There are some words that seem to appear a LOT in romance: Secret, Scandal, Heiress. This time they are all in one place. But, it this book is not as much fun as the title would imply.
Some general thoughts before I get to the nitty-gritty of this book. (1) I thought this was a novella when I picked it up. I don’t know why, but I did. And then, it seemed to go on for.ev.er. This is not the book’s fault, but my own, yet it still colored how I felt about it. (2) This is the second Theresa Romain book I have tried to read. I dropped the first one at the 40% mark, though I kept it on my Kindle with the thought that I may go back one day. She is an author that comes highly recommended from several trusted sources, and this particular book is up for a RITA this year, so I decided to give her another try. I think she may just not be for me.
This is apparently book 3 in a series. I couldn’t tell that is was part of a series, so it’s safe to say that you can read it as a stand-alone. Augusta Meredith is a soap heiress who travels to Bath as a companion to an aristocratic friend. Augusta wants to get away from London and her past (parents who died suddenly and a deceitful ex-lover), and she invents the character of Mrs. Flowers – a merry widow looking for a lover in Bath. Joss Everett is secretary, and second-cousin, to an aristocrat whose name I can’t remember even though I just finished the book (so that tells you something right there). Joss heads to Bath to follow a blackmailer who is threatening Joss’ employer. He has never been treated as a family member by the cousin (who has a drug habit and spendthrift tendencies) and Joss is leaving his job as soon as the blackmailer is found. Joss and Augusta have a passing acquaintanceship from London and he immediately confronts her about her false identity. In exchange for keeping her secret, Augusta offers to help Joss with the blackmailing problem since she knows some business people who can help him.
Augusta and Joss were both very complicated characters, each with a lot of inner confusion and turmoil. In fact, it was a pretty heavy book emotionally. Trigger warning: a secondary character is getting over a miscarriage and it is addressed several times in the book. Augusta spends her time trying to feel in control of her life while also feeling like she is a terrible judge of character and being unwilling to let people in to her life for fear of being wrong about them. Her idea to take a lover was supposed to allow her to be the one in control of the relationship and be the one to do the discarding of a person when it was over. Joss is the grandson of an earl, but the title passed to another branch of the family because his mother was an only child. His grandmother was Indian, and he spends most of his time trying to ignore that part of his heritage while also subconsciously obsessing about it. They are both likable enough characters, but very hard to spend time with. One interesting complication: Augusta considers Joss above her socially because she is a commoner (her parents built the family fortune) and he is descended from a peer, and Joss considers Augusta above himself because he is essentially penniless and she is an heiress. There are often a class difference in romances, but I thought this was a very different way to address it.
I don’t necessary mind tough topics, but I personally prefer more humor in a book to lighten the tone when the topics are so heavy. Augusta and Joss spend a lot of time both together and apart contemplating their existence and how they are ever going to live happily with themselves. The introspection was well done, but just not the sort of thing I usually prefer, and really not what I was currently in the mood for. At the same time, the whole blackmailing thing was a bizarre tangent that I suppose gave them a common purpose, but I found it distracting from their story.