It’s Loretta Chase. There’s a pretty solid floor on quality. This woman is the Swiss watch of romance.
Plot: Take one James Bond-esque super spy tired of the game, add one famous courtesan that used to be married to a traitor aspiring to become the next Prime Minister of Great Britain and settle back to watch the fireworks. Classic Chase shenanigans ensue.
This book has everything. Adventure, state secrets, fist fights on a boat, a heroine with immense sexual experience that she will not apologise for, jokes about naughty Italian art, and so. much. banter. It’s funny and smart and sexy and everything you usually expect from Chase.
It is so rare to get a heroine like Francesca in historical romance. She used to be a regular member of the British aristocracy, but her husband, who had apparently only married her to get access to her wealth and family connections, decided to divorce her once he had access to those funds and connections. Even once she stole those implicating letters, he simply destroyed her reputation and hoped she would just go die in a gutter somewhere. She decided to become the most sought after courtesan in Europe and rub his stupid nose in it, protected by those letters.
Incidentally, James was ready to retire from the spy game, which is really just working as a different type of expensive courtesan, but a giant asshole is about to become Prime Minister. Turns out he might also be a traitor – an accusation that can be proven through those same letters. How hard could it be to steal some letters from an expensive whore? When she’s funny and smart and gorgeous? Turns out pretty hard.
All the side characters are pitch perfect, too. The villains are simple, but not over-simple. Chase writes all her characters with a core of sympathy, which means that even when we don’t agree with them, you can see what drove their behavior, and feel a little for the ways in which the world batters people. Francesca’s other paramours and friends all have such vivid personalities it is so easy to see them bounce off the page and onto shenanigans of their own.