Estranged from his father, tearing through his allowance on wine, women, and cards, Tristan Sinclair, the Viscount St. Ashton, is at point non plus. But when he visits a notorious Victorian house party intending to drown his sorrows in drink, he runs across a diminutive and terribly-dressed female companion crying in the woods. His protective instincts flare into action, and instead of seducing this vicar’s daughter, he warns her about the perils of the house party, and to stay away from him, most of all.
The recently orphaned Valentine March has a plan. If she can eke out a year’s worth of wages as companion to Lady Brightwell, she can take passage to the Far East as a missionary. But when Lady Brightwell’s daughter Felicity becomes too mean-spirited to handle, Valentine fears she may never accomplish dream. Unwittingly encountering the rakish Viscount St. Ashton, she later discovers to her horror that his attentions are not entirely unwelcome, and when a compromising situation forces him to offer for her, she must decide what she really wants out of life.
In typical Mimi Matthews fashion, this book is “clean” but very, very heavy on the romance. The Victorian milieu was well done, and the railway travel, narrow waists, and huge skirts separate this book from Regencies that might have a similar plot. My favorite character was the Earl of Lynden, Tristan’s austere and seemingly omniscient father, who arrives unexpectedly at the debauched house party to banish his son to a derelict country estate. The relationship of the hero and his father reminded me a bit of Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer, although the Earl in this book has a much more dubious view of his own offspring than Heyer’s Duke of Avon does.
Valentine and Tristan were also intriguing characters, both of them with complex backstories that added to their emotional vulnerability. Tristan’s attempts to shock the demure vicar’s daughter were quite humorous at times–as was his protestation that she could be a more effective missionary by reforming him than by traveling to foreign climes. A little shorter than a typical novel, this book is a quick read and my favorite so far in the Mimi Matthews canon.