I am always interested in books where the romance involves older protagonists. Those stories tend to be intricate and complex because so much of the protagonists’ lives has already been lived. They bring experiences and ideas to the relationship that younger characters just cannot. As a result, many of those books tend to deal more with internal conflict as opposed to external conflict as the characters try to overcome fixed ideas in order to fit their lives together. Lilian and the Irresistible Duke by Virginia Heath is one such book that takes an excellent in-depth look into a mature relationship.
Lilian Fairclough has been widowed these many years and has worked incredibly hard through the lonely difficult years to bring up her three children despite her reduced circumstances. In addition, she has successfully run the Fairclough Foundation that was her late husband’s passion. The Foundation, located in the backstreets of Westminster in London, provides a safe haven for women down on their luck.
Nowadays however, Lilian has been reduced to being a spectator in her grown children’s marriages and her authority over the Fairclough Foundation has also lessened as her children have taken that on. Even as she struggles to find a footing in her rapidly changing world, her children are concerned for her future wellbeing. They feel that she has sacrificed so much for them that it is now her turn to live for herself, so they urge her on to an adventure trip to Italy.
Italian Pietro Venturi, also known as the Duca della Torizia with a proper carefully restored palazzo in Rome, is a handsome charmer who is very popular with the ladies. Unlike his peers however, he is a working aristocrat with a thriving gallery through which he connects old art with noveau riche people.
He has had a turbulent marriage that has made him adamant about not getting caught again. He enjoys many casual liaisons with the firm stipulation in place that he is not interested is anything beyond the physical — no emotional attachments whatsoever. So while Lilian intrigues him greatly, he is still not tempted to venture beyond his boundaries…or so he repeatedly tells himself and then keeps on breaking his ironclad rules.
I love how Lilian and Pietro connect over art and how so much of their relationship unfolds through the language of art. Art and love both connect to our minds and hearts in a wide variety of ways and Heath shows us the range of possible intricate connections as she explores the protagonists’ relationship. In addition, I enjoyed seeing how art forms the firmament against which we see Lilian’s growth from a person of great responsibility and purpose into one of whimsy, adventure and passion.
I found it clever how Heath worked the opposite positions that Lilian and Pietro found themselves in to bring them together. Whereas she was at a crossroads in her life, poised for change, Pietro was stuck in a rut and unsure how — or even if – he should get out of it. Both are restless and dissatisfied with life and so in reaching out to each other, they discover a purpose to life for themselves and with each other.
In order to show how loving a second relationship is, some romance novels tend to severely downplay or even disparage the first relationship. But Heath carefully shows how it is possible for one person to love twice, to love very different people and to be happy with both of them. People are not one-note. Different people draw different qualities out of you that you would not have imagined were within you. Thus it is possible for you to be happy as a whole different you even as you had been happy as the old you.
A note about the art in the book: If you love the fine arts, you will adore this book. I learned so much about it and enjoyed reading it very much.
Lilian and the Irresistible Duke by Virginia Heath is the fourth book in the Secrets of a Victorian Household series. The other three books in this series are Miss Lottie’s Christmas Protector by Sophia James, Miss Amelia’s Mistletoe Marquess by Jenni Fletcher and Mr. Fairclough’s Inherited Bride by Georgie Lee. These first three books in the series are the stories of Lilian’s three children.