Spoiler: The dog dies.
It sets a certain tone when a historical romance opens with the hero going at it with his mistress. The series is called “London’s Greatest Lovers”, after all. Like the heroes of the other two books in the trilogy, Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman and Waking Up with the Duke, as well as a couple of other Lorraine Heath heroes, the gentleman in question has an enchanted phallus and hard-earned prowess in slipping it to women. The kind of mad skillz that render the heroine’s shyness and inexperience moot and has prostitutes refusing payment. Lorraine Heath is old school.
In the biggest of Big Misunderstandings, the Earl of Westcliffe separated from his wife, Claire, on their wedding night when he discovered her in bed with his brother, Stephen. NOTHING HAPPENED! and it was a ruse to delay the consummation devoutly to be avoided, but Westcliffe took it very, very badly, beat the stuffing out of his brother, and exiled his wife.
Claire had just turned 17 and Westcliffe was 25 when they married. I don’t think delaying to relationship for a few years was a consideration in de-squicking the plot, but I am grateful for it nonetheless. Claire and Westcliffe had been contractually betrothed to each other virtually since her birth. Westcliffe really needed Claire’s dowry and her abusive father wanted her out of the house ASAP. The groom is an intense and overbearing man who made no effort to get to know his (child) bride. Claire was terrified, but the wedding night bait and switch was all Stephen’s idea. Close friends from childhood, he and Claire were young, drunk, and stupid. Getting caught in bed together was the best delaying tactic the champagne could come up with.
Three years later, Claire has decided it’s time to be married in truth as well as in exile. She has been living in isolation at Westcliffe’s familial seat lovingly restoring and running the place, because if there is one thing sheltered and inexperienced 17 year olds are good at, it’s interior design and/or estate management. Claire shows up on Westcliffe’s doorstep, he treats her in a humiliating fashion that nonetheless arouses her, and she makes her case. Claire would like to give her sister a London Season to save her from marrying an old coot. Westcliffe consents. Helped significantly by the aforementioned canine demise, their marriage of convenience transforms into one of genuine affection. A bunch of unnecessary machinations and a head-shaving interrupt the merry denouement, but the happily ever after is eventually achieved.
I have one more Lorraine Heath novel on hold through my library and then I will have read a large portion of her catalogue. Her writing is entertaining and she can give good smolder, but there is nothing that elevates her books from the B-list to the A-list; moreover, she often has elements that are too much of a throwback for books published within the last ten years and they disrupt my really very willing suspension of disbelief.
Also by Lorraine Heath: