Francesca Bridgerton marries John Stirling, the Earl of Kilmartin and they share a blissful two years together, until he suddenly dies in his sleep. To make matters worse, she’s in the early stages of pregnancy and loses the baby shortly after. For support, she desperately wants to turn to Michael Stirling, John’s cousin and best friend, but he’s so overwhelmed that he can’t really be there for her. Because Francesca miscarries, Michael is suddenly the heir to the Kilmartin title, a fate he never wanted. To make matters worse, he’s madly in love with Francesca, and has been since he met her shortly before her wedding to John, but Michael now begins to fear he somehow brought about his cousin’s untimely demise with his dreams of having Francesca for his own.
Unable to deal with his mix of grief and infatuation, Michael ships off to India for a few years, while the Stirling women, Francesca, John’s mother and Michael’s mother, take care of the Kilmartin estate. When he returns some years later, he discovers that Francesca is on the look-out for a new husband. She wants a child desperately and the only way to manage that is to remarry. Michael himself also needs to find a wife and begin fathering heirs to secure the title, but the only wife he wants is Francesca, who looks only sees him as her dead husband’s best friend. Can he really stand by and watch her marry another man, losing her forever?
Francesca is the one of the Bridgerton siblings that features the least in the series. She shows up briefly in An Offer from a Gentleman and is occasionally thought of by one of her other siblings, but she’s the sibling the readers know the least about when she finally gets her own book. Julia Quinn herself admits that she needed Francesca to be widowed to do something different, because otherwise, When He Was Wicked would have been her third book in a row with a spinster heroine in her late twenties. So yes, this book explores the possibility of finding love again, once the person you may have believed was the love of your life dies.
The book has the hero loving the heroine from afar for years and years, and silently pining for her without ever admitting his feelings. It has a heroine who bravely picks herself after losing her beloved husband and unborn child, managing her cousin-in-law’s estate capably and protecting his interests, without really confiding the depths of her grief and loneliness to her in-laws or large, supportive family. Until this book was released on sale for the big online Bridgerton re-read, it was the ONLY book in the series I didn’t already own, because I remembered it as the most underwhelming of the eight books. When I re-read Romancing Mister Bridgerton this time around, I discovered that I liked it a lot more than I had previously, and I really wanted to see if I had been too harsh on this book because I was misremembering it.
Sadly, that is not the case. Read my full review here.