Miss Elise DeVries is a sometime stage actress, sometime scandal fixer, working as one of the chief agents in the company of Chagarre and Associates, an exclusive firm working clandestinely for the upper classes. They can fix or bury pretty much any scandal there is, provided a high enough payment is offered. Elise is a master of disguise, used to wearing a multitude of faces, nearly always playing a part. Only with her fellow associates, Miss Ivory Moore, also known as the Duchess (and the actual Duchess of Aldridge after the events of Duke of My Heart) and her brother Alexander Lavoie, a successful gambling house owner, former spy and rumoured assassin, can she let her guard down and relax. Growing up in a Canadian colony, Elise learned many of her now useful skills as a tracker and riflewoman for the army, having followed her older brothers to war when their home was destroyed. She’s a formidable lady, and always gets the job done, no matter the difficulty level.
Elise’s current job involves the Dowager Duchess of Ashland committed to Bedlam by her unscrupulous nephew Francis Ellery, the distraught Lady Abigail, who has hired Elise to get her mother out, not to mention the missing Duke of Ashland, Lady Abigail’s older brother Noah. According to Francis, Noah Ellery is long dead, but the reason the Dowager Duchess is being treated in the madhouse and drugged up to the eyeballs is because she keeps saying that her beloved son is still alive. Closer questioning shows that Lady Abigail believes this to be the case as well. She hasn’t seen her brother since he was sent away at the age of ten, and there was clearly something wrong with the boy, who Francis claims was wrong in the head, and even Lady Abigail admits never spoke. When Lady Abigail caused a minor scandal by choosing to move to Darby to marry a smith, she received a letter from her brother with a beautiful broach. She knows that the smith who made it was most likely a man named John Barr, who works in Nottingham. Elise has to go off to question him, trying to locate traces of the missing duke from there.
As it turns out, her search is over before it’s nearly begun. On her way into Nottingham, Elise spies a child in the river, and throws herself into the water to rescue the boy. She is hauled up on the banks of the river by a very handsome man calling himself Noah Lawson, and the child belongs to none other than Noah’s best friend, the smith John Barr. Both John and his wife Sarah are beside themselves with gratitude and Noah, though it goes against all his normal instincts, invites the brave and oddly trouser-clad lady to stay with him on his farm, as the Barr family don’t really have the space to entertain visitors. It’s pretty much lust at first sight between Noah and Elise, not exactly lessened by the fact that Elise is plastered head to toe in form-fitting boy’s attire when they meet. Noah, on the other hand, offers her his dry shirt, so she gets a proper eyeful of his muscular chest.
Elise knows she needs to tell Noah the truth about who she is and why she’s there, but holds off for just long enough for things to get really complicated between them. Their palpable chemistry soon lead to kissing, and Elise probably deserves credit for not hiding her true purpose in Nottingham longer, just so she can get into Noah’s pants. She has correctly deduced that Noah isn’t at all simple or mentally deficient as people told her, but it’s also obvious that when he gets upset, he muddles his words and that there’s some dark secrets in his past as to how he ended up incognito in Nottingham. Once she learns the truth of what the former Duke did to his “idiot” son, she is appalled, and understands his reluctance to return to London, but the quickest way to help Lady Abigail and get the Dowager Duchess out of Bedlam is if the rightful Duke of Ashland returns to take up his responsibilities. She needs to persuade Noah to get over his very understandable grievances and return with her to London. A sometime informant of Chagarre and Associates, the shady King, a underworld crime boss and illegal art dealer, told Elise that Francis Ellery, just to make sure his cousin was well and truly dead, hired assassins to make sure the rightful duke never shows up in the capital.
Noah is intrigued by this beautiful woman who dresses like a man when travelling and insists she can outshoot any man. She is clearly extremely brave and selfless, having risked her life in a wild river to save a stranger’s child. He is hurt when he learns of her initial deception and cannot bear the thought of returning to London. With the exception of his younger sister, no one treated him well. Because of his difficulty with speech, he was kept isolated from everyone else, until the night when he was taken away for good for “treatment”. His torment ended with him living rough on the streets of London for years, learning to fight anything and anyone who threatened him and his friend Joshua. He confesses to Elise that he is most likely wanted for murder and that he couldn’t possibly leave his farm, his friends and his safe, comfortable life to become a duke.
When the assassins come sneaking, he understands that Elise is right, however. He needs to deal with his cousin Francis, or he will never have any peace. Elise, on the other hand, discovers that Noah doesn’t necessarily need a bodyguard and that his years on the street really did teach him survival skills to rival her own. By this point, the main complication to Noah Lawson reappearing in London as Noah Ellery, Duke of Ashland, is that Elise and Noah have fallen pretty hard for each other, and a Duke who has been missing for twenty years needs to be above reproach in all matters. He certainly can’t marry an actress of unknown provenance, no matter how good her mastery of languages or disguises.
Full review on my blog.