Author: Martha Waters
The widowed Diana, Lady Templeton and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham are infamous among English high society as much for their sharp-tongued bickering as their flirtation. One evening, an argument at a ball turns into a serious wager: Jeremy will marry within the year or Diana will forfeit one hundred pounds. So shortly after, just before a fortnight-long house party at Elderwild, Jeremy’s country estate, Diana is shocked when Jeremy appears at her home with a very different kind of proposition.
After his latest mistress unfavorably criticized his skills in the bedroom, Jeremy is looking for reassurance, so he has gone to the only woman he trusts to be totally truthful. He suggests that they embark on a brief affair while at the house party—Jeremy can receive an honest critique of his bedroom skills and widowed Diana can use the gossip to signal to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.
Diana thinks taking him up on his counter-proposal can only help her win her wager. With her in the bedroom and Jeremy’s marriage-minded grandmother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Willingham, helping to find suitable matches among the eligible ladies at Elderwild, Diana is confident her victory is assured. But while they’re focused on winning wagers, they stand to lose their own hearts.
I will preface my thoughts with the fact that I have not read the first novel, To Have and To Hoax, in this series. Although the two main characters were featured and their story was referenced multiple times, I essentially read this as a standalone. I can affirm that you can read this novel and fully enjoy it without reading the first, but I think it would give story even more enjoyment if you read both. As I greatly enjoyed this novel and found it very entertaining, I will circle back and read the first and, eventually, any future novels in the series, as well.
Our leading lady in this story is the recently widowed Lady Diana Templeton. There is a prologue before she was married where we see some interactions between her and her enemy/friend, Jeremy Willingham (if you read the story, then you’ll understand why it is sort-of both). Jeremy is a perpetual bachelor, who is happy to remain single for the rest of his life, while Diana is on the hunt for a rich husband. They meet again after Diana has been widowed for a little while and he comes to her with a proposition. There is the initial bet where Diana believes Jeremy will be married within the year and the added proposition Jeremy brings to her gives another element to their wager. As the synopsis states, Jeremy was criticized for his bedroom performance and believes Diana is the perfect person to help him improve.
Diana agrees after some thought since she wants to put the word out that she potentially could be open to taking a lover in the future and she has an attraction to Jeremy, just like Jeremy has an attraction to her. The two of them next meet at the gathering at Jeremy’s country estate. Their mutual friends all gather together along with Jeremy’s grandmother, and another guest, Lady Helen. This house party is the setting for the bulk of the story with lots of land for walks, horseback riding, and gardens. The inside of the house has tons of floors and rooms where everyone gets to stay and hang out together.
Jeremy and Diana have excellent banter with each other and I love their snarky comments. Diana is best friends with Violet (main from the first novel) and Emily, while also close to Sophie. I would love a story featuring Emily, Sophie, or even Diana’s brother, Penvale. As Lady Helen is showing an interest in Jeremy, Diana and eventually Jeremy’s grandmother, decide that she is the perfect person for Jeremy to marry. Hijinks ensure that reminded me of Emma when she tried to set up her friend, who was not entirely interested, as Diana keeps trying to set up Lady Helen and Jeremy, but he tries to fend her off. The writing was excellent as the dialogue and situations all fit the time period while also including touches of the modern-side. Although Jeremy and Diana have a enemies/friends with benefits relationship at the estate, it was fun to read about them trying to deny their real developing feelings that is obvious to everyone around them. The forced proximity setting was very enjoyable as it gave the two of them lots of opportunity to “appropriately” interact that fit the time period. The characters were all entertaining and each deserves a story of their own.
Overall, this was a captivating regency era romance with humorous banter and beautiful setting. Similar to most stories of this genre, you know the ending before you even start reading, but I loved how the characters get from the start to the finish line. Both characters have their own reasons for not being with each other and it was nice that the story slowly revealed their backstories as they each learn about the other. There are some moments that I felt needed more time to explore towards the end, but generally, it did not bother me. This novel served as a lovely escape read and made me want to read more from this author!
**I want to give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Atria Books, for a review copy of this enjoyable novel. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**