Lie by Moonlight

Lie by Moonlight - Amanda Quick 3+ starsThis fourth and last Vanza book is only loosely tied to the series as a whole. The Hero, Ambrose Wells, is a student of Vanza and his master was John Stoner. Stoner was the rogue Vanza student of the master Lorring - Stoner was the one sent by Lorring to kill or hinder Edison Stokes in the 2nd book.We've moved into the Victorian period, and Stoner is now an older man - late middle-aged to older. He doesn't make a real appearance in the book until much later, but his presence is felt early on, because it's his house that Ambrose uses to house and protect Concordia Glade and her four young pupils Edwina and Theodora Cooper, Hannah Radburn, and Phoebe Leyland.Concordia and her pupils were housed in an old castle in northern England. But Concordia knew something wasn't quite right; she was engaged to teach these four girls (15-17), told that it was a special young ladies school that she would be headmistress of. But why were there so many men around the castle? Men who looked to be guarding rather than servants? And what happened to her predecessor? The girls think something awful must have happened, because their last teacher left behind her new gloves - expensive gloves, something a teacher on a modest salary would never do, even if she was dismissed.So Concordia and her students plan an escape that employs explosions and a getaway in the dead of night on horses. Except that Ambrose appears in the middle of their getaway and saves them all, allowing them to truly get away. He takes them to an inn for a meal and beds, and then helps them get to London and to Stoner's house, using a clever ruse of changing their clothes mid-way on the train. When they entered the train, they were dressed as proper young ladies; when they exited, they looked like tough street urchins.Ambrose has been engaged to find out what happened to a young woman who worked in a bathing house. Nellie was found dead in the men's pool, but her sister insists that Nellie was a good girl and that she worked on the women's side - she had no reason to be on the men's side. Ambrose, it seems, is a private inquiry agent, who keeps his identity to his clients a secret; he uses darkness as his cover, so that his clients never see his face. And his fee isn't money - it's favors. When Concordia discovers Ambrose's involvement and that he's a private inquiry agent, she asks him to find out what was really going on at the castle. What was the purpose of having 4 well-bred girls there and why were their reputations so important that they must have a proper teacher and chaperone? The rumors say that there was some sort of auction planned for the girls - were they to become expensive courtesans to the highest bidder against their wills?And so Concordia and Ambrose start with the information they have on hand about what the girls have in common. All are orphans, all went to school at the same school (Winslow) before being taken to the castle, and all were taken to the castle by the same man-of-business. Since the girls all hated their school and its headmistress who cruelly locked them in the dark cellar for days when they broke the rules, none questioned being taken away.Untying the knots of the mystery are difficult. There aren't many clues to go on, and the "why" behind the auction and what was to happen to the girls remains a mystery until the very end.But once again, we have the employer-employee banter going on between Concordia and Ambrose. To have some part of the investigation, Concordia tells Ambrose that since she is employing him, she must be involved and informed. But Ambrose handles it differently than Artemas did in the previous book, so while it still wears thin, at least there's something new.Initially, Concordia got the impression that Ambrose was John Stoner's lover, which depressed her because she felt an attraction to him. But Ambrose quickly dispells that notion. And here's the rub: These Vanza men who have mastered their emotions seem to lose it almost instantly when meeting their "love". It's a love-at-first-sight kind of thing with these men. Attraction, yes; lust, yes. Love? To be fair to them, the Vanza men do try to tell themselves it's nothing more than attraction and lust, but even they feel shaken to their core by the depth of emotion towards their "woman". And so, naturally, involved kissing happens right away. Not long after, some sort of sexual encounter occurs, when the man discovers the woman is still a virgin and is chagrined because he didn't know. And the author provides some humor in that, because the man ends up losing his control before much action takes place. (I find it funny that in most romances, the man can go forever and hold back until he's thoroughly pleasured the woman. In these books, the man loses it - is unmanned - something that a man would never admit to. Luckily the women are so inexperienced, they don't know the difference!)ANYWAY... while I felt the chemistry between Concordia and Ambrose, and while neither of them fits the typical Hero/Heroine mold, I was still annoyed at their sexual encounters. If you're going to write them to this degree, at least make the steam worth reading! This book was better than the 3rd in that way, but still... not very satisfying for the readers. Rather rushed and routine from the start, IMO.But the relationship between Concordia and Ambrose has much more promise, IMO, than the 3rd book - as much as the 1st and 2nd books. But even this book isn't as good as the 1st. And while there's some sense of resolution and moving forward (even with Vanza, now being taught to girls) at the end of this book, I still can't help but feel as if the author or the publisher just decided to tie together four loosely-associated stories by the Vanza thread. IF there'd been at least one more book, even with a Vanza Heroine, I might have felt the series was worth it. As it is, the 1st book was wonderful and brought something new to the historical-romance-mystery genre, the 2nd and 4th books were good, and the 3rd was simply OK.Not sure if I'll continue reading more Amanda Quick... might give another book a try, just to see if it can rival the 1st book in this series. Maybe this author just doesn't do series well?