As the Duke of Bewcastle, Wulfric Bedwyn has ruled his family for decades. He is perfectly controlled at all times. And, he realizes, he is desperately lonely. The last of his younger siblings has married and moved away, and his life-long mistress has just died. There is no one on earth with whom he is on intimate terms. In an uncharacteristic moment of weakness, he accepts an invitation to a house party. It is there that he meets Christine Derrick, a poor widow whose irrepressable high spirits and interest in others make her the life of the party, even as they expose her to the censure and ridicule of others. They are drawn to each other, but struggle against the attraction. For he cannot countenance being linked to a woman who is so constantly getting into scrapes and making social gaffes, and she dreads the idea of marrying a man without warmth or humor. After a disastrous first proposal (reminiscent in all the best ways of P&P's without being derivative), Wulfric strains to prove to Christine that he does have a heart.
This is the best of the Bedwyn series, and a perfect ending for that family's tale. Wulfric has been so icy and condescending for so many books that seeing just a single crack in his facade feels like a real triumph. And Christine is a woman worth getting to know. She is older than most Regency romance heroines, and so knows her own personality and has made a life for herself already. But she's not flaw free--even though the debutantes arrayed against her are a decade younger, their taunts still hurt, and she has moments of insecurity and humiliation that are uncomfortably familiar. I also enjoyed the longer stretch of this novel: many of the other Bedwyn romances take place over weeks or at most months, but it takes Wulfric and Christine well over a year to come to terms with each other, and it makes their romance feel more realistic even as it heightens the narrative tension.