Lady Eleanor Griffin has three older, overbearing and overprotective brothers, including the formidable Duke of Melbourne. They monitor her every move, vet her marriage prospects (dull elves, all) and in general stifle every rebellious thought she has, which only makes her formulate more rebellious thoughts. After one memorable row, she and her brothers come to an agreement: she is to be allowed the freedom to make her own decisions and to find a husband on her own with no interference or help from her brothers. But, if she causes any hint of a scandal, she will immediately marry a man of the duke's choosing.
Eleanor begins having fun, dressing more provocatively, flirting with all manner of men who would have previously been warned off by her brothers. The duke frets and asks his best friend, Valentine Corbett, the Marquis of Deverill, who is well acquainted with the seamier side of life, to keep an eye on Eleanor. He figures that she might listen to Val and heed his advice sooner than she would a brother. This was probably not Melbourne's best idea, as Val has been having decidedly impure thoughts about Eleanor since the change in her wardrobe.
Eleanor's heady new freedom causes her to make a potentially fatal mistake early on and Val winds up rescuing her from an unscrupulous suitor, who had drugged her and was about to have his way with her. He surprises himself when he doesn't turn her in to her brothers and becomes sympathetic with her goals. Val is finding this new, bold Eleanor to be very attractive and just the kind of woman he would normally have seduced, but she is his friend's sister and so he channels his sexual attraction into friendship and protection.
For her part, Eleanor has always had a slight crush on Val and admires his ability to be his own man. When she asks him to be her guide in safely exploring the more exciting side of London, we know that Val's days as a swinging bachelor are numbered.
Val and Eleanor are attractive and likeable characters, and their mutual awareness is well done. I do have one complaint about the book, and it's a big one. We are repeatedly told that Eleanor wants freedom, not ruination, and that she takes care to not go too far and harm the family honor or her reputation. But then she makes the decision to have sex with Val with very little deliberation beforehand and no concern whatsoever to the possible consequences. Does Eleanor think that if she becomes pregnant that it will not ruin her or dishonor her family? I really feel strongly that this step was too quickly and casually taken, and in direct opposition to what Enoch had been at pains to tell us about Eleanor's character previously to this action.
While this didn't completely ruin the book for me, it did cast a pall on an otherwise well written story. This is the first in a four book series on the Griffin family, and I enjoyed the glimpses of the brothers and will look forward to their stories.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, November 15, 2004