RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Historical Romance who like reunited lovers, revenge schemes, and a bit of "steam"
ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Lots of angst in this book... it starts out as revenge and ends up as a romance. Regardless, while other reviewers question the consensual nature of the sexual relationship and some go so far as to call it rape, the author makes it quite clear that both her male & female protagonists (Nick and Ellie) are willing participants.
This book is actually the 3rd book in the Muses of Mayfair series.
10 years ago, Ellie scorned Nick, the eldest son of a wealthy 2nd son who has aristocratic ties, but is considered a merchant. In other words, not good <i>ton</i>. Ellie's father was determined that she make a titled match. Ellie was determined to win her father's approval, after being exiled for years simply because she had the audacity to look like the dead wife her father loved most. Nick's cousin, Charles, aka Lord Folkestone, offers for Ellie's hand out of spite, not love; Charles wants to make Nick's life miserable, and he knows that Ellie is hoping that her father will allow her to marry Nick if she completes one Season. Nick & Ellie have been keeping their relationship a secret; but Ellie mistakenly confides in Charles' sisters, who promptly give Charles the means to best Nick. OH, but that's not all... Ellie cuts Nick in a most cruel way, telling him that she could never marry a peasant.
What seems to be the solution ends up a most tragic and wrenching break: Charles dies on the 3rd day of their marriage... in the bed of his opera mistress. Ellie is a widow. Nick is the new Lord Folkestone. You'd think that the two would find one another, and Ellie's father would be appeased by the title and money. NOPE.
Nick leaves London to handle his family's business affairs in India. His brother Marcus is to handle the London affairs. That includes keeping a tally of Ellie's expenses and being her business adviser.
Now, he's returning to London ONLY because someone is trying to murder him. He's not sure who it is, but Nick decides it's time to leave India. And so, he arrives at the Folkestone country home intending to put his dream revenge plan into action. His arrival coincides with the eve of Ellie's birthday - the night that she throws her annual party, usually quite a spectacle. This year is somewhat tame, however, because Ellie's siblings and half-siblings are in attendance after a long separation; and Ellie fears for their reputation should she throw her usual wild party.
Nick is bent on revenge. And he cruelly informs Ellie that she owes him 40 thousand pounds, having long exceeded her dowry and annual allowance. Ellie, completely unaware, is in shock. Nick tells her that she can work it off by being his slave, day and night, for the next 4 months. Implied, of course, is sexual favors; not rape. While Nick postures about taking her as he wishes, the reality is that both Nick and Ellie are still in love with one another. But both have their individual demons of revenge, hurt, and guilt to deal with before they can acknowledge their true feelings.
Thrown into the mix is the mystery of who wants Nick dead and why? That someone is still in the picture, and he's not afraid to pose as a highwayman, shoot his own accomplice in the head to prevent identification, or shoot into a crowd, attempting to hit either Nick or Marcus.
While the mystery portion of the story is thin, it's amusing. Especially at the end of the book, when Nick attempts to interview his prime suspect.
Overall, this is an enjoyable, if somewhat angsty, romance. Well-written with strong characters, including a very strong, independent woman protagonist.