This is the first book in a quartet about four Scottish sisters, set in 1816, whose father, a poor "horse-mad" Viscount", has died and left them in the care of the tipsy Duke of Holbrook, a man he met years ago. None-the-less, the Duke takes this responsibility seriously and sets up a nursery for the four girls and hires each a nanny. Both the girls and the Duke are rather shocked by each other. Tess, Annabel, and Imogen are all in their twenties and Josie is fifteen. Their father had promised them over and over that when this horse or that horse came through in the races, he would take them to London for their Season and find them, husbands. Their papa had rather horrible luck with his horses, though fine animals they are. The Duke received one for taking the girls in and each girl has one for a dowry. It's a very odd dowry, but the horses are worth something, but cannot be sold for at least a year. Tess had made plans to sacrifice herself and marry someone so she could use her husband's money and position in society to help her sisters, but that would prove to be unnecessary.
Annabel has her heart set on marrying a title, or someone with a great deal of money. She is the practical one of the family. Her father had her do the accounts for the household and that may have affected her outlook on the whole thing. She does not seem to really believe in marriage, even though her mother loved her father and left a position in society to run off with him to Scotland. Her and Tess are the only ones who really remember her, though.
Imogen is madly in love with Lord Maitland who visited Scotland on his travels for derby races and looking for horses to try to buy with the money his mother tightly controls. He has made it quite clear to her that he is already engaged to Miss Pythian-Adams. At this point, they have been engaged for two years, and Imogen has not given up hope, especially when she has discovered that the Duke's next door neighbor is the Maitlands and that Lady Maitland will be coming over to stay for a few days as chaperon until a more permanent, and likable one (she is hellbent on marrying the Duke, but no matter how much he drinks, he has never gotten drunk enough to marry her).
Josie is a bookworm who adores her father. The rest of the sisters try to protect her from the truth about some of the things he did. Except for Annabel, of course. Sometimes she is too blunt for her own good. The Duke hires a governess for Josie who disapproves of her reading and Josie, of course, hates what the governess is making her learn, but a compromise will be met.
The Duke has two other friends besides Maitland: Garret Langham, the Earl of Mayne, who is recovering from a heart broken by a married Countess, and Lucius Felton, one of the richest men in England (he's very successful on the stock market) who claims to be incapable of having deep emotional feelings toward anyone. And yes, they all have horse stables and race them. (Horses are a character in this book themselves.) The Earl has a widowed sister and it is quickly agreed that she should be the chaperone so they can get rid of Lady Clarice.
Tess and Rafe (the Duke) hit it off immediately--as a brother and sister would. Rafe's parents are long gone and his older brother, whom he considers the Duke, died five years ago, which is when his drinking started. He does not need to marry and produce and heir like Mayne and other noblemen do because he has a distant relative who can inherit. He has no interest in marrying. In fact, up until they entered his life, he has had little interest in much of anything but horses and the bottle.
When a group of them go to see some old Roman ruins, Tess meets Miss Pythian-Adams and finds that she likes her very much and that puts her in a difficult situation for a different reason. While there, Lucius kisses her and immediately proposes marriage, which Tess turns down. That is not the kind of marriage she wants; one built upon an obligation of an imagined threat to her virtue. Besides, Mayne is actively pursuing her, mostly because of the horse that is part of her dowry.
Mayne has seduced most of the married women in London and when he tries to use his wiles on Tess they fail miserably. He is now forced to just be himself, and oddly enough, that seems to work. When he sees her ride her horse, a Thoroughbred that threw a seasoned man off its back once, with utter control, he has forgotten why he wanted to marry her in the first place and has become interested in her. It's a bit of a whirlwind courtship, but before he proposes Tess gives Lucius another chance, because she feels something special with him, even though she knows she can have a happy life with Mayne and come to care for him. But Lucius passes, so Tess accepts Mayne's proposal.
And then one of her sisters heads off to Gretna Green to elope with a man which will bring disaster on the rest of them. To save her sisters Tess goes ahead and decides to have her wedding immediately, while Lucius rides off to try to stop her sister. Luckily Mayne has an uncle who is a Bishop, who is quickly sent for. Vows are said and at least one sister gets married, but is it to the right man?
At the beginning of this book, the sisters seem intent on not marrying "horse-mad" men like their father, but that is just the men they seem to meet right away and be pushed toward marrying. When Tess decides to let Mayne court her, Anabel goes after Lucius, who also has quite a stable and races them at the derby, as does Rafe. I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky where all the horse farms were and where Secretariat is buried. This book brought back so many fond memories.
Each sister is different in temperament, looks, and interests. Tess, though beautiful, has never felt so because she has always stood next to Anabel and Imogen who have a beauty that is more striking and not subtle, like hers. She also feels a bit lacking in other areas such as education. The girls would read the books in their father's library but only got to the letter H. It will take a certain type of man to see how special Tess truly is.
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Much-About-Essex-Sisters-Book-ebook/dp/B000FCKL48/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1486996175&sr=1-1&keywords=much+ado+about+you
The first thing Teresa noticed was that the Englishmen were playing with toys. Toys! That fit with everything they’d heard about Englishmen: thin, puny types they were, who never grew up and shivered with cold during a stiff breeze.
--Eloisa James (Much Ado About You p 7)
There was nothing more to Annabel’s taste than a man in possession of all his limbs and a title.
--Eloisa James (Much Ado About You p 11)
Perhaps—just perhaps—all men weren’t mad in the same ways.
--Eloisa James (Much Ado About You p 17)
I’m not being immodest. I’m simply being practical. One of us must marry, and I have the attributes that make most men dazed enough to overlook lack of dowry. I’m not going to pretend to posses ladylike virtues that I don’t have in front of you three. It’s too late for that. If Papa truly wanted us to think like ladies, he wouldn’t have trained us to do exactly the opposite.
--Eloisa James (Much Ado About You p 22)
Miss Pythian-Adams is quite, quite charming. Any woman with five thousand pounds a year is, by definition, a dazzler.
--Eloisa James (Much Ado About You p 61)
You never paid enough attention to gossip in the village, Tess. But from everything I learned, one would wish one’s husband to be experienced and yet not so energetic that he cannot be pleased at home. A tired rake is precisely the best sort of spouse.
-Eloisa James (Much Ado About You p 132)
Oh no. There’s no reading minds about it. Horses are affectionate creatures, after all, but just creatures. They’re not like humans. They don’t betray, and they don’t hide their motives.
--Eloisa James (Much Ado About You p 156)
Now Tess looked at the little spark in her husband’s eyes and had no doubt that if ripping clothing was a prelude that indicated interest he was likely to start ripping. She had never felt stupider in her life. How does one say: please do not destroy my clothing until I have more?
--Eloisa James (Much Ado About You p 260)
Why didn’t he ever show any signs of wishing to make love to her other than after twilight? Was he on a schedule of some sort?
--Eloisa James (Much Ado About You p 297)