|Take one highway men and toss him onto a deserted eighteenth-century road. Slowly blend in a missing heir, the current duke, their crotchety grandmother, and her frustrated companion. Stir a little with Julia Quinn's deft pen, and bring to a simmer. What a perfect recipe for an enjoyable summertime treat.
Captain Jack Audley has not been able to return to Ireland since the end of the war. He has become a highway man and would happily continue robbing English travelers. It's better than facing the disaster back home.
Then, one night he stops a coach carrying two ladies. They refuse to hand over their jewels, but the older one claims to be his grandmother. Although Jack doesn't really believe her, he is curious enough to visit her castle. After some persuasion and several threats, he agrees to stay until the question of his identity is settled. The young, unmarried companion is another enticement.
Waiting hand and foot on the fussy and bad-tempered Dowager Duchess of Wyndham is pretty much all Grace Eversleigh sees on her horizon. It is hardly surprising, then, that her midnight encounter with a highwayman becomes the stuff of all her fantasies. Grace does not expect very much to come of it, not even when he shows up at the castle and is hailed as the missing heir. Besides which, her loyalties lie with the current duke. It is not long before Jack makes her yearn for something quite different.
Jack is such a charmer that it is easy to see his appeal. His almost instant interest in Grace is less convincing, and their slide from attraction to love happens a bit too quickly. I would have been more easily convinced had they taken the longer road in the tradition of, say, Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton in Quinn's Romancing Mr. Bridgerton. Still, they are ultimately well suited.
More importantly, both characters are thoroughly likable and very nicely drawn. The events that led Jack to a life of petty crime sound real. So does his need to rely almost unwittingly on his charm. In Grace, Quinn evokes the tedious, humdrum existence of a woman with no serious prospects. The fact that Grace is resilient, hopeful, and extremely dignified does not diminish the overall desperation of her situation.
I do not mean to suggest, however, that the book is all tragedy and pain. There are several poignant moments, but overall The Lost Duke of Wyndham is a light-hearted and frothy read. This is largely because of the interaction between Jack's debonair ways and Grace's calming spirit, but the secondary characters also help. The Dowager Duchess's other grandson, Thomas Cavendish, is as cold and stand-offish as a man groomed to be duke should be. A more intriguing side to him is revealed in the bewilderment he feels on learning about the other Duke. All in all, he acts quite honorably, making me curious to explore his side of the matter. It will be related in the companion piece, due out in October. There is every reason to believe Mr Cavendish, I Presume will be like The Lost Duke of Wyndham: a perfectly delightful escapist fantasy.