This book is the eleventh in the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt, and it’s a good one! I’ve read all in the series, and it had its ups and downs along the way but this one is an excellent addition. Ms Hoyt manages to keep things fresh, and provide a good mix of romance and adventure along the way.
These books have featured many characters from both ends of the class spectrum over the years, and this one brings the return of The Ghost of St. Giles. The Ghost is considered a mythical crusader by the people who inhabit St Giles, the poorest part of London; he saves people from harm, and remains a mysterious figure wearing a mask and Harlequin costume. In reality, the Ghost has been given life by different men over the years. In this book, however, the Ghost is a female and her name is Alf.
Alf has been a recurring character in a few of the previous books, most prominently in The Duke of Sin (book ten, also a good read). She is a child of the streets, having been abandoned there at the tender age of five, and taken in by one of the lads. Ned looked after her, and decided it was a wise thing for her to dress as a boy to avoid being pushed into prostitution. Now 21 years old, she is still small and slim; no one looks twice at street urchins, so she’s been able to make a living running errands and doing odd jobs for the aristocracy. No one suspects she’s female, much less the new Ghost.
Then one night, Alf comes to the aid of a man being attacked by a large group of men and between the two of them, manage to fend them off. Then she recognizes the intended victim as Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle, and a man she met previously. Recklessly, she kisses him before slipping away into the darkness.
Hugh is the acknowledged illegitimate son of King George III, and he’s not the typical member of the ton. He’s rather brash and rough around the edges, well built, dark and handsome. He’s a widow, father of two young sons, whose wife died unexpectedly. His relationship with his wife had been broken due to her infidelities and he fled the country, working as a spy for the King. Her death brought him home, and his sons are not doing well with the change in their life. He loves his sons, but he is wary of showing too much emotion, fearing it will only lead to more pain.
He hires Alf to help him ferret out information on the Lords of Chaos, a shadowy club that is known for its depravity, not realizing that she is also the Ghost. She ends up living in his house, where he’s convinced it will be safer and in due course her true gender is revealed and feelings between them start to smolder. Eventually, he asks her to accompany him to a ball to look for evidence, but she has to dress as a woman. Alf is appalled at first; living so long as a boy, she’s not even sure she knows the first thing about being feminine!
Enter Iris, his wife’s best friend, and who is thought to be Hugh’s next wife. Iris steps in to help Alf bring out her inner woman, and learn how to dress. Alf is suspicious of her motives at first, but Iris quickly realizes the situation and becomes a friend to Alf as well. There are not a lot of big misunderstandings in this book, thankfully. By the time it’s the night of the ball, Alf is coiffed and dressed as a lady, though the evening doesn’t quite go as planned! She ends up having to help Hugh fight more attackers, and her skill with weapons and her street smarts are more valuable than her outward appearances.
The chemistry between Alf and Hugh is very strong, and their eventual seduction is a thing of mutual surrender and earthy heat. Hugh recognizes her strengths, and accepts her for who she is, despite the difference in class. Alf helps him to reconcile with his sons, and brings trust and emotion back into his life. It’s an odd pairing, for sure, but it works here. Admittedly, having a Duchess named Alf would seem unlikely in real life (at that point in history, anyway) and yet they make such a great couple that doesn’t seem to matter.
In conclusion, this book was a keeper for me. Iris is going to be the heroine of the next book, and judging from the preview I think it will be a good one too!