The Undoing of a Lady by Nicola Cornick
This is the third and final installment in the Brides of Fortune series which has ranged from very good to almost completely awful. Nathanial, Nat, Waterhouse, the current Earl and future Duke of Waterhouse, is set to marry Flora Minchin in order to gain her dowry. He needs this dowry to pay off the man who is blackmailing him with threats to disclose his sister's promiscuity. Elizabeth, Lizzie, Scarlet knows that Nat will be unhappy with this marriage and kidnaps him on his wedding night to stop it. Things go a bit awry and the two give in to some quite explosive passion. Lizzie is humiliated as she realizes, after giving in to her lust, that she has been in love with Nat for years. Knowing that he does not return her feelings, she flees the scene, secure in the knowledge that Nat will marry and they can pretend nothing happened. As an honorable gentlemen Nat begs off on his wedding to Flora and begins to seriously pursue Lizzie despite his surety that she will make a horrible wife and the two of them will be miserable together. Not only is marrying Lizzie the "right" thing it does not hurt that doing so will give him leave to succumb to his lust for her whenever he desires.
When Miles Fortune, Lizzie's brother is killed, she is the prime suspect until Nat comes to her rescue by revealing that she was with him on the night he was killed. This is enough to make it necessary for the two of them to get married and while Lizzie is horrified of being married to a man she loves who does not love her in return, Nat is excited at being able to slake his lust. This lust appears to be the only thing going for them for quite a while and Lizzie becomes even more depressed that she will never be able to win Nat's love. She acts out on this depression and fear by becoming more and more outrageous, drinking heavily, and flirting like mad. She finally reveals to Nat that the two of them need to spend more time together and get to know each other again while keeping their hands off of each other. Things appear to be going fine until Lizzie discovers that Nat (may have) been lying to her the whole time about his reasons for marrying her as he (may have) married her to get revenge on Tom, Lizzie's brother, for blackmailing him. Lizzie runs away and Nat goes chasing after her and it is up to the two of them to decide if they can learn to trust and love each other.
This book had a lot of loose ends to wrap up, from Lydia Cole who is pregnant with Tom's illegitimate child, to what will become of the antiquated taxing laws that have been plaguing the resident of Fortune's Folly, to what happens to Flora Minchim. For the most part these are wrapped up fairly well and I will admit that part of the reason I read this so close on the heels of the horrible "Scandals" was because I was dying to know how everything ended up. And the little mystery of how Miles was killed was certainly quite intriguing and solved in a very believable, if unexpected and a little out of left field, way. Once again Cornick spins her wonderful way with words and delves into the inner workings of her characters minds very convincingly and skillfully. Nat is far from the wonderful hero and he behaves horribly sometimes, but he is still worlds better than Miles the ass. Nonetheless I found his giving in to the blackmail to be a little ridiculous: not only is he a man of the law but he knows that Tom is completely untrustworthy and will no doubt either ask for more money or reveal the truth about Celeste anyway so it was stupid of him to give in.
Lizzie was the spoiled selfish brat that Nat accused her of being in the beginning and it was fun to read about her very brief and late-coming transformation to a slightly more mature woman. Unfortunately she continued to act like, I'm sorry, an idiot for a decent portion of the book. I hate to make a spoiler but to give an idea of how ridiculous Lizzie behaves: She rides a horse through a gentlemen's club naked with nothing but her not so long hair to cover her. There's a difference between being upset and being stupid and Lizzie definitely pushes, if not crosses, this line. Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of the book was the sex. The two of them definitely enjoyed this aspect of their relationship and their coupling often bordered on violent. One scene in particular was confusing and just plain weird as it involved a riding crop- not S/M by any means but still perhaps a little too weird for many people. Nonetheless one of my favorite parts of this book that wasn't developed enough IMO, was the romance between Flora Minchin and Alice's brother Lowell Lister- very sweet and wrapped up too quickly.
Rating: Pretty much smack in the middle of her other two books with fairly likable characters, a fun little mystery, and great side characters.