I’ve read and enjoyed a few series that promise twists on well-known tales, linked together by female friendships, and so I had high hopes of this first story in what would seem to be a trilogy, with its retelling of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion: albeit set quite some years before that play was written. Our leading lady in this adventure is Retta: Lady Henrietta Parker, a soon-to-be wealthy heiress who has turned down a number of eligible society gentlemen for fear that they care more for her fortune than for her personality and would have few interests in common with hers once the initial bloom of attraction wears off.
While taking tea with her two best friends and her family – including her recently married younger stepsister – Retta recklessly declares that she could take any common dockworker and pass him off as a gentleman with a modicum of training. Her family take her up on that statement and a bet is issued: Retta will bring a man of their choice into the household and school him in etiquette prior to showing him off around the Ton. If Retta’s protégé can gain admission at Almack’s, she will win the bet, though if she loses she will be forced to give up her favourite horse to her already spoilt stepsister. The deal agreed, the group arrange to go down to the docks and find a suitable candidate for their experiment. However, their choice turns out to be not quite the man they were expecting to find.
Jake Bolton is working on the docks as part of his latest mission as an agent of Lord Castlereagh. The younger son of a duke, Jake – or more correctly Major Lord Jacob Bodwyn – has been watching Retta’s household, amongst others, to try and discover who is passing secrets to the other participants at Congress of Vienna, in an attempt to undermine the British negotiating position. Taking a post in the house could only further his cause, and it would be a great jape if Jake can also pass himself off as a commoner pretending to be what he is already: a member of the highest echelons of society. Of course, the only problem with this idea is the risk that Jake and Retta may actually start to fall for each other, in a situation where neither is being entirely honest with the other.
Although I was very taken with the setup of this book, I found it difficult to get along with the writing style or with the way in which the two main plots, the spy mystery and the romance, were interwoven to the exclusion of several other threads I found equally interesting: such as the friendship between Retta, Hero and Harriet. The other two young ladies barely get a mention once Jake appears on the scene and we get next to no indication of what they think of him, or of Retta’s change of heart regarding men and their overriding interest in her money. Not a bad book, just not the one for me.
Well-bred, well-dressed, and well-read, Henrietta, Harriet, and Hero are best friends who have bonded over good books since their schooldays. Now these cultured ladies are ready to make their own happy endings—each in her own way…
Lady Henrietta Parker, daughter of the Earl of Blakemoor, has turned down many a suitor for fear that the ton’s bachelors are only interested in her wealth. But despite the warnings of her dearest friends, Harriet and Hero, she can’t resist the challenge rudely posed by her stepsister: transform an ordinary London dockworker into a society gentleman suitable for the “marriage mart.” Only after a handshake seals the deal does Retta fear she may have gone too far…
When Jake Bolton is swept from the grime of the seaport into the elegance of Blakemoor House, he appears every inch the rough, cockney working man who is to undergo Retta’s training in etiquette, wardrobe, and elocution. But Jake himself is a master of deception—with much more at stake than a drawing room wager. But will his clandestine mission take second place to his irresistible tutor, her intriguing proposal… and true love?
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