Kelly Bowen is a new-to-me author, and I am thrilled to have discovered her. I can’t remember where I stumbled across the book recommendation, but I’m glad I followed up on it. She has a fresh take on the historical romance genre. This is the first book in a new series; the previous trilogy ‘Lords of Worth’ is definitely something I will be diving into next.
“The silk was the color of sin.
“On the bodice of a ball gown, it would have been spectacular. Wrapped around the limbs of a dead earl, however, it was a problem.”
It’s not many romance novels that start out with a dead earl tied to the bed of a young lady, in the very house where she is having her coming out ball. To add to the scandal, Lady Beatrice has vanished, leaving her discarded ballgown behind in a heap of silk. Can you imagine the gossip if the guests at the party discover what’s happened? There’s only one way to prevent this from destroying the family, and that is to call in Chegarre & Associates. The group is skilled at keeping the secrets of the ton hidden, and keeping reputations from being tattered.
The associate that arrives at the house is Ivory Moore, a lady very adept at handling troublesome situations like this. She is just getting started on fixing the scene when Maximus Harcourt, Duke of Alderidge arrives home unexpectedly. Lady Beatrice is his younger sister, and he is extremely confused to say the least to find all of these people in her bedroom. Ivory is cool and efficient in her dealing with him, and can use his help to defuse the situation despite his reluctance to go along with what he deems a ridiculous scenario.
Max is a duke, but he’s never been comfortable in that role. Like many other romanceland dukes, he wasn’t raised to inherit that title; his older brothers passed away and it fell to him. He escaped to the sea, leaving his estate and family in the hands of his aunt Lady Helen. He’s a successful captain of a large trading ship, sending letters home to Beatrice of the faraway places he visited during his absences. As such, he’s accustomed to having things done his way, and his patience with Ivory’s plans is thin at best. Still, they manage to convince the guests that the earl died fully dressed, alone in an empty bedroom and that Beatrice retired from the party early. By doing so, they buy some time to try to discover what happened to Beatrice.
In the light of the next day, Max is not happy leaving someone else in charge of finding his sister, and goes to the office of Chegarre & Associates to demand more information. The office isn’t what he was expecting, and Ivory is the only person there. He’s like a bull in a china shop, frustrated at the lack of action, and irritated that Ivory wants to handle things her way. They have a clash of wills, and each finds the other fascinating in ways they weren’t expecting. Eventually, Max receives a note supposedly from Beatrice, and he and Ivory track it down to a man who may know where she is. From there, they realize that they can help each other follow the clues and unravel the mystery.
I loved Max and Ivory. These are two people who are both strong, intelligent and capable of taking care of themselves, but they both have their walls around them. Ivory has a past that she isn’t proud of, and she’s worked hard to be in this place in her life. Her attraction to Max is a complication she can do without. She’s always maintained a distance from her clients, and she doesn’t intend to get romantically involved with him. Even if he had “a pair of broad shoulders and an impressive collection of muscles in all the right places.”
For his part, Max needs to come to terms with his responsibility to his family, and stop running away to sea. Being with Ivory challenges him to be a better man; she makes him realize how much he’s missed in terms of his sister growing up, and what he needs to do to make things right. He realizes early on that Ivory is an equal to him in many ways, and while they put the task of finding Beatrice first, the sexual tension between them sizzles. Once they do succumb to their feelings, it’s a natural connection between them that burns up the pages.
This book was well written, and the story sucked me in right from the first page and didn’t let go until the end. I enjoyed the romance and the mystery equally, and it was a nice change of pace from the usual settings of balls and high society. The supporting characters were intriguing, but didn’t take away from the main couple. There wasn’t any obvious lead in for the next book, so I can’t wait to see what it’s about! Until then, I’ll be reading the previous trilogy and enjoying it just as much I’m sure.