Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
Sixteen year old Helena de Stansion, Comtesse D'Lisle, is spending Christmas Eve wandering around the gardens of the convent where her sister is recuperating from illness when a man suddenly drops down into the convent garden pretty much on top of her. Assuming the man is fleeing from something clandestine, she lies to the nuns and the guards when the approach her to ask if she's seen someone on the grounds. As a thank you for protecting him, the handsome stranger gives her a kiss.
Seven years later, while in England trying to find a suitable husband, Helena discovers that the man who kissed her is none other than Sebastian Cynster, the Duke of St. Ives. Helena's autocratic guardian has signed a document giving her permission to choose her own husband, should his title, wealth and landholdings be equal to or surpassing her own. Helena is determined to get away from the demands of her guardian and want someone as different from him as possible as her husband. A nice, kind man who won't try to control her. One short meeting with St. Ives, and it's obvious that he is just as controlling and arrogant as her guardian, if not more so. He has also sworn not to marry, but delighted to see her again, offers to help her find a suitable match. Helena is convinced that he has designs to be her lover, and if he aids her in finding a biddable husband, she will be more easily seduced.
St. Cyr hasn't really forgotten Helena either, and while he is not announcing his intentions to find a wife publicly, the machinations of his tiresome sister-in-law has made him reconsider his vow never to marry. When he discovers that the lovely girl he met seven years ago is now a beautiful and spirited young woman, with a temper and an iron will to match his own, he's pretty sure he's found the woman he wants to share his future with. He pretends he wants to help her find a match so he can spend more time with her and get to know her better. He finally manages to convince her that he wants her as a wife, not just as a mistress, when further complications occur.
It turns out that Helena's guardian and St. Cyr have a history, and that St. Cyr once won a valuable dagger in a wager. Now Helena's guardian wants it back, and he intends for Helena to steal it, or her sister will be in terrible danger. Helena has to decide whether she will betray the man she is growing to love or the sister she adores.
I've never read any Stephanie Laurens, but a quick Wikipedia search shows me that she has written a truly staggering amount of romances, mostly focusing on the romantic exploits of various Cynster family members. This book is chronologically the first in the series and as such set in Georgian times, rather than the Regency. Sebastian and Helena are a fun couple and in some of their interactions, they reminded me of Falconbridge and Genevieve in Julie Anne Long's What I Did for a Duke. I suspect older, worldly, archly sarcastic nobleman and younger spirited woman will always bring that to mind now.
I bought the book in an Amazon sale more than a year ago, probably on the recommendation of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (I buy a lot of romance that way) and promptly forgot about it until this month's Monthly Key Word Challenge, where it qualifies twice (promise and kiss). It's also set around Christmas, which made it impossible to pass up. It's a fun read, even though the main complication in the lovers' way involves a misunderstanding that could have been much more easily solved through simple conversation and honesty. Still, when the truth is out and all the cards are on the table, I will give Laurens thanks, because St. Cyr reacts in a very logical way to Helena's secrets and the resolution is both action packed and exciting. Possibly a bit silly and melodramatic, but I enjoyed it a lot. I'm not sure I'm going to be actively seeking out more of Laurens' books, but if they show up in another e-book sale, I'm not ruling out buying more.