Here’s the premise: Richard, the Earl of Anderley, is called to the deathbed of an old friend, to discover that he’s been named as guardian to the friend’s daughter. Not that she needs a guardian, since she’s twenty-three, but let that pass. Elizabeth has been under the impression that she was illegitimate. Now she’s to be told that she is actually legitimate, although in a secret and underage ceremony of dubious legality, but let that pass, too. Richard is charged with bringing the girl to her rightful place in society and finding her a husband, and quite why her father neglected to do that himself is beyond me.
Richard accepts the guardianship and sets about his appointed tasks. His sister Mary is called upon to rig Elizabeth out in suitable style, but refuses to introduce her to society. Maybe next year, she says. So Richard whisks Elizabeth off to the country, but he’s not prepared to wait a year, since she’s 23 already. Happily, he has a nephew, Timothy, (Mary’s son) who is the right sort of age, and a pleasant, agreeable sort of man. He’s a bit rakish, but no doubt he’ll settle in time. He’s also Richard’s heir, so it all seems very providential. Elizabeth is very antagonistic towards Richard, resenting being torn away from her simple farming roots and his control over her, but she seems to take a shine to Timothy. So, marriage problem solved. Or is it?
Two problems emerge to mar this seemingly perfect arrangement. Firstly, when Timothy is invited to get to know Elizabeth better at a house party Richard has helpfully organised, he falls madly in love with the brainless but very pretty daughter of a neighbour. So… back to the drawing board on the marriage front, but there’s a young marquis who might do…
The second problem is that Richard finds himself falling for Elizabeth himself. Now, this seems a bit skeevy in a man with a nephew of 25 or so, whom everyone (including himself) talks about as if he were practically in his dotage. He tells himself he’s far too old for Elizabeth and resolutely suppresses his feeling, soldiering on with his project to find her a husband her own age. Whereupon we discover that he’s a full twenty years younger than his sisters, and is actually only 35. Since when is 35 too old and decrepit to think of marriage, especially to a 23-year-old?
Eventually, like the reader, he comes to realise that he’s not too old for her at all, she seems to have dropped her initial antagonism towards him and so he decides to try his luck. And she promptly refuses him, because reasons. What possible reason can there be? The usual one – the author wanted to spin out the plot and introduce some melodrama, so the heroine gets to have her outbreak of stupid, while I restrained the impulse to hurl my Kindle at the wall. Sigh.
Needless to say, everything comes right in the end, although not before another deluge of highly implausible melodrama, but the final scenes are beautifully romantic, so the story ends on a fine high note that had me grinning in delight. As with all Stables’ work, this is beautifully written and despite the overwrought plot contrivances, worthy of four stars.