At the outset of her writing career, Stephanie Laurens wrote a trilogy of Regency romance novels about three siblings from the Lester family, Lenore, Jack, and Harry.
The three books have been published individually as
1) The Reasons for Marriage
2) A Lady of Expectations
3) An Unwilling Conquest
This volume contains all three books of that trilogy.
There is a fourth book in the series. One of the supporting characters in these novels, particularly "An Unwilling Conquest," is Lord Philip Ruthven, and Miss Laurens subsequently wrote a romance for him, entitled A Comfortable Wife
. In that story, Lord Philip runs into a young lady who is determined to prove that she would make him a comfortable wife in the belief that this is what he wants. Fortunately for them both, in this belief she is entirely mistaken ...
The first two Lester novels have also been published in a double volume called "A Season for Marriage (STP - Mills & Boon lead)
, though I cannot see much point in buying that one if you can get "Rogues Reform" for a remotely similar price (which you usually can.)
These books were written well before the Cynster, Bastion Club, and Black Cobra books. One consequence of this is that the Lester novels are much closer in form to the traditional regency romance story and do not have as much in the way of detailed description of lovemaking between the hero and heroine as most of Stephanie Lauren's more recent books.
Nor had Miss Laurens yet developed the plot which she has re-used with minor variations in 80% of her recent books. The standard Laurens plot goes as follows:
Noble rake meets intelligent spinster or widow in her late twenties, decides immediately that she is the woman he wants to marry, and that the best way to persuade her to marry him is to seduce her and thoroughly ravish her every twenty pages for the rest of the book. Unfortunately, because he doesn't have the sense to say certain important words, and she is only prepared to marry for love, she refuses to marry him until the villain tries to murder one of both of them and in the process of frustrating this dastardly plot, both hero and heroine discover and reveal their true feelings.
None of the novels which make up this volume conform to that stereotype, although all of them contain hints from which you can see how Miss Laurens developed it.
The hero of the first book, "The reasons for marriage" is the Duke of Eversleigh, who despite being a handsome man of high status and wealth who can be very charming when he wants to be, does not appear to be a great prospect as a romantic hero. He is extremely arrogant, an arch rake, does not suffer fools gladly, and up to the start of the book has been a confirmed batchelor. However, his brother has just died, which means that he will now have to marry to secure the future of the Dukedom. Having seduced a great many other men's wives, the Duke is determined to find a woman who will be faithful to him, and absolutely does not want to marry some hen-witted teenage deb.
Having decided that he wants to marry an intelligent lady of the ton with impeccable morals, experience of running a household, and whose company he has not already decided he cannot stand, he has very few candidates to choose from. In fact there appears to be only one candidate who perfectly fits the bill: Lady Lenore Lester, a virtual recluse who runs Lester Hall for her father and brothers.
Lenore Lester has long abandoned any thought of marriage and become adept at avoiding the attentions, not always honorable, of her brother's and father's guests at Lester Hall. It comes as rather a shock when no less a personage than a duke sees through her deliberately frumpish appearance and begins courting her. But are his reasons for marriage the ones she would share?
The second novel, "A Lady of Expectations" tells the story of Lenore's oldest brother Jack, who like the Duke of Eversleigh and a great many Stephanie Laurens heroes in subsequent books needs to marry to secure an heir.
The ton thinks that the Lester family are still in straightened financial circumstances: Jack is deliberately keeping quiet the fact that there has been a turnaround in their fortunes because he does not want to be besieged by debutantes and their mothers. It had not occurred to him that the woman he wants might have unselfish reasons for refusing to marry him if she too believes him to be in desperately short of money ...
The third novel begins when the third Lester sibling, Harry, rescues two beautiful ladies from an overturned coach. The elder is Mrs Babbacombe, a young widow; the younger is her stepdaughter, Miss Babbacombe. Harry has no plans to marry but is very concerned that Mrs and Miss Babbacombe's plans to visit all the inns they have inherited may put them both at risk. Rather than spoil the story I will leave the reader to discover which of the three may become an unwilling conquest ...
The reason given for the turnround in the Lester fortunes in all three books is rather anachronistic: it is based on the success of an investment in shipping, and the ton, as high society was named, looked down on those whose income came from "trade" e.g. anything other than owning land. A noble family like the Lesters would generally be ashamed to own wealth which came from shipping. Having said that, it is true that when even the most haughty families were desperately short of cash they were known to bend those scruples.
Overall this is a reasonably entertaining trilogy. And if you do enjoy the Lester novels, you will certainly enjoy "A comfortable wife" which is the most amusing of the four books in the series.
Incidentally there is a fourth Lester sibling, Gerald, who in "An unwilling conquest" appeared to be romantically interested the lady who Harry doesn't marry in that story. However, he had not got round to proposing to her by the end of the book. So at some stage we may get a fifth novel in this mini-series featuring Gerald and either completing the romance he begins in this book or starting one with some other lady.