I read so many novels that familiar tropes, particularly in romances, really grate on me. This is why I love Eloisa's books - they never quite go in the way you expect.
Eugenia Snowe is a wealthy widow and the daughter of the Marquis of Broadham (hero of Duchess by Night). Devastated when her husband died, Eugenia has no intention of marrying again. To the horror of the ton, she has set up a very successful employment agency for governesses but still feels as though there is something missing in her life.
Ward is a brilliantly clever inventor and the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gryffyn (hero of Desperate Duchesses). However, Ward's mother Lisette was a complete nightmare - neglectful and more than a little unhinged. Or as Eugenia's father says, 'The type who would keep drinking tea while faint screams came from the dungeon'. But it turns out Lisette had two more children before she died - legitimate ones - after scandalously running away with the under-age Viscount Darcy. Lisette has entrusted her young children into the care of Ward - but now his evil grandmother wants custody - and is prepared to fight him in Court to achieve it. Ward is in desperate need of an ultra-respectable governess to mould his eccentric siblings into perfect children and he's decided only the best will do - Eugenia herself.
As with all Eloisa's books it is the sheer brilliance of her writing which keeps me entertained, along with the humour and, of course, her characters. Eugenia and Ward are attracted to each other right from the start, don't bother to hide it and soon embark on an affair - but nothing serious, obviously, because Eugenia was madly in love with her late husband, and Ward because he knows he has to marry an aristocrat if he is to keep custody of his half-siblings. It's a shame he's so wrapped up in himself he doesn't realise Eugenie neatly fulfils all his criteria (she actually tells him so at one point!) until it is far too late.
As well as the banter between hero and heroine, I loved the characters of the children - Lizzie, who has taken to wearing a black veil at all times and quoting inappropriate lines from Shakespeare, and Otis, whose pet rat goes everywhere with him. I particularly loved the rat!
I only had one niggle. As I read the story I kept thinking 'I'm sure this character is dead', to the point where I had to dig out the book they originally appeared in and - sure enough - the character was dead - I hadn't imagined it! I then spent the rest of the story worrying that perhaps Eloisa James had forgotten she'd previously killed the character off. However, the reason for their Lazarus-like reappearance is explained in the author's note at the end of the story - I just wish this note had appeared at the beginning!
Recommended for all fans of historical romance and romantic comedy.