Lia Kincaid, illegitimate daughter of the Duke of York, comes from a long line of notorious women. Raised by her grandmother, formerly mistress to the late Marquess of Lendale, she has little hope of a respectable marriage. But the new marquess, her childhood friend, Jack Easton, would make a very desirable protector . . . if he weren’t too honorable to take her to bed.
It’s bad enough being saddled with a title he never desired. Now Jack must resist the beautiful woman he desires far too much. Duty calls, and he is duty-bound to choose a wealthy bride. But then Lia makes another outrageous suggestion: asking Jack to devise some tests to find her the perfect paramour. Tests that involve flirting, kissing, and other pleasurable pursuits. Tests that, in a matter of weeks, could transform friendship into the ton’s greatest scandal, igniting a passion even duty can’t deny. . .
The fact that King George III’s sons were promiscuous and known to have fathered numerous illegitimate children comes in handy when you want to write a series of historical romances featuring a group of protagonists with royal connections. Following on the heels of her Royal Renegades, featuring fictional illegitimate sons of different royal princes, Vanessa Kelly has turned her attention to the Improper Princesses, daughters born on the wrong side of more royal blankets. Three Weeks with a Princess is a friends-to-lovers romance between an impoverished marquess and his childhood friend, the daughter of the Duke of York and a former courtesan-turned-actress. It’s well-written and I enjoyed the relationship between the central couple, but the heroine’s refusal to listen to good sense became frustrating, and the drama injected towards the end of the story was rather too contrived for my taste.
Lia Kincaid’s name is a byword for scandal, even though she has lived a respectable and somewhat sheltered life. Her mother was once a high-flying courtesan, and so was her grandmother, Rebecca, before she became the long-term mistress and companion of the Marquess of Lendale. Lia has been raised by her grandmother and the pair lives quietly in a cottage on Lendale’s estate, much to the disgust of the marquess’ sister-in-law. Fortunately, the ladies of the family – Lady John and her daughter, Lady Anne – rarely come to Stonefell Hall, but her son, Jack, is a much more frequent visitor; he was Lia’s childhood playmate and has continued to visit her and her grandmother throughout the years, in spite of his mother’s disapproval.
When the old marquess dies and Jack inherits the title, he is shocked to discover how badly the estate has been run, and realises he’s got his work cut out for him if he is to turn everything around – if that is even possible. He is also faced with the unpleasant task of having to inform Lia and her grandmother that his uncle made no provision for them whatsoever; Rebecca had hoped for at least a small annuity or bequest, but he left nothing, and Jack’s mother is already insisting that the ladies are turned out of their home.
Jack is appalled at his uncle’s lack of foresight and insists that he will take care of them, no matter what; not only does he hold the ladies in great affection, he regards them as family. Lia, who has spent as much time at Stonefell as at Bluebell Cottage, is well acquainted with the ins and outs of running the estate, is aware of the sorry state of Jack’s finances and is adamant that he should not be burdened with their care, but Jack won’t hear of their leaving.
Lia had, however, already begun to formulate a plan as to what she might to do support herself and Rebecca, and now tells her grandmother than she wants to go to London to join her mother and step-father’s successful acting troupe. Rebecca is sceptical – Lia is a terrible actress, and besides, given Lia’s lineage, there is really only one thing she can do. She is young, beautiful and bound to be as sought-after as her mother and grandmother before her; Lia should set herself up as a courtesan and Rebecca thinks that Jack should be her first protector as a way of easing her into the life.
Lia is not completely horrified at the prospect of becoming a kept woman, although the idea of Jack being her first lover is one she immediately dismisses. Not because she doesn’t like him, but because she does; she’s nursed a tendre for him for years with no hope of a return and knows he thinks of her as a little sister.
Not wanting her grandmother to blindside him with that particular suggestion, Lia pre-empts her by telling Jack about it herself, and is more than a little put out at his horrified reaction. But she doesn’t dwell on it and instead tells him about her plan to join her mother in London. Jack’s reaction to that suggestion is also exactly what she had expected – annoyance, bluster and further insistence that she doesn’t need to do any such thing because he’ll look after her.
Most of the rest of the books follows more or less the same pattern. Lia makes poor decisions, gets into scrapes and Jack scolds her and pulls her out of them; and most of the time I didn’t blame him for the scoldings, because he had good sense on his side and good reason to be angry and frustrated at Lia for putting herself into some potentially damaging and dangerous situations. I started out liking her for her desire not to be dependent on others and find a way to support herself and her grandmother. In some ways she’s very clear-sighted and I liked that she is generally honest and forthright, but as the story progressed, her insistence on doing things her way annoyed me because ‘her way’ consisted mostly of coming up with ridiculous ways to solve her problems and disagreeing with everyone who tried to help her.
Jack is a more sympathetic character, partly because I would probably have had a similar reaction to Lia’s dumb schemes and was thus able to identify with him, and partly because he’s being torn in so many different directions. He loves his mother, but doesn’t like her treatment of the Kincaid women; he has inherited a badly managed estate and might need to find a rich bride in order to save it, which he doesn’t want to do at all. Plus he’s struggling to come to terms with a Lia he hasn’t really seen before, one with curves in all the right places who is showing up in all his increasingly erotic fantastes. Needless to say, that struggle isn’t one he’s destined to win. He’s your average handsome, honourable and protective romantic hero – which isn’t a criticism as such; it’s sometimes refreshing to have a hero who isn’t troubled by dark secrets or emotionally crippled.
The relationship between Jack and Lia is nicely done, deeply affectionate and laced with the sort of verbal comebacks and banter which makes it clear that these two people know each other very well. I’m someone who tends to like friends-to-lovers stories because I think a strong friendship is a good basis for a romantic relationship, so the fact that Jack and Lia bicker like siblings or old friends isn’t something I find problematic. But the downside can be a lack of romantic and sexual tension, and unfortunately, that’s the case here. That said, I can envision this pair beyond their HEA continuing to trade quips and chuckling over them together as they head into old age!
Three Weeks with a Princess isn’t going to win any prizes for originality and isn’t a book I’m likely to re-read, but it passed the time well enough. If you’re looking for a deftly written historical that edges towards the fluffier end of the scale, then it may well suit.