David, Viscount Thurlow, was a lonely ten year old boy when he spotted a young girl next door hiding something in her garden. His curiosity getting the better of him, David finds the young girl's personal journal, and using a fictional identity "Tom, the cook's son," David writes in the journal, which began a six-year secret correspondence and provided David with his only childhood friend, even though the two had never met. As ten years have passed since David last wrote in the journal, he has long since forgotten his fictional identity, until Miss Victoria Shelby comes to his door looking for Tom. Due to the scandal his father's indiscretions caused so soon after his mother's death, David has had two women refuse his offers of marriage and he has avoided most of society, but now, he is required to socialize in order to keep his involvement in the Southern Railway a secret, and he finds the perfect wife in the girl next door.
Victoria Shelby has lived next door to the Earl of Banstead and his family all of her life, but as the daughter of a banker she has never had the opportunity to meet them. Apart from her two younger sisters, Tom was Victoria's only friend and she confided things to him that she was not brave enough to tell anyone else; about how shy she was, how she longed for nothing more than to remain unwed composing her music. In the devastation surrounding her father's death and her mother's mental decline, Victoria finds that marriage may be her salvation. Her younger sisters have had to find work to support the family, but Victoria remains at home to take care of her mother, and now her time is running out. Victoria's cousins have bought the mortgage on the house and will soon move in leaving Victoria and her mother on the streets. In desperation Victoria turns once more to "Tom" hoping that he will marry her, but when she discovers that Tom is actually Viscount Thurlow, Victoria is devastated. When David proposes and offers Victoria salvation from her desperate situation, Victoria reluctantly agrees hoping to find in the man the boy she once knew.
Gayle Callen has started off her newest trilogy with a wonderful story of two shy and lonely people who enter into a marriage of convenience to avoid an uncertain future. David Thurlow was a lonely little boy and he is a lonely man who is too used to doing things himself, so that he often forgets that he has a wife. When Victoria first comes looking for "Tom," David is surprised by the wealth of memories that come to him and even more surprised by the desire he feels for her. While Victoria provides David with the diversion he needs to keep his railway business a secret, he also finds himself coming to depend on her as he has no one else and it scares him. David has shunned and been shunned by society since his father blackened the family name, but Victoria puts aside her fears of society in order to help further David's career in Parliament and his business interests, which humbles David. It is through Victoria's kindnesses and gentle persuasion that David discovers a new relationship with the father from whom he has been estranged for ten years, and it is with Victoria that David learns that he doesn't have to lose himself if he loves someone.
Being shy and nervous around strangers Victoria was ill-prepared to support herself after her father's death, and when she agreed to marry Viscount Thurlow she was terrified that she would have to mingle in society and that she would humiliate him with her awkwardness. But the more David humiliated Victoria by forgetting about her, the stronger she grew, and in the end it was Victoria who helped to restore his family's name.
I liked David and Victoria. Their marriage started out very rocky as marriages of conveniences do, but it soon grew into a love that neither of them could live without. Ms. Callen was able to make both of her main characters into very real people. David was a typical guy in that he would often forget that he had a wife, and he would forget to inform Victoria of his plans or introduce her to acquaintances, which made him seem more human. Victoria was painfully shy and that it is often hard to portray realistically – too often times the character can come off as too weak-willed, but Ms. Callen was able to write convincingly of the agony that Victoria went through each time she was forced to socialize with strangers.
I highly recommend The Lord Next Door and I am eagerly awaiting the next two stories in "The Sisters of Willow Pond" trilogy.