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After reading about the Marquess of Riverton in the previous book, I thought it would be difficult for Henry Eldridge to make a convincing transformation from a reviled antagonist, to a hero worthy of a happily-ever-after. It takes a fire, and terrible injury in order to shake the Marquess down from his lofty perch. During his recuperation, his housekeeper, Cassandra Davis is tasked to keep him occupied.
The author doesn't really elaborate on her characters' personalities -- and much of what we know of Cassandra and Henry come from our encounters with them in the previous books: Henry Eldridge is cold and arrogant. He had a mistress, but no other anecdotes of failed relationships -- so everything that we know of him is based on his dealing with Julia Forsythe. Cassandra is the same: she's a widow. She is very practical, caring, but not overly so -- she keeps herself at a distance -- as seen in her conversations with Julia and her arrangement with Adam. We get a sense that her husband's death really affected her, and that's why she keeps her feeling to herself.
Cassandra doesn't know whether she should be excited or be afraid of having to keep Riverton company -- by reputation, he isn't the friendliest or most approachable of employers, and she has had very limited contact with him, because he spent most of his time in London. There was also the unpleasant confrontation between Riverton and Julia Forsythe, his ex-mistress. But, on the other hand, Cassandra isn't immune to his appeal.
I am thinking about how the arrangement came to be: Cassandra makes an impulsive decision to ask the Marquess to teach her German, and, after the initial refusal and succeeding outburst, Riverton agrees. Perhaps if the author had taken the time to delve a little bit into Cassandra's backstory, it would be easier to understand why a housekeeper wanted to learn German. Yes, the author hints that Cassandra wasn't born into service, but had chosen to become a housekeeper after her husband died. Henry is intrigued by his housekeeper's boldness, and, maybe it was boredom or something else, but proceeds to teach her German, a most unromantic language -- but, through their daily encounters, esteem and affection and romance slowly blossom. (I also have to give the author props for making Goethe sound very sensual.)
How? Maybe it's the proximity? Maybe it's familiarity? Cassandra is the first female that Henry has had a real conversation with in a very long time. Cassandra is also the first person to see Henry as Henry, and not as a Marquess and future Duke. There is respect for the person, and not adulation for the title. They struggle to keep the relationship platonic -- they need to keep their relationship platonic, for the sake of the household, but the sexual tension is powerful and undeniable as well.
There are obstacles in Henry and Cassandra's path to happiness: he's a marquess, she's his housekeeper. Cassandra is supposed to be the voice of prudence and an example of modesty for all the other servants, and it would ruin her reputation and respectability if she was caught dallying with the master of the house. Henry is supposed to be focusing his energies finding a wife, and securing the succession.
I am on the fence about Henry's sister's participation in the "courtship" -- on one hand, she provided an insight into Henry's upbringing (and supplied a much-needed backstory for why Henry behaves the way he does). I like that she was very progressive about her ideas, and how she really valued Henry's happiness above all. On the other hand, I think she smoothed the road a bit too easily for Henry and Cassandra -- and I would have liked to see our hero and heroine struggle and find a way by themselves --
I have to say, I enjoyed this story more than I did the previous book -- Lily Maxton was able to expand on the tension between master and servant and contrast it with the relationship between man and woman. I also enjoyed the emotional aspect of this novel more.
The Improper Bride is Book 5 in Lily Maxton's Sisters of Scandal series. To find out more about Lily Maxton and her books, click below: