Sir Richard Kenworthy has less than a month to find a bride, and secure her hand in marriage. She can't really be an heiress or a diamond of the first water, because it's really quite imperative that she accept his proposal, no matter what. When he spots Miss Iris Smythe-Smith suffering behind her cello at her family's infamous annual musicale, he is intrigued. Very blond and pale-skinned, she should be unremarkable, but she's clearly good at playing her instrument, which can't be said for her other female relatives. He forces his friend Winston Bevelstoke to introduce him and becomes quite smitten, which wasn't really part of the plan.
Iris is surprised and not a little suspicious when Sir Richard seems so very taken with her. She's used to being overlooked and underestimated and spends most of her time out in society quietly observing others, quite content to rest among the chaperones and the wallflowers. Sir Richard flirts with her, he calls with flowers and insists on taking her for walks. He gives every impression of falling for her, but Iris can't help but wonder why his courtship seems so rushed. When he proposes after only a week's acquaintance, and compromises her with a kiss shortly after, she doesn't really have a choice but to accept him, but it's clear that he is hiding something and she's worried about discovering what it is.
Richard feels deeply guilty about forcing Iris into marriage, especially as after only a week, he has discovered that she is a much better wife than he could ever have dreamed of snaring with his whirlwind courtship. She's witty, clever, caring and loyal and clearly very forbearing of her family member's flaws and foibles, something he desperately hopes will mean that she might eventually forgive him, once she discovers the secrets that forced his hand in marrying her.
This is the fourth and final book in the Smythe-Smith quartet. It's by no means required that you've read any of the other books, although several previous Julia Quinn characters pop up for cameos or are mentioned, and your enjoyment might be increased if you know more about the extented romance universe in which Quinn sets her books. While I love most of her Bridgerton novels and her two latter Bevelstoke novels in particular (I also adore the running gag of the schlocky Gothic Sarah Gorely novels in her later books), her plots have seemed a bit on the overly melodramatic side in these last four books, and in The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy, I think it got almost too much for my disbelief to willingly suspend itself.
While I had my suspicions about some of the things Richard was hiding back on his estate in Yorkshire, I doubt that many would be expecting the full extent of his plans, because that was some soap opera level intrigue right there. There is a lot of the witty banter and light escapism that Quinn is so good at, but when the plot gets as ridiculous as this one did at times, it does spoil my enjoyment somewhat.
Iris was a lovely heroine, though and it's always nice to see romance protagonist who isn't stunningly gorgeous (although there is happily a lot more diversity in the shape and appearance of heroines nowadays). She's learned to be happy with being a wallflower and loves her large and boisterous family, for all their flaws. She's clever and quietly wry, and very much wants to be a good wife and sister-in-law, as well as a capable lady of her own estate. She's flattered by Richard's attentions, but because he's probably the first man to ever really notice her, she is suspicious and with good reason. She's deeply upset when she discovers why their courtship was so sudden, even more so because while Richard was underhanded and deceitful, they also find common ground and make a connection and when the truth comes out, Iris is worried that the affection she believed her husband felt for her is a lie as well. Since she is well on her way to falling in love with him, she feels doubly betrayed.
It's thanks to Iris' calm and quiet competence that the melodramatic plot doesn't spiral completely out of control, though, as once she gets over the initial hurt, she sets about to sort things out. It helps that Richard in no way is a bad man, and the secrets that he's concealing are not of his own doing. He's desperately trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation, but goes about it in a staggeringly foolish way. Unlike in Lady Windermere's Lover, which I read last month, where I thought the hero's actions were pretty much unforgivable and the heroine should have run off with her husband's best friend, I didn't think Richard was undeserving of Iris. The romance part of the plot was sweet and satisfying. I just wished the major complication of the plot hadn't been quite so overblown. I still enjoy Julia Quinn's books, but she may be slipping off my auto-buy list if this trend continues.