Cassandra Abbot and Lord Byrce Keene are a study in opposites. Cassandra has always been the obedient daughter, and the very epitome of all that's proper and correct; while Byrce has always done as he pleased and is a bit of a rake. And when thet first meet, both are very young and supremely confident that their take on life and conduct is the correct one. Years later, bitter experience has taught both Cassandra and Bryce a thing or two about life. For Cassandra, the very proper young lady that she was, obediently married the aging duke of her parents choice, and led a life of quiet hell at his hands; while Bryce defied his parents and married the very wild and exciting Lady Francesca Milford, who made Bryce a laughingstock in the ton's eyes with her numerous affairs.
The welcome death of both their respective spouses however has not meant that life's difficulties are over for either Byrce or Cassandra. In Cassandra's case poverty and her father's enormous gambling debts are ugly realities that loom over her head constantly; while Byrce is literally at his wit's end trying to curb his rambunctious and hostile niece's behaviour. On hearing that the widowed Cassandra is back in town, and knowing of her reputation for proper behaviour, Byrce hits upon the notion of marrying Cassandra in order to provide his niece, Elaina, with the right kind of role model. And so Byrce makes a contract with Cassandra: he will rescue her family if she will marry him and take care of Elaina. Experience however has been a hard teacher, and Cassandra agrees to marry Byrce on condition that he agrees to 56 provisions from her, which deals with everything from Cassandra being allowed to buy at least 3 new dresses per month, to Byrce's acceptance of her cat, Poco, and to their marriage not being consummated for at least 6 months while they get to know each other. Of course Bryce doesn't read all the 56 provisions, and of course he is outraged when Cassandra refuses to allow him his marital rights. What unfolds then is a rather amusing battle of wits on both Cassandra and Byrce's part, as Byrce tries to seduce Cassandra and she tries to stay one step ahead of him. Who will win this batle of wits?
"A Proper Affair" was a rather amusing read in parts. Both Cassandra and Bryce are obviously well matched in both character and temperament. But what I liked most about this novel was that Victoria Malvey didn't paint Byrce as overwhelmingly arrogant or Cassandra as incredibly rigid. We see things mostly through Cassandra's point of view -- what she suffered at her first husband's hands, and her fears of ever giving any man too much power over her -- and we empathise; but Malvey also lets us in on Bryce's fears as well -- his fear of not being able to trust anyone esp after what he went through with Francesca. Of course he does behave arrogantly, but he also climbs down from his arrogant stance esp when he realises that he is wrong. I cannot remember the last time I read a regency romance hero admit that he was wrong! However I thought that the subplots that dealt with Elaina's headstrong behaviour, and Bryce's enemies that try to destroy the marriage were a bit weak, and could have done with a bit more exposition. Other than that "A Proper Affair" is quite an enjoyable read.