Heath Hextall, Earl of Boden, is on a mission to find a wife. At least, that is what he tells his long time friend William Somerhall at the ball they are attending. Will has recently found happiness with Jenna (see my review for ‘A Good Rogue is Hard to Find’), but he is surprised that Heath is ready to settle down. The problem is that Heath is tired of taking care of everything in his life. Since inheriting the earldom, it’s been a struggle to rebuild the finances, as well as maintain and grow the soap business he grew up in. He wasn’t raised to be a member of the haute ton, but the family fell into the title after others in line passed away. It’s time to find a wife to manage the domestic side of things, preferably someone pleasant and sweet who won’t cause any scandals. He’s had enough of scandal to last him awhile, after dealing with the fallout from his two sisters. Julia was the unfortunate young lady engaged to the Marquess of Vallant from the first book; not her fault the marquess went mad, but gossip had been rampant. His other sister, Viola, had been rather impetuous in her search for a titled husband, even propositioning Will; she has been sent to New York to keep out of trouble.
So as he is looking over the crowded ballroom to assess the prospective brides, he spots a young lady who is likely the opposite of what he is searching for. Lady Josephine Somerhall (Joss) is inspecting a large vase, and in order to verify its authenticity upends it and holds it between her knees to check the bottom of it. Joss has been away from London since she was much younger, touring the continent, and she is both independent and unconventional. She knows several languages, is very well read and has studied art enough to recognize a forgery. Heath goes to her aid with the vase before the host of the party has a fit of apoplexy over what she is doing. He quickly realizes that she is still the same exuberant spirit he used to tease when they were younger. She is the sister to his friend Will, and tagged along whenever the two boys went out to play. Now she is all grown up, and while he is impressed with her quick wits and beauty, he feels that she isn’t the woman he needs for a wife. She’s a whirlwind when he wants a gentle breeze, or so he thinks. Not to mention, she is the sister of his best friend, and therefore off limits.
For her part, Joss thinks she had gotten over her childhood infatuation with Heath, but as soon as she sees him it all comes back to her. He’s just as blond and gorgeous as she remembers, but with a definite air of polished seriousness she isn’t expecting. The boy who put toads down the front of her dress has disappeared, leaving a proper gentleman in his place. She finds herself wanting to put the happiness back into his life.
On his way home from the ball, Heath literally runs into an injured man that he recognizes as a Bow Street runner he’d hired in the past. The man passes on a leather folder and a cryptic message before passing out. Before he can decide how to move the man, a carriage pulls up and Joss offers to help. What follows sets into motion the plot of long lost treasure, and the criminals who are hoping to find it. There’s plenty of action, of both the steamy kind as well as the espionage kind. Joss is well matched with Heath, but the two of them are at odds over their relationship. He can’t help but be drawn to her, but she is far from the boring wife he thought he needed. And she is not interested in marriage, for reasons of her own. It takes awhile for them to come around to realize they balance each other out.
As with the rest of Ms Bowen’s books, the Dowager Duchess of Worth makes an appearance in the book, and there is another plot about helping abused women. The story moves along quickly, and it’s a good read, with the same snappy dialogue and steamy romance as the others in the trilogy.
Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this author! She writes such lively, intelligent heroines who overcome adversity and are a match in wits to the hero. You really should be reading her books! I’m just sad I’ve read them all and have to wait for the next one to come out later this year.