Benedict Carsington, Viscount Rathbourne, is the eldest son and heir of the politically powerful Earl of Hargate. He has four younger brothers, none of whom have ever been expected to shoulder remotely the number of responsibilities he has. He is currently 37 years old, and he has been groomed since childhood to be, at all times, perfectly bred, perfectly groomed, and perfectly responsible. Because he has lived a life of blameless rectitude since his teens, his nickname in the ton is “Lord Perfect.”
Also in keeping with perfectly fulfilling his assigned role in life, in his 20’s, Benedict made a marriage of convenience to a fellow aristocrat in which he and his wife were polite strangers, he filling his life with politics and she filling hers with a religious fervor for good works which ultimately killed her when she contracted a fatal fever in a back slum three years ago. His loveless marriage produced no children, and he has continued in the years since working for socially progressive legislation in the House of Lords and helping his father oversee the vast wealth, extensive properties, and endless employees connected to the earldom of Hargate.
Exquisitely beautiful Bathsheba Wingate is a member of the aristocratic DeLucey family, and technically is the social equal of Benedict. Unfortunately, there are two branches of the DeLucey family, and Bathsheba hails from the corrupt side, notorious throughout the ton for several generations because this branch has had no inherited wealth and has been forced to rely on their physical beauty and charisma to support themselves by cheating others. Bathsheba’s feckless parents were among the worst of the bad DeLuceys, but from early childhood her greatest desire has been to achieve a life of respectability.
At age 16, due to her mother’s machinations, Bathsheba came to the attention of young Jack Wingate, the eldest son and heir of the Earl of Fosbury. He fell madly in love with Bathsheba and, vehemently returning his affection, she blissfully accepted his marriage proposal. However, she would have given him up for his own sake, over her mother’s strenuous objections, because his family viciously lined up against her, insisting that she was ruining Jack’s life and assuring her that he would be cut off without a penny if he married her. Jack refused to allow her to nobly give him up, however, declaring that his life would not be worth living without her, and convinced her that nothing mattered more to him in life than her.
As promised, after their marriage, he was disowned by his family, but Jack seemed far more content living the roaming, gypsy lifestyle of the disreputable side of the DeLucey family than Bathsheba. He loved the freedom of their untamed lifestyle abroad, and he ultimately died as he had lived, thrown from a too-wild horse that Bathsheba had begged him to avoid for his own survival. He left behind the grieving and completely impoverished Bathsheba and their 9-year-old daughter Olivia. Three years later, at age 32, Bathsheba has still not recovered fully from losing him, and has returned to England from living abroad the past 16 years, hoping to somehow create opportunities for a better life for Olivia, who is now 12.
Bathsheba is an extremely talented artist and, unlike her family, she ekes out an honest living selling her watercolors and giving drawing lessons to the daughters of wealthy bourgeoisie who desire to instill gentility in their offspring. Her highest goal is to make at least enough money to move to a better area of London than the dangerous area where she and Olivia now live, and to hire a dragon of a governess such as her mother provided for her in order to improve Olivia’s manners. Bathsheba desperately wants to raise Olivia as a lady so she can make a decent marriage to a good man, not necessarily of the aristocratic class, even though Olivia’s parents are both aristocrats by birth—but at the least a lawyer, merchant or banker so that Olivia can enjoy comfort and security.
Olivia is a great worry to her mother, however, because she is a DeLucey in the worst way, gifted with good looks and filled with the fatal DeLucey charisma and acting ability, which together allow her to, chameleon-like, fit into any social situation and convince any person she meets of anything which will serve her own ends. Like all the best DeLucey pathological liars, she is easy to believe, even for those who are not particularly gullible, because she spins tales so believable, she often falls for her own lies.
The worlds of Bathsheba and Benedict collide at an art museum in London when Olivia strikes up a conversation with Benedict’s 13-year-old nephew-by-marriage, Peregrine, the eldest son of a Marquis, when Olivia negatively comments on a drawing he is making. The conversation soon shifts to the fact that Peregrine is determined to be an adventurer in Egypt when he is grown, and Olivia is determined to be a knight errant when she is grown. They nearly come to blows while criticizing each other’s dreams, and Benedict and Bathsheba, who have been bowled over by each other at first sight, receive an informal introduction to each other as they separate their quarreling children.
Afterwards, Benedict keeps finding ways, against his better judgment, to run into Bathsheba, and it takes all her willpower to resist this gorgeous, intelligent, obviously kind man, whose witty repartee is a strong complement to hers. She is well aware that a man like him, unlike her poor dead Jack, is not going to marry her, be ostracized by his family and society as a result, and run off to the continent with her. No, Benedict is much older and wiser than the dearly departed Jack was, and the only thing he might offer her is the unsavory role as his mistress, which she would never agree to, because it would defeat her need to establish Olivia well in a good marriage.
In spite of his better judgment, Benedict grants Peregrine’s vociferous wish to take drawing lessons from Bathsheba, as excellent drawing skills will be vital to him in his Egyptian-adventurer life of the future. These lessons inevitably throw the two adults together, increasing their longing for each other. Unknown to them, however, Olivia has begun a secret correspondence with Peregrine, which culminates in her confiding to him that she is determined to solve her mother’s financial woes by setting off on a knight-errant quest to recover the buried treasure of a disreputable DeLucey ancestor, at a crypt on the estate of the head of the socially upright branch of the DeLucey family, hundreds of miles away.
When they discover the children have vanished, neither Benedict nor Bathsheba will allow the other to pursue their young charges and be left behind, but their mad dash to avoid Olivia setting off a scandal may very well ignite a far bigger scandal if Lord Perfect is revealed to the ton to have fallen off his social pedestal into the arms of the notorious Bathsheba Wingate.
I have read and appreciated very much the first two books in the Carsington Family Series, but so far I’ve appreciated this book the most. The romantic conflict in the book comes from my very favorite source: both protagonists are highly honorable people whose principles create seemingly insurmountable obstacles between them.
This story also achieves the highest goal of a truly outstanding romance novel: The author makes an utterly convincing case that the lives of these two wonderful people will be blighted forever if they cannot end up with each other.
In short, this book has everything a jaded romance reader could want: witty banter, emotional intensity, highly romantic and passionate sexual encounters, and extremely admirable and sympathetic, romantic protagonists.
I experienced this story as an audiobook, narrated by Kate Reading. She does an outstanding job in every way, particularly her ability to deliver male voices.
Another point I would like to make is this: In my experience of listening to audio versions of books, very few of them can stand up to the intense focus of being read aloud, which is much slower than reading silently to oneself. This relative snail's pace acts to draw attention to every problem of dialogue, pacing and plot. I am happy to report that under that intense spotlight, I experienced not a single flaw in this book.
On a final note, I’d like to mention that while experiencing the highly entertaining subplot of the two children, I conceived a tremendous desire for the author to dedicate a book to their love story as adults. I was therefore delighted to find out, soon after I finished this book, that this book indeed exists as the fifth book in this delightful series. It is called, Last Night's Scandal
I rate this book as follows:
Heroine: 5 stars
Hero: 5 stars
Subcharacters: 5 stars
Romance Plot: 5 stars
Writing: 5 stars
Narrator for audiobook: 5 stars
Overall: 5 stars