Much like Eloisa James’ book Seven Minutes in Heaven, this one deals with a lord in search of a governess for children he’s unprepared to deal with. This is a favorite of mine that I decided to re-read after thinking there were a lot of similarities between the two, and I have to say this book is much better.
The Duke of Denford is one of those unexpected aristocrats – several members of his family succumbed to accidents or illnesses, and he is the last surviving male to take over the title. This seems to be a favorite trope in historical romance lately, I’ve read several books with the hero not expecting or prepared to be the duke, earl, marquess or what have you. Julian Fortescue was quite content with his life, buying and selling artwork, and travelling throughout Europe to do so. He was really the black sheep of the family, and his title was contested hotly by a lot of the females in his family so that he had no access to funds until the start of the book. His London home is rather run down and under-staffed as a result, but it wasn’t really a major problem until his mother shows up out of the blue with her three daughters from her second marriage. She’s recently widowed again, but has become engaged to another man who wants to make a trip to America and she plans to accompany him without the children. Julian is hardly surprised at this move; she’d shipped him off to school to be with her second husband after all. But he’s not prepared to deal with three younger half-sisters that he doesn’t know, nor really wants to at that point. He has no illusions about his lifestyle, and his reputation isn’t the best; he’s thoroughly charming and handsome, ensuring that he’s never short of female companionship. “Besides, no one expected Julian to behave properly, least of all himself”
In order to bring some guidance to his half-sisters, he decides to hire a governess and Jane Grey enters his life. He hires her on the spot, intrigued by her looks that she has tried to disguise with prim clothing. She is actually Jeanne de Falleron, the only living member of her family which was executed during the French Revolution. She’s on a mission to find the man she believes betrayed her family, knowing only the name Mr. Fortescue. Not entirely sure of Julien is the man she is searching for, she believes that at least getting into the household will prove useful to her plan. What she doesn’t expect is the instant attraction to Julian or his to her. But she’s well aware of his motive for hiring her, and meets his flirting with her own, while at the same time trying to figure out if he’s the man behind her family’s downfall.
Along the way, Jane discovers that she really enjoys being the governess to his sisters. The girls remind Jane of her own sisters, and she feels protective of them and finds herself encouraging Julian to take more interest in them. It was well done to show how he warms up to them, and becomes a loving big brother despite his words to the contrary. The relationship between Jane and Julian is well done too, and unlike the hero of Seven Minutes Julian doesn’t give a fig about Jane’s supposed low social standing. True, she’s hiding her identity but for a much better reason than the heroine of the other book. She’s done whatever she had to in order to survive, not merely as a whim to play a game.
There was so much more to this book, with the mystery of Jane’s family and the stolen paintings and of course everything is revealed in the end. The romance sizzles, the dialogue is well done and Jane and Julian are evenly matched. It’s just so well done, and it entertains all the way through to the end. This is part of a series, but it’s not written so that the reader is over -run with characters from the other books, and it’s definitely good on its own. I’ve read all the books in the series, and this was by far the best of the bunch.