I honestly have no idea how Loretta Chase keeps doing this, but every time I keep thinking I can't enjoy her books as much as I do... I do.
Alistair Carsington has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to women, but he's not a rake. Rather, he falls in love very quickly, very deeply, and very unwisely. As such, his father, Lord Hargate, has had to expend a great deal of money to buy Alistair out of the messes that result. So, he's got an ultimatum -- Alistair has got to either find himself a suitable occupation or marry an heiress in six months or else his father will cut Alistair's brothers' funds.
Alistair's also a war hero of sorts (of course), and ends up traipsing to the country to help his friend build a canal. Enter Mirabel Oldbridge, who is, of course, very against said canal.
Unless you're reading Laura Kinsale, romance plots are generally not too exciting.
Anyhow, Chase always manages to juggle awful romance conventions in one hand while gently poking fun at them and overturning them in another. Alistair is a war hero with war hero angst, but he compensates by being extremely obsessed by his clothes (as opposed to just obsessed with his clothes. I suspect Alistair will always be well-dressed). His father obviously thinks he's a bit of a pain, which leads not to alpha bastard behavior to spurn his father, but rather, an attempt to get himself an honest occupation through his own skills instead of through his war hero status. And he really doesn't want to marry an heiress because he doesn't want to be a financial drag on his wife, so nix the arranged marriage plotline.
The real key is that Alistair is just awfully nice and sweet and puppy-like, and I fell for him in about two seconds flat while he was going over his list of Stupid Exploits with Women (most of them involve him falling in love and subsequently trying desperately to please someone, getting into a riot, getting in jail, buying said woman too much jewelry, trying to marry below his class, etc.). I love that he isn't a rake. I love that he isn't an alpha bastard.
And! Mirabel is 31! Not only is Mirabel 31, Alistair is 29! And she has been engaged, and Chase feels no need to bash the previous love of Mirabel's life! (Alistair does, but I feel that is more understandable)
I really liked what Chase was doing with standard romance gender roles. While Alistair does have the history with women, the typical emotional roles of the hero and heroine seem to be reversed in this book. Alistair is pretty much a goner when he first catches sight of Mirabel and mostly just gives in to his emotions. Mirabel is a little more hesitant with the emotional connection, though she's the main instigator for sex.
I also like that Mirabel is the one who befuddles Alistair with sex and lust and the like, as opposed to the usual heroine-loses-all-brains-around-sexy-her
And! Did I mention the age difference yet?
I feel I am not doing the book justice, because even as it is playing with tropes left and right (delightful in and of itself), it's enormously fun to read as well. Chase handles the canal animosity very well (aka Alistair and Mirabel remain adults and actually try to come up with good solutions instead of being stubborn brats), and the book is incredibly light-hearted and funny and sexy and romantic.
And in case you are not convinced, there is this lovely, silly moment in the book just after Mirabel and Alistair first meet, in which Alistair flees Mirabel's house in the pouring rain because he doesn't have a change of clothes and he can't stay for dinner in the same set of clothes, the horror! Mirabel runs out to stop him, hears his clothes explanation, gives him a look, and then, instead of trying to dissuade him, calmly turns back and lets him go with a shrug.