Celia Langston, sixteen years old and the recently orphaned daughter of the village vicar, was taken in by Imogene, the widowed Duchess of Harbrooke, to be nursemaid and governess to her two infant boys. One night, shortly after her arrival, she overhears Imogene's brother Drake, Duke of Severly, question Celia's youth and fitness for the post. Celia is in the throes of grief, very vulnerable, insecure and afraid for her position. Imogene declared Celia would remain, and for the next ten years, Celia avoided any contact with the duke during his visits, having built him up into a monster in her mind.
Over the years, Celia has become as much a companion to Imogene as she is governess to the children and eventually the two become best friends. Celia is a nice person, there are a couple of cute scenes of her interacting with the boys (though I thought Woodward wrote them much younger than their ages of 13 and 11) and caring for a curmudgeonly neighbor. Edna Forbisher is one of those cranky old bats that no one likes which is fine with her cause she doesn't like anyone either, but she tolerates Celia.
On one particular visit, Drake gets his first really good look at Celia, who has become very lovely indeed, and is confused when he realizes that she appears to be afraid of him and avoids his company. Not used to being shunned, he sets about trying to alleviate her fears and makes some progress.
This is 1816 and the summer of Princess Charlotte's wedding and everyone is in London for the celebrations. Drake and Imogene go as well, and, with the children on an extended visit with their grandmother, Celia is convinced to accompany them. They have not been there but a few weeks when word arrives that Miss Forbisher has died and left Celia her considerable fortune, news of which comes as a surprise to all, as she was a famous neighborhood miser.
Admonished by Edna in a letter not to mourn and encouraged to take her place in society now that she has the wherewithal to do so, Celia suddenly finds herself thrust upon the London Season under the formidable sponsorship of Imogene and Drake and having a wonderful time. She loves the shopping and the parties and the people and she is a sensation, for as we know, a beautiful and mysterious heiress will always be of interest! It is refreshing to see a New Innocent Heiress in London who is frankly thrilled to be rich and enjoys all the trappings of the Season
What follows are scenes of the Season: the balls, the shopping, the rides in the park as Celia becomes a sensation and she and Drake gradually fall in love. These scenes are familiar to us all, but they are well written and Celia is nice, sweet woman with whom to spend time. Drake has his attractions too, though he seems more of an archetype than Celia and his character description is full of superlatives – he is a war hero and the best whip around and the best boxer and the biggest marriage prize and a duke and etc. It's a bit much and he's a bit too … too, if you know what I mean. Though I got all mushy during the proposal scene, so I couldn't have minded him too much.
This book published in December 2002 was Woodward's first – her second, A Hint of Scandal is being released this month. I look forward to reading more from her.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, May 17, 2003