When you're the oldest daughter, you don't get to have any fun!
Witty, orphaned Tess Essex faces her duty: marry well and marry quickly, so she can arrange matches for her three sisters -- beautiful Annabel, romantic Imogen and practical Josie. After all, right now they're under the rather awkward guardianship of the perpetually tipsy Duke of Holbrook. But just when she begins to think that all might end well, one of her sisters bolts with a horse-mad young lord, and her own fiance just plain runs away.
Which leaves Tess contemplating marriage to the sort of man she wishes to avoid -- one of London's most infamous rakes. Lucius Felton is a rogue whose own mother considers him irredeemable! He's delicious, Annabel points out. And he's rich, Josie notes. But although Tess finally consents to marry him, it may be for the worst reason of all. Absurd as she knows it to be, she may have fallen utterly in love...
When Tess Essex and her three younger sisters Annabel, Imogen and Josephine are sent to live with their new ward, Rafe, Duke of Holbrook, he has no idea that they are in fact lovely, full grown women who will not need a nursery full of toys and nursemaids, but that they will need to have a chaperone and have husbands found for them. Annabel has set her sights on a title, Imogen is obsessed with the Duke's neighbour Lord Maitland (despite the fact that he is already betrothed to another), and Josie is sitting this season out whilst she is properly schooled by a hastily employed governess, leaving Tess as the first girl to be matched off. Luckily there are two VERY eligible men staying at Holbrook Court Mayne and Lucius Felton. Whilst Garrett Langham, Earl of Mayne is titled and every inch the rake, Lucius is a self made man who made his money gambling on stocks and in horse racing. When it is revealed that the dowry for each of the girls is to be a prime racehorse Mayne jumps at the opportunity to court Tess, and yet it is the stolen kisses with Lucius that make Tess heart pound.
When Imogen rather impulsively elopes with Draven, Lord Maitland, it is agreed that in order to save a scandal and not harm the marriage chances of the other Essex sisters, Tess is going to have to marry and marry quickly. When Mayne appears to do a runner on the morning of the hastily arranged wedding, Lucius calmly steps in and marries Tess, determined that being married will make no difference to his lifestyle particularly after he ensures that Tess knows her place in his home and his affections. Tess is confused by the man who is distant and aloof during the day but then a very attentive husband at night, yet come morning he has always left her side and reverted to his daytime persona.
When a tragedy occurs, it is to Lucius that Tess turns for support and strength and gradually they both begin to realise that they both feel more for each other than they are letting on and have done for quite some time.
Character wise, Tess was an okay heroine, but not spectacular. As for Lucius, it was only after I finished reading the book and I was checking out Eloisa James' website that I realised that I had actually met Lucius previously in the The One That Got Away anthology that I read in February. I have to say that I did not even recognise Lucius as the character from that novella, so much so that I actually went back and read the novella again. Now I am not sure what that says as Ms James as an author, me as a reader or Lucius as a character, but after rereading the novella I thought that there were glimpses of the Lucius in Much Ado About You (mainly in his aloofness and his impeccable breeding) but that is all. Even the type of business that he is involved in didn't sound the same. Only the horseracing connection remained.
It also bothers me that the blurb from the back of the book (above) makes Lucius sound as though he is an irredeemable rake and yet I am not sure that that is the picture that we are presented with in the book. Yes, there is no doubt that he has had improper relationships in the past, but not so many as to have a reputation as a rake. In fact I had the impression that he was completely aloof from most of society, and whilst some mother's might have set their caps on him as a potential son-in-law, most left well enough alone. As for the line about his mother considers him an irredeemable rogue, the whole explanation of why that was left me feeling rather unsatisfied.
Much is made in the afterword about the fact that this series is supposed to be a celebration of the relationships between the sisters. At the beginning of the book I would agree that there is a closeness between them but this seems to have unravelled for me even before the big tragedy that appears to tear two of the sisters apart. Imogen was so fixated on marrying Draven that there appeared to be little else to say about her, and as for Josie, she was relegated to the schoolroom, and to constantly telling the sisters that her governess would not approve of this or that.
Last word goes to the Epilogue....can anyone tell me why it is necessary to have an epilogue to tell us that they had children and still loved each other momentously after several years of marriage.....of course they did! Sometimes it doesn't bother me much, but this time it really did!
There were several amusing episodes in this novel including one of the earliest scenes where Rafe realises that the young ladies he is now ward of are not in fact young children, and theffortsds of Lord Maitland's fiancee to free herself from her betrothal(which gave Ms James opportunity to show her literary background), these were unfortunately voided by long passages relating to horses and their care. Whilst I like horses well enough, this book was way too horsey by far for my liking, and it will affect my enjoyment if this continues throughout the series.
Overall, not great, but with glimpses into why Eloisa James seems to be so popular - enough to have me checking out at least one more book. I already have Duchess in Love here to be read from the library so we will have to wait and see how we go with that one!