the threat still existed at the end of the book (but maybe I misunderstood that part, who knows).
Nevertheless, even with the somewhat illogical villainy, the relationship between the main characters was always front and centre, and was strong enough to carry the story. The author’s grasp of the Regency era was exceptionally good, and my only quibble was whether Lady Emma Lacy’s title should actually be Lady Peter Lacy. Not totally sure about that. A great read, with a fine mix of the emotional and the dramatic, with a few humorous interludes as well. A good four stars.