Sunday 4 May 2014

#CBR6 Book 41: "Three Weeks with Lady X" by Eloisa James

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Tobias "Thorn" Daultry is the eldest of the Duke of Villiers' seven illegitimate children. He spent the first part of his life, before he was rescued and taken in by his powerful father, as a mudlark in the Thames, risking his miserable life on a daily basis to dive for trinkets in the dangerous river currents. As an adult, he has made his own fortune, completely independent of his father, and is looking to settle down. He's decided that Letitia "Lala" Rainsford is the perfect bride for him. She's very beautiful and likely to be a kind mother to his children, and her father is in a financial bind, so unlikely to mind that Thorn is a bastard, what with him being obscenely wealthy as well. That's she's widely rumoured to be dumb as a box of hair is irrelevant to him, he doesn't require wits and brains in a wife. Lala's mother,  is his biggest obstacle. She's a snob and very proud of the fact that she was once an attendant to the queen. To win Miss Rainsford's hand in marriage, Thorn first has to impress his future mother-in-law.

He buys a large estate outside London, but the previous owner may or may not have used it as a brothel, and he needs someone with impeccable taste and breeding to decorate it for him. His step-mother, Lady Eleanor, recommends Lady Xenobia India St. Clair, who makes a living sorting out the households of others. India's parents were whatever the 18th Century version of hippies would be, certainly not very responsible, with India often having to barter so they'd get food on the table. After they died, she moved in with her godmother and now, nearly twenty-six years old, she'd like to find a nice, biddable gentleman who wouldn't mind her controlling the household and finances and settle down.

Sparks obviously fly from the first time Thorn and India meet. She reluctantly agrees to refurbish his entire house and get it ready for a house party in three weeks' time, as long as she has carte blanche and free reign to do as she pleases. They are both extremely attracted to each other, but neither can see a future with the other, not just because of the huge gap in their social statuses, but also because they are both so convinced they want a future with someone nice and calm and the complete opposite of their own forceful personalities.

This book has a lot going on in it. There's an orphaned little girl who I was worried was going to turn out to be an annoying plot moppet, who instead turns out to be a delightful addition to the story, even though her presence also naturally causes further complications. From the moment they first lay eyes on each other, it's clear to the reader that India and Thorn were meant to be together. The fun is in seeing what how many obstacles they have to work through to find their HEA. Not to spoil anything, but there are a LOT. This book got almost farcical at times in causing difficulties for the happy couple.

This book is the first of at least two books apparently intended as a continuation of Eloisa James' Desperate Duchesses series, in which the Duke of Villiers, Thorn's formidable father, a sometime villain earlier in the series, finally found his happy ending. He and his lovely lady appear as supporting characters in this book as well, and there are references to their romance, although I must admit that it's been so many years since I read it, that I probably have to re-read A Duke of Her Own to remind myself what happened.

Thorn is fairly formidable in his own right. He's huge, a big lug, one of Mrs. Julien's favourite attributes in a hero and very much an alpha male. He's not even vaguely ashamed of his illegitimacy, well aware that his looks and great wealth, as well as his father's status, can smooth over most obstacles in society. He loves conducting business and is something of an inventor, himself. He intends to be faithful to his wife once he settles down, and is clearly very fond of children, as evidenced by his interactions with his ward, Rose, the orphaned daughter of one of the other mudlarks from his past. When he is told it's best that she be kept hidden away during the house party, to make sure no one assumes she's his bastard daughter, he reluctantly agrees, but visits her every chance he gets.

India did not have an easy childhood, and has always sought calmness, predictability and order as a result. Happily travelling from household to household with her godmother as chaperone, she's received any number of marriage proposals (and less flattering offers) as she helps redecorate rooms, sort out unruly servants and generally use her powers of organising for the good of society friends, but she's ready to start a family of her own. It's quite clear that India is very used to taking care of everyone else, but won't really let anyone close enough to take care of her.

Thorn may be the son of a duke, but he was born on the wrong side of the sheets. India is the legitimate daughter of a marquess, and while her parents were flighty, irresponsible and left India virtually penniless, her position in society is still such that a match between them seems inappropriate. Thorn decides that his best friend, the future Duke of Pindar, would be a suitable match for her, but is of course so consumed with jealousy every time India or his buddy even glance at each other. Goodreads seems to suggest that said best bud is the hero of James' next book, so I'm looking forward to seeing who he ends up with in the end.

Romance novels frequently feature grand gestures, usually when the hero has messed up and needs to make amends. It can be the heroine who needs to make the grand gesture, but that's more the case in books of authors who like tweaking the genre conventions. This book has the most spectacular grand gesture I can remember having read in a romance in the last few years. I'm still rather amazed at the lengths Thorn goes to prove his love for his beloved. When Eloisa James is on form, I find her very enjoyable. This book had a lot of excellent banter, scorching attraction between the protagonists, a LOT of drama (possibly too much) and a very satisfying conclusion. She's not on the top of my favourites list, but I do tend to buy her books shortly after release, and this was a very good and diverting way to spend a few hours of my time.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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