While opening a girls’ boarding school, a dowager countess is mistaken for a lady of the night by her aristocratic neighbor, leading to affinity and a scorching affair, but will love be able to overcome divergent goals?
Adeline, the Dowager Countess of Wake, doesn’t exactly mourn her husband, who went down on a ship. Their marriage was complicated, and he’d bullied her when she couldn’t conceive. After befriending two fellow widows of the wreck and learning of the dire straits of the crew’s families, Adeline decides to start a boarding school for the daughters and sisters of those men. The ideal property is next door to Lyon Marksworth, the Earl of Lyonwood, whose aunt convinces him there’s a brothel moving in. When he enters Adeline’s home uninvited to confront her, she has just tried on an intriguing piece of lingerie that furthers his misconceptions. However, despite her problematic attire, rather than cowing to him, she berates him for his unacceptable behavior, and he is intrigued by the fiery countess who dresses him down. Once the girls move in, Adeline and Lyon find themselves more and more attracted to each other as they navigate students and lords behaving badly, meddling family, and a neighbor with a spyglass. Lyon has waited his whole life to find Adeline, and he wants to marry her, but she refuses: “Because I’ve been a wife and found I’m not suited to marriage and have no desire to entangle myself in it again.” She’s happy to be his discreet lover, but he refuses, wanting more. The impasse may keep them apart. Author Grey’s unconventional meet-cute, compelling series backbone, and authentic characters move an interesting plot forward, but the not-completely-surprising surprise ending undercuts the intensity of the central conflict.
An engaging series start with hints of secrets to unfurl in subsequent books.