Lady Holland “Holly” Taylor is at her first social engagement in three years, following prolonged mourning for her beloved husband. While waiting for her carriage to take her home, she is pulled into the arms of a stranger (who initially believes her to be someone else, naturally) and kissed passionately. Interestingly, reclusive widow that she is, Holly doesn’t recoil and descend into hysterics or outrage, instead she allows herself to be swept away by the unexpected embrace and kisses the stranger back, not once, but twice. Only when he offers to seduce her does she leave, promising herself to never think of it again.
If only it were that easy. Her mystery man is Zachary Bronson, a former prize-fighter made financial magnate. Now one of the richest men in London (and probably England, isn’t that always the case?), Bronson is nonetheless not properly accepted in polite society and certainly doesn’t have the respect of the upper classes. He is seen as a vulgar upstart, for all that most are desperate to join in with his businesses, as everything he involves himself with seems to turn to profit. Bronson isn’t all that bothered about being accepted in society for himself, but he wants an advantageous match for his sister (who is illegitimate) and he has a clever plan to get to spend a lot more time with the lovely Lady Holly.
Inviting her to his gaudy and opulent London home for tea, he makes her an offer so generous, she cannot in good conscience refuse, even though her reputation may be tarnished forever. As a widow with a young daughter, Holly doesn’t have a lot to live on, and is currently staying with her husband’ family, who claim they are more than happy to take care of her for the rest of her days. She has absolutely no intention to ever remarry, but is starting to feel a bit constricted after three years of isolation. So when Bronson, who wisely doesn’t acknowledge their previous meeting (Holly seems so happy that he doesn’t seem to “recognise” her), offers to pay her a small fortune in trust for her daughter, with an extra outrageous as salary for Holly herself, if she take her child and move in with the Bronsons for a year, to tutor them all in the necessary social graces, she’d be a fool not to accept.
The Taylors are appalled at Holly’s decision, and claims that Bronson has unsavoury designs on her virtue, but Holly will not have her mind changed. And while Bronson initially may have had plans to seduce Holly, he quickly comes to see that their social standings are much too far apart and that she was never meant for someone as coarse and common as he. He knows that while he could seduce her, she would never consent to becoming his mistress, and he would lose her forever.
This is one of Mrs. Julien’s personal favourites. Her review is here.
My full review can be found on my blog.