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Lady Francesca Haughston had her heart broken fifteen years before we meet her, by the supposed betrayal of her secret fiancé, Sinclair, the future Duke of Rochford. At 18, she caught him in a compromising situation with another woman, and her tender, hopeful heart broke. Too embarrassed and heartbroken to let Sinclair explain, she turned away his clumsy attempts to speak to her. In short order, she married Lord Andrew Haughston, a man she scarcely knew. He soothed her broken heart with extravagantly flattering words.
Unfortunately, once they were married, Andrew’s true character was revealed. He drank and gambled and whored and told Francesca she was a cold and terrible wife. Francesca eventually became pregnant but lost the baby when an argument with Andrew became physically violent. When the baby died, so did all of Francesca’s hope for her future. She resigned herself to an unhappy, childless marriage.
Then Andrew died after a drunken fall from a horse, and Francesca couldn’t help but be relieved. But there are very few ways that a lady could earn a living, and Andrew had gambled away but the house. Francesca turned to her naturally romantic nature, and her talent for fashion, and started to take unfashionable, unnoticed young ladies under her wing. She would help them choose beautiful dresses, flattering hairstyles, and tutor them in courtship until they found love.
For a while, she had convinced herself that she was happy. Then, through a winding set of circumstances, Francesca finds out that the lady with whom she caught Sinclair all those years earlier had set him up. Francesca is stunned, and the emotions that she thought long buried rise up to haunt her.
She knows that Sinclair, now the Duke of Rochford, has never married. Francesca speculates that may be this is because she didn’t let him explain, and fostered a general mistrust of women. She picks out three lovely possible candidates and begins to guide Sin to the proper, marriageable young ladies.
Sinclair is too smart, and immediately realizes what Francesca is doing. He decides to play along with her game, although he isn’t too fond of her candidates.
Meanwhile, Galen Perkins; an old friend of Andrew’s, returns with a signed deed to Francesca’s house, claiming that Andrew lost it to him while gambling. Francesca has already sold most of her jewelry and silver to keep herself afloat. She doesn’t have any way to pay off the debt to Galen and his motivation is much less than honorable. He means to either take her house or have her as his mistress.
The Courtship Dance is a fun story, every page is filled with witty conversation, and interesting characters. I loved that there isn’t a lot of extra background, or meaningless paragraphs. Every part of the story is meaningful, exciting and propels the reader forward through the tale.
Francesca is a great heroine. She’s been through a lot, but isn’t depressed or giving up. She tries to figure out her own happiness and is fighting for her independence. Francesca is full of raw emotion. She knows the rules of society well, and follows them perfectly but can’t help infusing her wit and intelligent insight into the dry rituals that surround her. She battles to keep her emotions under control while being constantly surrounded by people and conventions in the circle where she makes her living.