Desert Isle Keeper
Three Weeks with Lady X
I’ve admitted to having been underwhelmed by Eloisa James’ last two or three books, but she’s still an author whose books I’ve never been able to not read when they come out. I’m happy to report that she’s back on top form with Three Weeks with Lady X, a continuation of her Desperate Duchesses series.
The plot is fairly simple, but what makes it such a terrific story is the depth to the characterization of the two principals, neither of whom turns out to be quite what they seem. The book is warm, funny and very sexy, with a great cast of secondary characters and a very well-written relationship between the hero and his friend, Lord Evander Brody, whom we will no doubt meet again in a future book.
Thorn (Tobias) Dautry is the eldest, illegitimate son of the Duke of Villiers (hero of A Duke of Her Own), and is very much a self-made man. Abandoned by his mother, Thorn was grew up in the London slums until he was found and rescued by his father from a gang of Mudlarks (children who were put to work foraging in the depths of the Thames). Despite the fact that his father is a duke, Thorn has made his own fortune, having an eye for investment and invention and a talent for turning a profit. But being rich as Croesus won’t buy Thorn respectability – not that he’s particularly concerned about being respectable for himself – but he wants children of his own one day and is determined to ensure their respectability and acceptance by society. The best way to do this will be for him to find himself the right kind of wife, a lady of good birth and breeding who will dote on her children and be docile and compliant in her marriage.
Thorn believes he has found the perfect candidate in Lady Laetitia Rainsford, a young woman of impeccable lineage whose father is in desperate need of the funds Thorn would provide as part of the marriage settlement. Laetitia is beautiful, quiet, kind, and adores children – but she is looked on by society, and even her own mother – as a simpleton because she never has much to say for herself.
These are not considerations that worry Thorn, however. He wants an uncomplicated marriage with a sweet, kind woman who will do exactly as she’s told. The problem is that Lady Rainsford is a real stickler for propriety and position – in short a total snob – and she is not at all keen on the idea of her daughter’s marrying a bastard, even if he’s the son of a duke and incredibly rich to boot.
Thorn has recently purchased a country estate – sight unseen – and decides that the best way to impress his prospective in-laws will be to invite them there. Unfortunately, the house is very run down, so Thorn’s stepmother asks a friend for help on his behalf.
Although Lady Xenobia India St. Claire is the daughter of a marquess, she had a less than conventional upbringing; she lost both parents in a tragic accident when she was quite young, and has had to make her own way in the world as a result. Unusually for a young woman at this time, she works for her living – as what I suppose we would call an interior designer. At the age of twenty-six, she has decided it’s time for her to ‘retire’ and find herself a husband, but before she can do so, India is asked by Eleanor, Duchess of Villiers to help her stepson to transform the rambling pile he’s purchased into something habitable that will also impress Lady Rainsford.
India is beautiful, intelligent and witty, and despite having had many proposals has accepted none of them. She has worked hard, determined to earn the dowry her parents never provided for her so that she can to choose a husband who will love her and be a good father to the children she craves, rather than have to marry for money. She likes the idea of a quiet, biddable spouse who will be happy to let her run the household, but agrees to take on this one last commission.
Two such independently minded personalities are bound to clash, and so they do, right off the bat. Thorn and India start with the verbal sparring straight away, and the chemistry between them just leaps off the page. India starts work on the house and writes to Thorn regularly to update him on her progress; the missives between them are often very funny, and provide real insight into the way their relationship is developing, showing a similar intelligence and a shared sense of humor, and revealing much as to their overall compatibility.
They develop a friendship of sorts – something which India has never really experienced before. Her parents were highly eccentric, often leaving her to fend for herself for days on end, and she has come to believe over the years that they never really cared about her. Because she is a woman with a profession, India has to be incredibly careful of her reputation, never doing anything that could cause the slightest bit of gossip and as a result of that, and her absorption in her work, she is lonely.
At first sight, Thorn is the epitome of the super-confident alpha-male. Ms. James’ description of him through India’s eyes at their first meeting puts him way above “swoon worthy” on the scale of hero-hotness:
He walked toward them with the effortless confidence of a man who is formidable in every respect, even though he wore no coat or cravat, just a white linen shirt and breeches that stretched over his thigh muscles. Stubble darkened his jaw, and his hair was neither pulled back in a neat queue nor covered by a wig.
He looked like a farm laborer.
Or a king.
But even he is revealed to have insecurities which relate to more than his illegitimacy.
Three Weeks with Lady X is certainly the best of Ms James’ more recent books, and, I think, one of her best ever. It captured my attention immediately and if I hadn’t had to get up early for work the next day, I’d have finished it in one sitting. The plot, as I’ve said, isn’t complicated or original, but the characterization is excellent and the romance is very well developed, both of which are things which far outweigh a predictable plot. I have to admit to a couple of minor niggles, however. I found Thorn’s ward, Rose, was rather too precocious, even though I loved the way his softer side was revealed through his care and concern for her. And I did think that the storyline veered off the rails a little towards the end when Thorn decided he had to prove to India that her parents did love her after all.
But those are minor reservations about a book which was otherwise an absolute delight.