Jacob Winter, the Earl of Hawthorne, was born in India and spent ten awful years there, returning to England when his father inherited the earldom. Things did not improve upon his return for his father had violent tendencies and was always at odds with his wife. A messenger from India arrives with news that the friend of his father's has died naming Jacob's father as guardian of his stepdaughter. Since Jacob's father is long dead, Jacob inherits the responsibility. He plans to install her in the home of his best friend to share the Season with his sister and get his ward married off. Jacob doesn't think this will be hard, for if she's anything like her social climbing hussy of a mother, Harriet, the Belle of Bombay, will jump at the opportunity.
Emily, the best friend's sister, is twenty-four but only embarking upon her first Season due to financial troubles and her mother's ill health. She has been in love with Jacob for years, ever since they shared a passionate kiss when she was fourteen. Now that she's an adult and in London, she expects Jacob to meet her there, declare his love and sweep her off her feet.
However, Jacob remembers that summer with guilt and shame, for Emily was far too young, and he, at twenty, was old enough to know better. There is a long history of obsessive and reckless behavior in Jacob's family, and since The Incident with Emily, he has locked his emotions away, determined to break the family cycle of passionate excess by not marrying. He is surprised and dismayed at his strong reaction to seeing Emily again.
When Harriet arrives, it is plain to see that she is Trouble with a Capital T. Her manners border on the vulgar, her wardrobe is scandalous and she is a self-absorbed twit. Poor Emily. This is not the Season she envisioned, being saddled with a hoyden heading for a fall and Jacob preoccupied with said twit. When Harriet tells Emily that she and Jacob have been betrothed since childhood, Emily is devastated, relinquishing her dream of Jacob and looking elsewhere, just as Jacob is losing his battle to resist Emily's charms.
As you can see, this is a Big Misunderstanding Plot. Sometimes, the Big Mis is effective, but this one is just annoying. This could have been cleared up with one conversation between Emily and Jacob. Even if Emily did believe Harriet (and why should she – she knows enough of Harriet's poor character that she should know better than to believe anything she says) a simple “congratulations on your betrothal” remark to Jacob would have done the trick. Instead she wallows, things get more complicated and spin out of control. I hate that. And a great deal of the first half of the book is taken up with Jacob and Emily lecturing Harriet on her behavior. Granted, Harriet needs scolding, but it is incessant, and is not a pleasant way to spend to spend one's reading time.
Allison Lane is usually a good read for me, but every once in a while she misses. I'm afraid this is a miss for me. If you've never read an Allison Lane book before, I recommend you skip this one and find the recent Kindred Spirits or The Notorious Widow – both excellent reads.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, October 24, 2003