3.5+ starsWith the premise being yet another "Cinderella" story, I wasn't sure that I'd like this book. Then again, Eloisa James is one of my favorite authors in the romance genre, so I thought I'd give it a try.To my surprise, I found the story witty, laugh-out-loud funny, and refreshing. It might be a Cinderella story, but in this version, the Prince and Cinderella (Kate) seem to have Fate fighting against them for their happily ever after.For once, Prince Charming (Gabriel) isn't just a prince; he's really an archaeologist, who longs to uncover, catalog, and bring to the world Carpathian art - and hopefully, Dido's tomb. But Gabriel has been sent to occupy an English castle that somehow fell into his family's hands through marriage... and along with the lands, Gabriel's eldest brother has basically dumped all the "unwanteds" from his own kingdom on Gabriel, including a depressed lion, an uncle who feeds pickles to his dog, and numerous eccentric aunts. He feels a sense of duty and honor to keep this strange menagerie and household going. And if it weren't for his half-brother, Berwick, Gabriel wouldn't have a chance. Berwick (or Wick) is a by-blow of his father's and a house maid; but he's an almost exact copy of Gabriel. The two grew up together, and now Berwick helps Gabriel by being the major domo and all-around steward and man of business for Gabriel.Kate stuck around because her step-mother, Marianna, would run out all the tenants and sell off all the property if she weren't around. Kate might be relegated to the attic and is a general dogsbody around the house, but she's not meek or mild. She just knows how and when to pick her battles. But when she discovers that her stepsister, Victoria, is really her half-sister, and that Marianna was her father's mistress even while married to Kate's sickly mother, Kate doesn't quite know what to do with the information. Thankfully, in this tale, Victoria isn't an evil or ugly stepsister. She's not the sharpest tack in the box, but Victoria is beautiful, plump, and kind.When Victoria is bitten by one of her little dogs, Marianna blackmails Kate into "playing" Victoria. Victoria's fiancee is the nephew of the Prince (Gabriel), and since the Prince is in England, the fiancee must get permission from the Prince to wed Victoria and to claim his inheritance upon his marriage. Kate is appalled but figures she can and should help Victoria, three-months pregnant, to wed. Kate also decides that she can leave her home and claim the dowry her mother left her, hoping to use it to eke out a living in London. At the country party, Kate impresses Prince Gabriel by not immediately bowing or flattering him. It's that very reason, in fact, that Gabriel is intrigued. But then, Kate (Victoria) is supposed to be marrying his nephew. And Gabriel has been promised to a Russian princess, and their betrothal ball is the highlight of the country party.Kate also meets her godmother - a woman who knew her father well. Henrietta (Henry, as she prefers to be called) almost married her father; but her father needed a girl with a fortune, and Henry just wasn't rich enough. Henry says it broke her heart; but three marriages and no children later, she remembers upon seeing Kate that she (Henry) is Kate's godmother! And she delights in the thought of finally bringing Kate "out" into Society in London and helping her to make a good marriage.Of course Kate and Gabriel irritate each other at first, but the sparks are hot and bright. Before long, they're locked in an embrace and kissing until the cows come home. And almost everything and everyone is conspiring to keep them apart.Will Gabriel choose the woman who stole his heart (Kate) or the woman who will ensure that he can keep the castle and its odd assortment of relatives and animals? Will Gabriel simply run away and turn to archaeology? Will Kate be able to acknowledge that she loves Gabriel?==============A fun fluff of a book that has just the right amount of naive but spunky heroine who has no idea how beautiful she is and hero with a burden who's only played the rake and never the true lover. There's just the right amount of heat - the steam only occurs towards the end of the book, right before the Betrothal Ball. And it's well-done in that it doesn't seem gratuitous, but rather a sharing of intimacy by two people falling deeply in love.This is book 1 in a 3 book series, so I expect I'll be reading the other two books soon!