A group of friends performs a complicated ruse to help Lady Cassandra Monroe woo her cousin’s intended in this Regency romance that borrows liberally from The Importance of Being Earnest.
Bowman (The Unexpected Duchess, 2014, etc.) returns to her Playful Brides series with an aging debutante who secretly loves Capt. Julian Swift, the man who is all but engaged to her cousin Penelope. Julian has been at war for seven years, buoyed through the horrors of the battlefield by regular letters from Cass. Now he has returned to England, ready to seek out Penelope and tell her he can’t marry her after all. But Penelope, who doesn't want to marry him either, and thinks thinks he intends to formalize their engagement, invents a convenient friend in the country named Patience Bunbury and pretends to have gone to visit her in order to avoid seeing him. Meanwhile, Cassandra’s friend Lucy Hunt, the new Duchess of Claringdon, concocts a crazy scheme to allow Cass and Julian to spend some time together. She persuades Cass to pretend to be Patience Bunbury and lure Julian to the country for a house party. Lucy is sure that a few days spent in Cassandra’s company will persuade Julian that he loves her and that he will forgive their deception once he finds out that Patience is really his dear friend and correspondent, Cassandra. All seems to be working out when Julian doesn’t recognize Cassandra, who has transformed from a gawky teenager into a total bombshell in the years he’s been away. But as more and more friends and relatives are drawn into the deception, it seems inevitable that Julian will learn the truth before Cass gets up the nerve to tell him herself.
The references to Oscar Wilde’s play are more of a tribute than a straight retelling, which keeps this hilarious and lively story from becoming too predictable. Bowman is one to watch.