The series “The Wildes of Lindow Castle” features various children of the Duke of Lindow, and I’ve read several of them. This book is a prequel to tell the story of the Duke and his last Duchess – I don’t recall the couple making that much of an impression on me in the other books, so I was surprised to see this novella about them!
Hugo, the aforementioned Duke, is in need of a wife. His first wife passed away, leaving him with four young children. He married again, and she ended up running away with her Prussian lover, abandoning the children she gave birth to in her wake. So he has seven children, plus a ward that he treats as his own child; now he’s hoping to find another woman to marry to help guide the girls into society.
To this end, he heads off to London and at the first ball he attends, lo and behold, he spots Lady Ophelia Astley. Cupid shoots his arrow and Hugo is determined to meet and marry this woman. For her part, Ophelia is newly out of mourning for her husband. She’s the mother to a two year old girl, and she’s quite happy to live a quiet life with her child. In her mind, she’s nothing like what a Duke would want to wed – in her words, she short and rather round with too much red hair. (As you can see, the woman on the book cover bears no resemblance to the character!) What follows is a rather whirlwind romance, as he tries to convince her that the instant desire between them is the start of a beautiful life together.
When I started reading this, I wasn’t aware this was a short novella and it surprised me how quickly they went from strangers meeting at a ball, to sharing a bed. It seemed sudden, even for a romance novel! And yet, despite that Ophelia doesn’t give in immediately – she makes Hugo work for this relationship. You can certainly read this as a standalone, though it does help a bit to have read some of the other books to give you a sense of how the family started out and evolved.
I can’t say this was my favorite book of Ms James – that will always be “Three Weeks with Lady X”, but it was a sweet and fast read.