While I always enjoys Ms James' writing style and her wonderful dialogue the romantic relationship here just didn't work. Well one of them did and one of them didn't as there is a "secondary" romance that is not so secondary.
Rafe is the rather blithely tipsy Duke of Holbrook who unexpectedly found himself guardian to four sisters in first in the series, MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU. He's perpetually rumpled, shaggy-haired and paunchy. He's just discovered that he has an illegitimate brother, Gabe, whom he welcomes into the family fold. Rafe is also carrying a torch for one of his wards, the impetuous widow Imogen, Lady Maitland. Unfortunately, Imogen does not share Rafe's feelings, rather his drinking and dishevelment disgust her.
Imogen has never come to terms with her husband's death, their too brief time together (a week), nor the realization that she loved her husband far more than he loved her. She is determined not to marry again and so she decides to take a lover. When Gabe arrives on the scene she sets her cap at him. Unfortunately for Imogen, Gabe's head has been turned by Gillian Pythian-Adams the fiancee from whom Imogen stole Draven, her late husband. Keeping up so far? When Imogen corners Gabe and arranges an assignation, Gabe later changes his mind and asks Rafe to take his place. And so begins the mistaken identity farce that Ms James hoped to create.
Unfortunately, I think Ms James tried to be too clever by half and tripped herself up. A Shakespearean farce works for Shakespeare, but not in a story where you are supposed to believe that these are "real" people. It was never clear to me that Imogen knew she was with Rafe instead of Gabe until well after they had had sex. Not good! And I really wondered at Rafe's self-respect to allow her to fall for him all the while thinking he was someone else. Pathetic! And, once he gives up drinking and loses a few pounds, Rafe is suddenly handsome? He was never, to my memory, described as handsome in either of the prior books in this series. Though the author attempts to convey Imogen's vulnerabilities as regards her marriage, I never warmed up to her. She was just so brittle and hard and I felt that Rafe deserved better. Personally, I had always hoped that Rafe would wind up with Josie who is so warm and down-to-earth.
On the other hand, I did enjoy the relationship between Gabe and Gillian very much. At times, their romance overshadowed Rafe and Imogen's, however. Ms James loves to coyly tease her readers by playing musical chairs with her characters but I just don't think it worked this time. Well, it looks like Josie will wind up with the world weary Mayne eventhough he supposedly has become engaged at the end of this book. I'm going to hope that Josie gets a story she deserves!