This is book two in the Blackshear Family series, and follows shortly after the ending of the first book. Once again, Ms Grant has ventured into unconventional territory with the heroine of the story who is a courtesan and former prostitute. I know that Loretta Chase has written one book with a courtesan, but that character wasn’t still involved with another man the way Lydia Slaughter is here. Lydia is a young woman who had to make her own way in the world, which meant selling her body. She’s currently the mistress of a rather demanding man who isn’t all that kind, but she does enjoy their sexual encounters, along with playing his cards when he’s too drunk to do so himself. Along with her rather unconventional looks, she has a sharp mind for numbers and is able to do well at the card table.
It’s at one of these card tables that Will Blackshear first spots her, and he is immediately captivated. Will is a war veteran, who has changed from the carefree young man he was before and now avoids his family. He feels responsible for the death of his friend, and has vowed to provide money to the man’s widow. He would also like to raise enough money to invest in a shipping company, so he has resorted to the gaming hells to make this possible. When Lydia expertly fleeces him on their first meeting, he’s angry and confronts her about it – their encounter is immediately heated with innuendo and sparks. While you know it’s only a matter of time before these two get together, it’s obvious that when it happens it’s going to be a very steamy time. Lydia is hoping to secure enough money to support herself, and she and Will eventually decide to team up to work towards their mutual goals. But first she needs to teach him the tricks she knows, and they meet in secret to accomplish this – which in turn leads to more sexual innuendo and dangerous intimacy. Will freely admits he desires her, but he can’t afford a mistress and his sense of honor is keeping him from attempting to take any liberties with her.
The relationship between these two is definitely unconventional, and when Will succumbs to his desires and takes Lydia to bed, it’s not the usual romantic romp. In fact, Lydia doesn’t want him to be kind or gentle; in her mind she doesn’t deserve love and only demands satisfaction. She doesn’t deny her sexuality, and tells Will he’s not as honorable as he’d like to think: “You try to act the gentleman, but you’ve got sin in your blood and your bones.”
Much like Martha in the first book, Lydia may be a character that some readers dislike. She was definitely damaged emotionally, hiding that under her flirtatious manner and sensuousness but I have to hand it to Ms Grant for making me root for Lydia. Will was more of a typical war hero, though he was a wee bit self-pitying over the death of the man he couldn’t save; overall he was charming and able to see Lydia for who she was and do his best to love her. It was a much darker story than the first book, and I admire Ms Grant’s ability to keep me interested in these characters despite their flaws, or maybe it was their flaws that made it so much more interesting than the slew of Regency romance books out there. I can’t wait to see what the next book has in store as far as unconventional characters!