William Dunford (although no one calls him William, just Dunford, if you please) is a lucky man. He’s got a rake’s reputation and some wonderful friends, even if those friends are all married and pestering him to follow suit. The death of a cousin many times removed leaves him with a baronetcy and thus he finds himself a minor member of the aristocracy as the Lord of Stannage Park.
Dunford travels to Cornwall to access his new acquisition, but in the process, gets more than he bargained for, for with the entailment comes not only a houseful of servants, assorted farm animals (including a huge porcine beast named Porkus) and some farmer-tenants, but the guardianship of a 20 year old female relation of the old Baron, a fact Dunford doesn’t know about at first. Henrietta, his ward, is beautiful, if somewhat aromatic, and used to doing things her own way. She’s been running Stannage Park on her own for 6 years, while the old Baron mourned the passing of his wife. Left to her own devices, she’s got the place running like clockwork and does not appreciate the meddling of a fancy Londoner. So she plots and plans…. And while she’s plotting and planning to rid Stannage Park of its new owner, Henry (as she calls herself) finds more than she bargained for, as well. A friendship is born, and the attraction is there between them, until Dunford gets the legal papers declaring Henry his ward and responsibility. And this, for Dunford, changes everything.
The story really starts to hum when Dunford, now honor bound to play the role of benevolent guardian, takes Henry to London for her debut. She meets his women friends who set about her transformation from breeches to ball gowns. And Henry makes that transformation in stunning fashion.
The tug of war Dunford has going on in his head about his position as guardian and his desire for Henry is quite entertaining. Henry is so confused and rendered so vulnerable by this that you just want to tell her to slap him hard and move on to greener pastures.
By the time Dunford realizes just how much Henry means to him, the rest of the male population of the ton has discovered her as well, and he is left with a jealous streak a mile wide.
Is it too late for Dunford??
Not at all, it seems.
The story continues to play on Henry’s insecurities and Dunford’s inability to see situations from her perspective. It is the requisite love found, love horribly lost and love found again formula that hooks us so completely. There are so many twists and turns and stops and starts, that it’s easy to forget to put the book down. At more than one point, I found myself yelling, “tell her!” or “tell him!” It was quite the emotional roller coaster. Even the epilogue does not spare us.
There are few passionate scenes in this book. One is really beautifully written, but the wedding night sequence was wrenching ( I won’t go into any more detail). Suffice it to say that all comes out right in the end, as it usually does. My one criticism of this book is that I wish the author had not called her hero by his last name only and had not given her heroine a man’s name. It made for a bit of confusion at times. But that may just be me!
I highly recommend this book. It’s an tempestuous love story from Julia Quinn, who is best known (at least by me) for her Bridgerton Series. William Dunford does appear in two earlier books, so I suppose this could be called a series as well. Those books are Splendid and Dancing at Midnight. It’s wonderful to see Dunford finally find a love of his own. Finally.