THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING WICKED - Victoria Alexander
Winfield Elliott, Viscount Stillwell, stands with his cousin, Grayson, before the burned remains of their family home, Fairborough Hall. After the death of Gray's parents, his aunt and uncle raised him as a son, so Win and he are very close. For years Win has held a horrible reputation in society as a lady's man, especially after three fiancées rejected the final step of matrimony with him. He turned his wayward ways into managing the family's property and has become an astute businessman. He is determined to rebuild Fairborough Hall to its exact former glory.
Miranda, Lady Garrett, has been a widow for three years, and the architect at the Garret and Tempest firm before that. Her husband John, after seeing her plans, let her do the designs while he, as head of his firm, took credit for them. After all, society's strictures on women in the business would ruin her reputation and shame her family. As youngest of the large Hadley-Attwaters family, it would be a double betrayal as her older siblings see her as a needy person deserving their protection. Her employees know and keep her secret, for Miranda works to ensure their futures. Failure of the company must be prevented for all their sakes. She also pays the mysterious Mr. Tempest, who loaned John money to get the business established. Luckily, since Miranda knows the elusive Mr. Tempest only as an account to send money to, she names him the firm's architect and continues to hide her participation.
With Miranda's arrival at Fairborough Hall, sparks fly between her and her very conservative client who doesn't think women can or should work. Only the fact that his project must be complete by midsummer for the family's annual ball lets him accept Miranda's presence. This year the queen might even attend. Miranda assures Viscount Stillwell she is only a representative of the company to act as a liaison between him as the client, the crew boss, and the architect, the very reclusive Mr. Tempest. At a meeting with the family to approve the contract, Miranda suggests they update the hall with improved heating and plumbing, and even add electricity—all the while keeping the original look and feel of the hall. Viscount Stillwell firmly vetoes the idea, electricity is dangerous! His family overrides his decision. Having been bested (and intrigued) in every confrontation with the representative of Garret and Tempest, Win takes a drastic action and hires an investigator to discover more about the company and Lady Garrett.
The tempestuous contretemps between Miranda and Win create an amusing dance between two smart and strong-willed characters, and the story's setting has an equally interesting perspective on the emergence of the women's suffrage movement. Win, his reputation damaged by three previous rejections and wounded by public humiliation, prizes honesty and is loath to propose again, even if he is inordinately attracted. Miranda's problems, already discussed, create major obstacles to this relationship, and seem to doom it from the start. The Hadley-Attwaters family has shown up in two previous books by author Victoria Alexander: HIS MISTRESS BY CHRISTMAS, and SINFUL FAMILY SECRETS.