I’m mostly familiar with Julie Anne Long due to her Pennyroyal Green series which followed two rival families, the Redmonds and Everseas. I was glad to see that she had a new historical romance out, and I quite like the premise she is using for this new series.
Lady Derring is newly widowed, and she discovers that her husband has left her with nothing. Most of his property is entailed and going straight to distant male heirs, and then of course there are the debts. The only thing that he owned outright that his widow can claim is an abandoned boarding house near the ports with a bad reputation. While Delilah is receiving this bad news from her husband’s lawyer, she finds another woman who is even more negatively affected by his death – his mistress, Mrs. Angelique Breedlove.
A lot of this novel shows Lady Derring reflecting on her status as a noble woman in the world: her family didn’t have much money so marriage was also the goal for security. Now, her husband is dead, she had no idea how badly off they were financially, and marriage did not bring her the promised long lasting security. As a result, she is tired of being conventional. She convinces Mrs. Breedlove to join her, seeing in her a kindred spirit, another woman who thought she had found security in a man, only to have the rug pulled out from under her. It helps that neither woman felt great passion for the departed Earl Derring, and both agree he was rather mediocre in bed. Along with the servant girl Dorothy/Dot, they decide to make a run of it, and use the one asset they have to make a living.
Tristan Hardy has served as a blockade commander, and continues to work for the crown by tracking down smugglers and their leaders. His latest “case” has involved some rather luxurious and horrible smelling illegal cigars, all tracing back to a dead man – Derring. Tristan needs to know how the cigars were getting into the country, and who Derring was working for, and this leads to the former Palace of Rogues, now reopened as a boarding house run by Lady Derring. As part of his investigation, Tristan takes rooms in boarding house, though it is oddly empty. The women want their house to be a community so they have many rules which Tristan is not excited about. Despite the rules, eventually the building attracts more boarders, leading to some entertaining scenes between quirky personalities.
Of course Delilah and Tristan feel attracted to each other even as Tristan wonders if she is involved in the smuggling at all. Delilah is done with men, but the more they interact and banter, the more attracted they grow to each other. Naturally, the title implies as much, though there are quite a few secrets to get in the way.
It was a good first novel for setting up the boarding house and characters, and I am looking forward to finally meeting the mysterious boarder that rented the largest room in the establishment. Additionally, I quite enjoyed Mrs. Breedlove and think her novel will be quite entertaining since she should be quite a challenge to any potential love interests.