Alexandra Stafford, the 17-year-old daughter of a duke, is dreading her first London Season. She has no interest in marrying an insufferably boring British peer and suspects most men want a docile, empty-headed woman (something she most assuredly is not!) Constant teasing from her three mischievous brothers about her beaus just makes her situation more intolerable. Luckily, she has the unwavering support of her two best friends, Vivi and Ella, and the sympathy of Gavin, newly titled Earl of Blackmoor, with whom she grew up and who is practically another brother to her.
However, in the Season's whirl of balls, dinner parties and carriage rides, Alex and Gavin develop feelings for one another that go FAR beyond brotherly or sisterly affection. Misunderstandings inevitably arise as the pair struggle to understand their new emotions. Through Gavin and Alex's interactions, Sarah MacLean brought to life all the joy, confusion, jealousy and uncertainty of first love. Anyone who can remember what it was like to be a bewildered teenager will certainly identify with this couple.
Complicating their blossoming romance is Gavin's suspicion that his beloved father's death was not an accident. In fact, the late earl had uncovered evidence of a ring of spies selling military secrets to the French. About two-thirds of the way through the book, after Alex overhears a conversation proving the earl was murdered, the suspense kicks into high gear, culminating in a showdown at Gavin's country estate in Essex. The mystery was not as fleshed out as I'd like, and the villain was fairly obvious as well as a bit dim. (He never seemed able to decide on his next course of action.)
However, MacLean held my attention with her sympathetic and often funny characters, clever dialogue and affectionate descriptions of life among the ton. At times, I felt I was inside the story with Alex, gossiping with her friends at a ball or riding with Gavin through Hyde Park. My favorite scene was one in which Alex's maid helped her dress for a party. I could picture her donning each intricate layer of clothing like a knight suiting up in his armor, before doing battle for the hearts of young men.
My grade: B+