This is an older Loretta Chase that I hadn’t read until I was intrigued by Malin’s recent review. To be honest, I’m not sure if I liked it as much as the books that follow this. It’s quite a change from Lord of Scoundrels, to be sure. There were parts of it that I found tedious, and I almost quit reading a few times. I persevered, and while this didn’t become a favorite of mine, I can see the characters growth and the complex nature of their relationship.
Leila Beaumont was orphaned at 17, and rescued by Francis Beaumont, who seemed at the time like a dashing hero. Over time, it became clear to her that he was no altruistic hero – in fact, he was a drunk and a womanizer, who cheated on her regularly. She resigned herself to the fact and devoted her life to her artistic endeavors, making quite a name for herself as a portrait artist. Her only use for Francis was to keep other men away from her, as she suppressed her own sensual urges and wants no part of having an affair. Then Comte d’Esmond enters their lives and his seductive charm resonates with Leila, and enrages Francis, who hustles her out of Paris and off to London.
A year later, Francis is dead and Leila is looked at as the main suspect. Since Francis was known for his criminal activities, it seemed like there should be many who wanted him dead and Esmond is called in to quietly investigate the murder. He’s somewhat of an enigma, a character who has a dark past and is now working with the government to help them from time to time. He and Leila are thrown together again, in an attempt to figure out what really happened to her husband. She resists the lure of his charming manipulation of everyone as best she can, while at the same time learning more about him than anyone else. They are definitely well matched in wits, and she meets his advances soon enough with her own emerging desires. When they do finally give in, the scenes are scorching in their intensity.
There were a lot of different twists and turns in this story, with several other minor characters and plots going on at the same time. I’ve read somewhere that this book runs concurrent with books three and four, but I admit I don’t recall Leila and Francis making an appearance in Lord of Scoundrels, so I may have to go back and re-read that one (not a hardship as I love that book!).
Leila is quick-tempered, outspoken and extremely observant; I just found her a difficult character to warm up to, as opposed to Ms Chase’s usual heroines. Esmond is just as complex, but with a backstory of some rather shady activities he is trying to make up for. They are both flawed people, and yet I did feel at the end of it that they would live happily ever after, unlike the last couple of books I’ve read where the relationship seemed more built on lust than trust.