Lady Henrietta Maclellan is in her twenties and lives with her Stepmother and half-sister in a Wiltshire village. Although beautiful, Henrietta has a weak hip which on occassion causes her to limp. As her late mother also had such a hip and died while giving birth to Henrietta, Henrietta has been told by numerous doctors that she would be unwise to marry and on no account should she have children as she also could die as could the baby. The whole village is aware of this fact and so no eligable batchelors ever offer for her. Henrietta has more or less reconciled herself to her lot in life. However deep in her heart she longs for a husband and children. One day, while walking in the village she encounters four year old Josie Darby and her one year old sister Annabel, who have escaped from their disgrunted and unpleasant nurse maid. Henrietta is enchanted with the children, especially with Annabel.
Simon Darby is the thirty something year old half-brother of the two little girls. He lives in London where he is regarded as a fashion leader of the ton to rival Beau Brummel. As his parents died in an accident some months ago, Simon has, somewhat half-heartedly, taken over the care of his two little sisters. Josie is at a manipulative tantrum stage and Annabel is constantly sick i.e. vomitting.
Simon is the heir apparent to his Uncle Miles estate. Miles suffers from a weak heart and is married to a younger woman, Esme, Lady Rawlings. Esme and Miles are estranged. Miles has a long-term mistress and Esme has had several lovers and of course now has the reputation for being 'fast'. Six months ago Miles died from a heart attack after, for the first time in years, visiting his wife's bed. Six month's later Simon is given the unwelcome news that Esme is very pregnant, presumably with his Uncle's heir. There are bets being taken as to whom the actual father of the baby is. Is it really Miles, or is it one of Esme's lovers? Esme has retired for her confinement to Miles ancestral pile in the same Wiltshire village in which Henrietta lives. Simon decides to visit Esme with his sisters in tow, to try and ascertain the truth. He stops at the inn in the village to take refreshment. The disgrunted nurse-maid walks out, not wanting to leave London and the children 'escape'.
Enter Henrietta with children in tow, covered in Annabels's vomit. Initially, Simon thinks that she is a new nurse-maid, found by the inn keeper.
Esme has decided to throw a dinner party for friends and neighbours, even though she is still offically in mourning. Henrietta and her mother are invited. Simon is very attracted to Henrietta, although he can't for the life of him understand why. Yes she is beautiful, but dresses appallingly, while he is a man of satorial splender. She has an ascerbic tongue and ready wit which more than matches his own and pokes fun of him as a "tulip" and a "fribble". He starts to flirt with her, which is a new
experience for Henrietta.
Having had two glasses of champagne, when she retires to bed Henrietta is in a reflective and somewhat maudlin frame of mind. Remembering how handsome Simon Darby is, she writes herself a love letter supposedly from Darby, which incorporates John Donne's poetry. After all she reasons, it is likely to be the only love letter she will get.
Simon's attraction to Henrietta excellerates, he kisses her and is about to offer her marriage. However, her step-mother comes across them and explains her situation to Simon. He is distraught, thinking that he will be unable to bed her. He doesn't care about not having children, but does want a 'normal' marriage. Esme steps in to match-make for Henrietta. Being a 'worldy' woman, she explains to Henrietta that precautions againgst conceiving can be used. She devises a plan to trap Simon into marriage by using Henrietta's steamy love letter.
A nice central couple and numerous amusing secondary characters add to the witty fun. There is also the love story of Esme and her lover, although Eloisa James doesn't actually finish that story by telling us the sex of Esme's baby etc. Perhaps she deals with this love story separately in another book.
A fun read.