On his twenty-first birthday, Damian, Viscount Kendal, drunkenly follows the advice of his friend Robert Townsend and gambles away Beaulieu, the estate he has inherited from his beloved departed mother, then he passes out dead drunk. Unfortunately, Townsend had even more of a drinking and gambling problem than Damian and promptly lost the property to someone else. Damian is forced to return to his father, hanging his head in shame, promising to do whatever it takes to reform and help re-purchase the property. He cuts off all contact with his dissolute school friends and throws himself into a career in the diplomatic corps.
Seven years later, having inherited his father’s title as Earl of Windermere, Damian has tracked down the man currently holding the deed to Beaulieu. The merchant in question doesn’t want mere money to relinquish it, however, he demands that Damian marry his niece, Cynthia, a young and awkward woman who Damian just assumes is as grasping and social climbing as her uncle. He makes absolutely no attempt to actually get to know his shy, inelegant wife, demands that she speak to him in French whenever they actually do spend some time together (she only learned French at Finishing School, so isn’t exactly fluent). He resentfully consummates the marriage, but leaves on a diplomatic mission to Persia after only a few weeks. He leaves orders that Cynthia stay at Beaulieu and have it refurbished for when he returns.
So imagine his surprise when he arrives back in London, nearly a year later, having barely corresponded with his wife in the time apart, to discover that she’s not following orders and languishing away in the countryside. She is no longer retiring, plain and socially awkward. She is an elegant and ravishing society beauty and currently spending an awful lot of time with his former best friend, Julian Fortescue, the Duke of Denford, whose town house is right next door to his. There are a lot of choice rumours, all of them suggesting that Lady Windermere has taken a lover while her husband was off serving his country. All signs point to Denford being said lover.
Damian’s current orders force him to put aside his enmity with Denford and try to rekindle the friendship they once shared, as the a Prussian Prince wants his hands on an art collection Denford is said to be in possession of, and diplomatic negotiations demand that the Prince stay happy. While Damian is unwilling to risk his career, he is not at all happy with the amount of attention Denford is lavishing on Cynthia and becomes determined to win his wife back. He quickly discovers that he knew absolutely nothing about the woman he married and didn’t care to find anything out before he abandoned her. She is rightfully deeply hurt by his treatment of her, and has no intention of giving up the company of friends she made while he abandoned her for the best end of a year. Can Damian grovel enough to ever gain his wife’s forgiveness?
Full review (warning, it’s quite long) on my blog.