I read mass market HRs partly for the historical background but probably more for the romance. Jo Beverley used to supply both elements in spades in her books, with my particular favorites her Malloren series from the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Marquess of Rothgar, his siblings, his love Diana, Countess of Arradale, in books such as Secrets of the Night or Devilish transport the reader to Georgian England and provide sensual romance at the same time.
Unfortunately, I haven't found Beverley's recent additions to the Malloren world to be of the same caliber. Yes, the authenticity of period is there but the stories are a bit blah and the romances are tepid. I reacted to this new one more or less the same as I had to the previous AN Unlikely Countess: A Novel of the Malloren World. In other words, impressed by Beverley's knowledge of the times but left wanting more. Again I felt schooled by her but not very entertained.
The story here is about Georgina, widowed Countess of Maybury. Married at 16 to her 19-year-old friend and neighbor, the two were very young, immature, fun-loving and irresponsible in their lifestyle. Although faithful to her husband, Georgie didn't hesitate to flirt, have ciscibei, and behave somewhat scandalously in the beau monde. When her husband is killed in a duel and his killer flees the country, the ton snub her, believing her to have been unfaithful to Maybury and, thus, the cause of the duel.
She retreats to her parents' home to spend her mourning period away from the ton's censure. Enter Lord Dracy, newly-minted baron after the death of his frivolous cousin, who had spent all his time and money in London, leaving the Dracy estate to wither from lack of funds. Dracy is determined to build up his estate and races his filly Cartagena to accumulate funds.
When he wins a race and a bet with Georgie's father, the father offers Georgie in marriage rather than to lose money or his own prized racehorse. Georgina is unaware of this marriage offer on her father's part and she and Dracy become acquainted, innocently on her part.
Meanwhile the scandal of her husband's death and her supposed immorality refuses to die down and needs to be addressed. That's what Dracy, Georgie, her brother and her close friends set out to do. There's a villain and you'll know who almost from the get-go, and the story, although mildly entertaining, is predictable and rather flat.
I could live with a predictable story, but the dialog is also flat and rather ordinary. No sparkling banter to be found anywhere. And although the romance between Dracy and Georgie does grow realistically and sweetly, with no inappropriate lusting and groping filling up the pages, I know Beverley can write a more satisfying romance than this one. She's done it many times before.