This story has a premise a bit like Jo Beverley's A Scandalous Countess but is a better read than that one. The heroine here, Caroline Townsend, at 17 marries her "true love" neighbor boy, against the wishes of her family, and the two of them live a rather hedonistic, irresponsible London life for seven years, running with a somewhat disrespectable crowd of fun-loving people. The husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her a widow in her early 20s who's saddled with many debts because of his gambling addiction.
Caro still runs with the fun crowd, still entertains at her house and still lives a rather irresponsible life, albeit on a more restricted budget. She doesn't want to give up her friends. They were the friends of her love-of-her-life husband and are now her tie to his memory.
Enter hero Thomas, Duke of Castleton. Although the long-ago first Duke of Castleton was the illegitimate son of Charles II and one of his actress mistresses, this present-day duke lives a totally respectable, almost repressed, life. He needs to marry, as all dukes seem to in HRs, and he wants to marry respectability and money. So he's after a young well-regarded heiress who, at the moment, is living with and being chaperoned by Caroline. That's how the stuffy duke and the irrepressibly fun-loving widow meet. And, oops, it's lust at first sight on the part of both.
But it's not an easy path to the HEA. Their personalities and attitudes towards life are at odds, but their changing relationship is realistically and well drawn by Neville. You can see the rather immature, irresponsible Caro become more self aware and more realistic about her first marriage and her way of behaving. At the same time, stuffy Thomas has to loosen up a bit.
The many secondary characters are interesting, with many different personality types. There's a bit of a side story about a Titian painting, another about Thomas' mother and his younger twin sisters and lots of interesting detail about life in the fast lane in 1800s England. Neville shows her knowledge of history and art and is also nicely realistic about love. I like her flawed H and h and the fact that even their sexual intimacy needs some adjustments to be good for them, instead of all that instant perfect alpha male pushing all the right intimacy buttons from the first encounter that is usual in HRs.
This is actually only the second Neville HR that I have read. I read one of her very first ones a few years back, did not like it, and had actually avoided her books from then on. I'm glad I found this one at the library on a day when the selections were poor and I picked this up just because. I'll be trying her out again in the future.