As I have mentioned in the past, historical romances where the female character has some rationale for being utterly anachronistic are my jam. Here, we have Juliana Fiori who was raised by a single Italian merchant father after her mother, a fallen marchioness, abandoned them both to gallivant off with another man. So she’s exotic (no joke, that is a word used to describe her pro tip if Italian counts as exotic your book might be a bit white) and Italian and shocking and always making scandals where’er she goes.
In the other corner we have the studiously scandal free Duke of Leighton, Simon, who is such because of a DASTARDLY SECRET that will SHOCK and REVILE the ton if it were to ever get out. And it certainly will, in nine months. Or so. The secret will be delivered. Screaming, even. Get it? Get it?
The loosest of wraps ties these two together. The Duke is indebted to Juliana’s half-brother Nicholas, who is hiding his enceinte unwed (MINOR) sister in a manor upstate. So when her other half-brother asks him to help keep Juliana out of trouble (and perhaps get her married off), of course he needs to therefore “oversee” her and let her know that the only true way to be is tightlaced and scandal free. Juliana counters with a wager that she can make him see that passion and zest is the way to go.
Since only one of those paths comes with kissy faces, you can imagine which road is taken more often by our two main leads.
This book has a vague Grand Sophy vibes, with Juliana = Sophy obv and Duke = her cousin, but like that book other than them being really into each other’s bodies there’s a bit of rapid role reversal which makes it hard to fully forgive the Duke for being a bit of an ass for ages. Sure, he’ll publicly flagellate himself and therefore be forgiven by Juliana and all will end well, but he’s sort of a jerk for a long time and makes her feel terrible about herself.
I didn’t read this book for a while because I liked MacLean’s follow up series about the gambling impresarios, and the first story is that of Lady Penelope whose engagement to the Duke here is the one that gets broken. She’s not mean but she’s not super flattering to Juliana, who is literally the other woman. There isn’t much cheating in historical romances (that I read), especially not when the character in question is known and not cartoonishly evil. Bit of a damper on an otherwise fun frolic.