I’d been looking forward to reading this book ever since finishing “The Wicked Quills of London” series – sadly, the anticipation didn’t live up to the reality. Oh, it was well written and steamy, but I just didn’t feel the love for this one somehow. The main premise is based on a one night encounter two years previous for our couple, with the heroine disappearing at dawn before the hero awoke. Since that time, Alexander Lewis, Duke of Greyland, hasn’t been able to get her out of his mind.
Cassandra isn’t the sweet and desperate young widow he believed her to be – in reality, she is a con artist, doing her best to survive by taking cash from wealthy men. The encounter with Alex was a little more emotional than she would have liked, and she has done her best to forget him. Still, she ends up back in London for another swindle with her long time mentor. They are running a gaming hell that will take as much money as it can from wealthy patrons and then close. Of course, one night Alex is dragged to the establishment by his two best friends, in an attempt to cheer him up after his fiancee has decamped to Gretna Green with another man. And of course, he spots Cassandra immediately and is overjoyed to find her.
She finds herself caught up in his passion briefly, unable to tell him the truth until he overhears her speaking with her partner. He is devastated, and understandably angry at being deceived.
“You underestimated me once,” he said softly. “And I misjudged you. You thought you could play me for a dupe, and I understood you to be a woman of honor. Neither of those mistakes will ever be made again.”
But then her partner disappears with all of the cash from the gaming hell, leaving her on the hook to pay the staff and dashing her dreams of making an honest life. In desperation, she has to turn to the only man who can help her with a loan, Greyland. He agrees to help her, in a deal to get his revenge on her, and of course things don’t go the way he planned.
Alex is depicted as a man who was raised from the cradle to be the duke, and he can still hear his father’s words of proper conduct in his head. Now he’s 38, and finds that helping Cassandra is changing his view of the world. Their search for her partner takes them into areas of London he didn’t know existed, and he begins to realize just how difficult her life had been. Their relationship turns sexual again, but he tells himself its just temporary, he can never marry someone of her background. Which of course is true in that day and age. The sex is hot and there is one particular encounter in an exclusive masked sex club is that like nothing I’ve read in historical romance (at least not one that isn’t billed as erotica). Even with that, there’s a lot of back and forth of feelings, and thoughts, until the end when it’s all sorted out neatly how they can be together. I think I’ve been spoiled by the Sebastian St Cyr mystery series, in that C.S. Harris portrayed the seamy side of London much better, and the definite class structure that can’t be dismissed with the assertion “I’m a duke, I can marry who I want”. I’m in the midst of a K.J. Charles book that is also much better at the struggle, so this book could’ve done a better job at that.
Overall, it was fine…but it could have been more intriguing with attention to some of the underground and the character development. I’m still likely to read the next book in the series, and hopefully Ms Leigh can bring more of her intensity to that one.