This has turned out to be my favourite of the Duchess series.
Leopold, Duke of Villiers, is a haughty, self assured, self-absorbed and 'seemingly' invulnerable man. But a fairly recent serious injury leaving him a Death's Door (that's a whole other story you can catch up on in a previous book if you find you enjoy this book) now finds him collecting together under his own roof the six children he sired with a variety of women. Children he had believed were being brought up with foster families and paid for by himself. Villiers decision to personally take care of his 'bastards' was a rash deathbed promise he made when he thought his end was nigh... little realising he'd recover and now his damned sense of honour won't let him rescind. All he has to do now is find a wife of equal status to himself who will not only love his children, but be willing and able to face the social consequences that will inevitably follow.
There are only two Duchesses available... Villiers makes no pretense of what he's after and the two Duchesses, who are very different sorts of women, find his requirements acceptable (for differing reasons) and neither is averse to a wedded alliance. And so the scene is set.
The intrigue is in the development and subsequent interplay of the characters, who are very slickly supported by a colourful cast that ranges from vain mothers, scheming sisters, illegitimate sons, pugs and the inevitable evil children's home matron.
But, the real magnetism of this story centres on the two very unique yet equally intelligent lead characters.
Eloisa James never fails to deliver wit as well as romance and an undercurrent of plot. What, I think, makes her extra special among the mass market romance writer crowd is that she empowers her characters with the intelligence, sense of humour and voice to deliver the wit rather than just creating a narrative circumstance for the reader to laugh at. The interplay between Villiers and Eleanor is electrifying. Eleanor's sparring sister, Anne, is sharp as a pin. And, Villier and Tobias' oft unspoken interplay speaks volumes.
Add to all of this a cleverly, if somewhat thin, plot that keeps the reader just on the right side of nervous right up until the last dozen pages and you can start to breathe easy... and you have a really, really good book.
Oh... and Eloisa James is one of those very rare American writers writing English period romance whose writing does not distract you with all of those irritating Americanisms, like: "I guess", "We might as well quit", "Fall follows Summer", "He didn't have a dime", and "She lived just around the block!"
Buy this one and enjoy it.