Garrick Stanley Breckinridge Throckmorton is a fine, upstanding widower. He is so upstanding that he makes lampposts look wilted. So it is not surprising that few suspect the staid and proper Throckmorton of being involved in the "Great Game" of politics and espionage. Garrick's younger brother Ellery certainly has no idea! Ellery is blessed with good looks, charm, wit and sensuality and has pursued a life full of amorous adventures, seducing countless numbers of women to his bed.
One girl who is especially susceptible to Ellery's charm is Celeste Milford, the gardener's daughter, and when she returns from finishing school and several years on the continent, Ellery finds himself dumbstruck by this beautiful and sensual woman. Of course, it's the eve of his engagement to Lady Hyacinth - a wedding the Throckmortons desperately want to take place, so it's up to Garrick to do something to divert disaster! If you have seen either of the movie versions of "Sabrina", this plot will take on a very familiar feel when Garrick sets out to lure Celeste away from Ellery.
Predictable though it may be, Christina Dodd manages to paint her characters with her usual skill and keeps her readers glued to the pages of this novel. Especially wonderful is the gradual disintegration of Garrick's rigid behavior - it is a joy to watch his descent into the turbulent emotional whirlpool of desire! The cracks in his carefully crafted facade begin to show after Garrick and Celeste share their first kiss - and it's not long before all caution is cast to the wind.
For her part, Celeste, who has come back to be a governess to Garrick's daughter and Ellery's illegitimate child, takes a little longer to realize where her true feelings lie. She is more conflicted about her desire for Garrick, and can't understand why she is feeling so sympathetic and guilty towards the sweet Lady Hyacinth, when she's spent years learning exactly how to seduce Ellery! Of course, Ms. Dodd allows the lovers ample opportunity to explore their passions for one another, and the fact that most of the time both of them are not sure what they're doing or why they're doing it only adds to the fun! There is a fiendish plot afoot and the secondary characters all play their parts with great attention to detail (especially Lady Philberta Throckmorton, mother to the two dissimilar brothers).
While the Ruskins make a brief appearance at the beginning of this tale, and the Distinguished Academy of Governesses rates a mention, this is more of a distant cousin to the "Governess" series, and in comparison lacks slightly in sensuality, although this minor deficiency is more than compensated by a well-thought out and complex plot peopled with distinctive characters. For Dodd fans, it's not to be missed; if you're just starting her works, I might suggest the "Governess" books first, just to get a feel for the environment and settings of these novels.