Lady Grace Ryburn, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Ashbrook, has fallen wildly in love with Colin Barry, a dashing young lieutenant serving his country in the Royal Navy. When he returns home to exuberant celebrations, will he even notice the quiet wallflower he grew up with … or will he fall for Grace's sparkling, gorgeous sister?
Author's Note: Lady Grace is the eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Ashbrook, from The Ugly Duchess, and Colin is the eldest adopted son of Sir Griffin Barry, from Seduced by a Pirate.
Here's the thing, to a point I really enjoyed these short stories (all about 30pgs each). I loved how James illustrated how the two grew close over the years, how Grace understood Colin in a way no one else seemed to. I thought it was sweet that Colin treated Grace with respect and didn't talk down to her. Then as they grew older we saw how Grace's feelings for Colin evolved and Colin, for various reasons (I'll get into later), clung to an easier time. I had a rather difficult time with a piece of the second part however.
We open with Lady Grace acting the perfect daughter of a Duke. She's 10 years old, well behaved, admirably skilled in a variety of activities and in most respects, the reliable Ryburn daughter. This is contrasted with her younger sister Lily who is a vibrant minx, constantly disobeying rules, constantly getting into trouble and acting a hoyden. This leads Grace to one (sadly not entirely false) truth: if you are beautiful (and even as a young age Lily shows every sign of being exceptionally so) you are forgiven anything.
She doesn't really feel upset or miserable about this. Indeed throughout the novellas its never really the fact that Lily is so beautiful that Grace is envious or irritated about. Its the fact that despite adhering to the ideal she is always the afterthought. At one point she says to her mother the reason why she enjoyed the attentions of a suitor was basically because he never looked at Lily or flirted with her first. His gaze was always on Grace from the beginning.
Colin when he comes back in the second part (he routinely comes in and out of Grace's life due to when he gets leave from the Navy) made me want to smack him. I don't think James did a good enough job illustrating why he felt scared to face Grace, why it was imperative to him that he avoid Grace. Not because of who she is, but what she represents to him. This is all explained in the third part, but at the time I felt so keenly for Grace (I fully admit there were tears in my eyes) because she just doesn't understand. To her all it looks like is that once again she was the best she could be and it amounted to nothing.
My issues with a section of book 2 can be considered highly spoiler filled, so highlight the below to read:
Through events that transpire Grace ends up in a carriage with a blinded Colin on the way back to his parents' home. He's given a hefty dose of laudanum and as was previously established he tends to have very realistic, very erotic dreams involving Grace. At some point--this is from third person Colin's view, in which he thinks he's dreaming--he starts to basically ravish Grace.
Grace had previously stated she was going to either seduce Colin or tell everyone he seduced her in order to do...something (its a bit muddled), so presumably (given Colin saying she was responding) she was totally okay with it actually happening. Its debatable if she knew he was that far gone on laudanum. Unfortunately because Colin thinks this is a continuation of every other erotic dream he has of Grace he believes she's no longer a virgin--she's never one in his dreams because he claimed that right at some point in the nebulous dream past they share--and is...less than restrained.
As this is from his POV we don't know how Grace felt in that particular moment, but we know afterwards as she's thoroughly horrified. She enjoyed the beginning (the foreplay), but the end result terrified her because it was so brutal. This is further compounded by the fact she's certain he thought he was making love to Lily.
All that? Made me really really dislike Colin. Yes he was under the influence of drugs, had no idea that Grace really was in the carriage with him and really wasn't capable of rational thought--but it bordered on dubious consent sex. It wasn't romantic or sexy--it bothered me the entire time. [end spoiler]
Ignoring the second part's section I had no stomach for, the third part really wraps things up well. A lot of miscommunication is cleared up and Colin finally admits why he's such a dope (a monumental dope). There's a lack of consequences however that are never discussed, though I wonder if that is because this is part of the larger "Fairy Tales" books that James is releasing and they will be answered later.
Point in fact James has a whole Facebook Group dedicated to this serial. With an interesting discussion, excerpts and an extra scene between James (er the character from The Ugly Duchess) and Griffin (from Seduced by a Pirate) after Colin makes a request from James.
Overall this is a treat for fans who wanted to see more of James and Griffin's broods, as well as how the old salty pirates were doing (spoiler quite well).