Lady Jocelyn Kendal was the only child of the fourth Earl of Cromarty. Upon his death, the earl left his daughter extremely well-provided for--with one caveat: Lady Jocelyn must be wed by her twenty-fifth birthday or the bulk of her inheritance would revert to the new earl, her uncle Willoughby.
With the deadline fast approaching, Jocelyn was still unwed. She was interested in the wealthy, urbane Duke of Candover, who also returned her interest, but not to the extent of marriage. Jocelyn decided she would enter into a marriage of convenience that would enable her to enjoy a liaison with the Duke. When visiting Richard Dalton, an old friend who had been wounded at Waterloo, Jocelyn learned of a fellow officer on his deathbed in the same army hospital as Richard was in. Jocelyn suggests marriage to the dying Major David Lancaster in order to fulfill the terms of her father's will. In return, Jocelyn will provide a lifelong income for David's sister, Sally.
The couple weds and all seems to be working according to plan until the fiercely loyal Sally intervenes. She has David moved to Jocelyn's residence, and then obtains the services of an unorthodox surgeon to treat David's injuries. Soon, David is well on the road to recovery, and Jocelyn's life has become complicated. Even as David and Jocelyn make plans to terminate their marriage, David realizes he is happy w/ the arrangement, loves Jocelyn, and is determined to woo and keep her.
David is a very attractive hero--brave, honorable, loyal, handsome. Although some of the events in his story are unrealistically serendipitous, readers are likely to overlook this as they are happy for his well-earned good fortune. Jocelyn is a little more complex, but she is also basically good, generous, and kind. Readers--and David--eventually learn of the reasons behind some of her more calculating behavior and her fixation on Candover.
Reader will also be drawn into the story of the prickly Sally. Her animosity towards Jocelyn is mostly amusing and her love for David is touching. When she sets her sights on Dr. Ian Kinlock, the surgeon who saved David, it is obvious that each is just what the other needs to complement their lives.
In addition to the wonderful love story (stories?), I was interested in the medical aspects of this story. The descriptions of the army hospital were grim enough, but I suspect were still a great deal more rosy than the actuality. Dr. Kinlock's work w/ wounded soldiers and the indigent, as well as his ideas about cleanliness, infection prevention, surgery, etc., were a change from the usual stories of ton life that most Regencies concentrate on.
Mary Jo Putney is a favorite writer of mine, so the bar is set pretty high for her books. Among the books I have read to date, she has yet to make a misstep. I enjoyed this book immensely and recommend it without hesitation.
(NOTE: This book was initially published in shorter form as The Would-Be Widow in 1989. The copy of the book I have clearly notes this on the back cover, as well as in the Author's Note at the end of the book, so no one who has read/owns the earlier book should be caught by surprise. I, myself, was so interested in the story that I obtained a used copy of TWBW and hope to read it soon to make comparisons with the later, expanded story.)