Between her and her identical twin sister, Philadelphia Effington has always been considered the more sensible one. No one ever thought she would do anything remotely questionable, but longing for a grand adventure, she proved them all wrong by being caught up in her romanticism and marrying a man she hardly knew, only to have her husband go missing a mere few days after saying their vows. Everyone believes he died when a ship he was traveling on sank, so Delia has spent the last six months at her aunt's house in the borderlands. She's supposed to be grieving, but since she never truly loved her husband - something that she feels terribly guilty for - it's been more an exercise in hiding out from the gossip-mongers. Now she has bravely returned to London and taken up residence in her husband's house with plans to use her newly independent status as a widow to become a "woman of experience." When Delia attends a ball in her twin's stead, she meets the stunningly handsome Viscount St. Stephens, who sweeps her off her feet with his charm and arouses her passion. But what will he think when he discovers that she's not the woman he thought she was?
Anthony St. Stephens is an agent of the Crown, and little does Delia know that her husband, who was also Tony's best friend, was as well. The rest of the world may think that the man perished at sea, but Tony and his fellow agents know otherwise. In fact, he was about to make an exchange for some incriminating documents when he went missing. Then his townhouse was found ransacked. Believing that Delia needs protection, Tony is given the undercover assignment to look after her. He masquerades as Gordon, her elderly butler, and is in charge of several fellow agents who are also working incognito as her servants. In disguise as Gordon, Tony befriends Delia, helping her to put her dead husband's affairs in order and simply lending an ear to listen to the lonely widow's troubles. As St. Stephens, he courts Delia, romancing her with the grand adventures she craves, while discovering the passionate and free-spirited woman no one else recognizes. But when his two personae collide and Delia learns the truth, will she be able to forgive him for the deception?
I've really struggled with Victoria Alexander's books thus far. I genuinely want to like them, and there are certainly things I have liked about them. But despite that, the majority of the ones I've read so far have only rated in the 3-3.5 star range for me, which is just an OK read on my ratings scale. Unfortunately The Lady in Question was yet another of her books that didn't quite make it out of that OK range. I liked the characters pretty well. Both the hero and heroine are nice people, albeit a little bland, especially given the fact that the hero is an agent of the Crown, which is why I felt that both of their characterizations could have gone a little deeper. Also the plot is pretty weak with very little happening during the first ¾ of the book. Leaving all the action until the very end is a habit I've noticed in some of Ms. Alexander's others works, as well. I saw missed opportunities to liven things up and make the plot more interesting. So despite liking the main characters, I had a hard time getting into their story.
Philadelphia, known only as Delia to her family and friends, along with her twin, Cassandra are, I believe, the youngest of the Effington siblings. Cassie is the one everyone is always expecting to get into trouble, while everyone believes Delia is the sensible one. However, Delia caused a scandal when she married a man she hardly knew and then he disappeared and was presumed dead mere days later. Six months have gone by during which she's supposed to be in mourning, but she never knew him well enough to fall in love with him and resents having to wear black and remain in seclusion for so long. Delia is a spirited girl who wants to have grand adventures. Since her husband only bedded her once, she also wants to use her newfound freedom as a wealthy widow to become a "woman of experience." When Delia meets the mysterious Viscount St. Stephens while masquerading as her twin at a ball, she thinks he might be the perfect man with whom to begin gaining some experience, but she didn't expect to fall in love with him so quickly and fears that history might be repeating itself. For the most part, I really liked Delia. She made one mistake and now as a result, she's received society's censure and even her family, aside from Cassie, are largely ignoring her, making her feel very lonely. The only issue I had is that her getting so upset with Tony over his masquerade as one of her servants when he was only looking out for her safety seemed a little hypocritical given that she was pretending to be someone else, too, when they first met. Otherwise, she was a pretty good heroine who is independent and isn't afraid to ask for what she wants.
As the younger half-brother of the Viscount St. Stephens, Tony went into the military, which later turned into him becoming a spy and an agent of the Crown. Then his older brother died without an heir, leaving him the new viscount. When his friend, Delia's first husband, goes missing, they believe he's dead, but he was in pursuit of some sensitive documents which they're still hoping to find. Then Delia's new home is ransacked, so the powers that be put Tony in charge of a group of undercover agents who are tasked with protecting her, while still searching the house for the missing documents. However, he plans for this to be his final assignment, as he needs to take up his title. For the time being, he instead takes up the disguise of her elderly butler, and when she proves to be lonely and in need of help putting her husband's affairs in order, he unexpectedly becomes her friend and confidante. They spend long hours together working, as well as playing backgammon and simply talking, during which Tony comes to admire Delia very deeply. When she plans a trip to her family's home in the country, he knows he can't go as her butler, so he decides to go as himself instead. During a ball, he meets up with Delia who is masquerading as her sister, but Tony immediately realizes it's her. He rapidly begins to fall in love with her grace and beauty and can't resist seeing more of her outside of his servant's disguise. I really liked Tony. His main thought is always for Delia's safety and I enjoyed his protectiveness. He's a real sweetheart, who romances her by trying to give her some of the grand adventures she's craving, but ultimately he wants the grandest adventure to be falling in love with him.
I'd have to say that some of the same things I've both liked and disliked about Victoria Alexander's other books are the same things I liked and disliked about The Lady in Question. I'll start with my dislikes, one of which I mentioned before was the plotting. Considering that the agents felt there was enough of a threat to Delia's life for her to need their protection, nothing the least bit frightening happens until the very end of the book, at which point the villain is very quickly apprehended and dispatched with little fanfare. I think the story would have been a lot more interesting if there had been more intrigue and a sense of danger throughout. Also, during the first ¾ of the book, there are a number of scenes that contain unnecessary and long-winded filler dialogue that doesn't really advance the plot or characterizations like it should. As with the previous book of the series, the author also has a penchant for the two word rhetorical questions, such as "Have I?," "Do you?", "Is it?". While not quite as plentiful as they were in the last book, there were still enough to be noticeable and a few too many in my estimation. As I also mentioned, I would have liked if the characterizations had been fuller and richer. I just didn't feel like they got to the place where I really understood what made Tony and Delia tick. I saw some potential for going to that deeper place, but it was more like the author was skimming the surface of what they could have been.
As for what worked for me, Tony and Delia were both very likable even if they were a little bland. I could feel the all-important emotional connection between them that can really make or break a romance. The sexual tension was well-done and so were the two love scenes, one of which was a little spicy. Once things got moving, the final quarter of the book was more engaging, so that it at least ended on a fairly high note. The supporting cast was pretty good, although it appears the only character who gets a book of their own is Delia's sister, Cassie. She becomes the heroine of the next book of the series, The Pursuit of Marriage. Overall, The Lady in Question was a cute story and a decent read, but I think that it could have been much more than that. I'll probably read Cassie's book, and depending on how that goes, all bets may be off as to whether I'll continue to read more of Ms. Alexander's work.
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