Helene, the Countess Godwin, knows there is nothing more unbearably tedious than a virtuous woman. After all, she's been one for ten long years while her scoundrel of a husband lives with strumpets and causes scandal after scandal. So she decides it's time for a change -- she styles her hair in the newest, daring mode, puts on a shockingly transparent gown, and goes to a ball like Cinderella, hoping to find a prince charming to sweep her off her feet...and into his bed. But instead of a prince, she finds only her own volatile, infuriatingly handsome...husband, Rees, the Earl Godwin. They'd eloped to Gretna Green in a fiery passion, but passion can sometimes burn too hot to last.
But now, Rees makes her a brazen offer, and Helene decides to become his wife again...but not in name only. No, this time she decides to be very, very wicked indeed.
I think I remember reading somewhere that Eloisa James wrote this book due to popular demand. Now, I am not sure how true that is given that this book was published pretty soon after A Wild Pursuit, but in some ways it does feel a bit disconnected from the other books. In other ways it feels almost as connected to the current series as it was to the other Duchess books. Maybe it really is an in between book!
For me, the biggest down side of this book is that Esme and Sebastian's story that was interwoven within the previous three books was all resolved and so whilst they did make some appearances, they really seemed to me to be just there for the sake of it.
Anyway...about this book. Helene and Rees have been separated for years and she has basically had enough. She has decided that she no longer wants to have a pristine reputation, she is going to take matters into her own hands and find herself a man so that she can have a baby. She decides to revamp her look, and makes an appearance in society with scandalously short hair and dresses. Suddenly, there are suitors, most notably Mayne (who goes on to make a pivotal appearance in Much Ado About You)
All through this series, much has been made of the fact that Helene and Rees can't stand each other. So when Rees decides that if Helene is going to have a baby it might as well be his baby, it was quite surprising. Almost as surprising as the deal that Helene agrees to move back into his home even though his mistress was still going to be there, and slowly the feelings between the two spouses (does that make them spices?) starts to change.
Whereas in the other three books, Esme and Sebastian's story was woven into the background, this time it was the story of Rees' brother Tom and Rees' mistress Lina that provided the alternate story.
I felt that James had to work really hard to redeem Rees from the role that he had in the previous books, and also to suddenly make Helene so completely compelling that she would have two men who both wanted her so badly. She mostly succeeded, but for me the story was not one that captured my imagination in the way that I would have really liked.
Overall I enjoyed these books, and will be reading more by James, but I haven't been completely blown away by the ones in this series. I will need to go back and read the Pleasures trilogy and see how that one links into this series.