Set in Regency England, this is the story of the widowed Frances, Countess of Corringham. She is a very independent woman of 35. Frances is comfortably settled in her life as an artist; she also supports an orphanage, in which she devotes a lot of her time. The arrival of Marcus, the Duke of Loscoe, and his daughter in town shattered her ordered world.
Marcus, the Duke, had been the love of her life when she was seventeen but he had not offered for her; instead he married a woman chosen by his family.
Frances is horrified to discover she still has strong feelings for him and that he wants her to paint his daughter's portrait. As the attraction between them grows, both try hard to ignore it. There is a small mystery in the story as well, which is paced nicely throughout the book. It is a good story in which the author handles the characters well.
There is a lot of good-natured sparring between the main characters and, at times, tempers get frayed. The dialogue is snappy and makes the story engrossing.
Lavina, Marcus' daughter, is an excellent secondary character and she very much added to the main characters' interesting interaction. It would be good if Ms Nichols decided to give Lavina her own story at a later date as I felt I wanted to know how she fared in her coming out season.
Frances is a very strong heroine and enjoys the freedom that being a widow gives her, something she could not have had as a spinster in this period in England. Her marriage also gave her two stepchildren, now young adults; James and Augusta positively added to the story as well. Ms Nicolas has created memorable characters that are very enjoyable.
In addition to creating appealing and well-rounded characters, the author gives us an historical insight into the seedier side of Regency London. The poverty during this period was very harsh and the rich did very little to help. The orphanage is used to show what could be done but it also illustrates how the aristocrats were only expected to help in a monetary way, not to give practical help as Frances did.
I liked this story, and as is the fashion with regencies, the passion between Marcus and Frances is fairly muted. I easily give it four stars.