Lady Philippa Marbury is odd. The bespectacled, brilliant fourth daughter of the Marquess of Needham and Dolby cares more for books than balls, flora than fashion and science than the season. Nearly engaged to Lord Castleton, Pippa wants to explore the scandalous parts of London she’s never seen before marriage. And she knows just who to ask: the tall, charming, quick-witted bookkeeper of The Fallen Angel, London’s most notorious and coveted gaming hell, known only as Cross.
Like any good scientist, Pippa’s done her research and Cross’s reputation makes him perfect for her scheme. She wants science without emotion—the experience of ruination without the repercussions of ruination. And who better to provide her with the experience than this legendary man? But when this odd, unexpected female propositions Cross, it’s more than tempting . . . and it will take everything he has to resist following his instincts—and giving the lady precisely what she wants..
I’ve read all but one of Sarah MacLean’s other historical romances, but I think she’s outdone herself with this latest one.
It’s got everything – a gorgeous, tortured hero; an endearing, intelligent heroine; it’s romantic, it’s sexy, it’s angsty.
The plot revolves around the intelligent and curious Lady Philippa Marbury who is soon to be married and wants to know what to expect from the physical side of marriage. Unwilling to ask her married sisters (and even moreso her unmarried, but happily betrothed younger sister) she turns instead to her brother-in-law’s business associate, Cross, whose reputation as a womaniser will, she believes, make him the ideal ‘research associate’.
It quickly becomes apparent that Pippa’s ignorance is nothing to do with a lack of intelligence or understanding – she has never felt attraction or been desired. Cross wants nothing to do with Pippa’s ‘research’ – he recognises immediately that she represents a danger to his ordered existence, even if he won’t admit to himself just why that is.
The plot is actually rather slight – but that isn’t important because what this novel does so beautifully is chart the progression of the relationship between Cross and Pippa, showing how they connect with each other at a deep, almost primitive level. He ‘gets’ her in a way that nobody else ever has, and she displays a similar, instinctual understanding when it comes to him.
The central characters are well-realised and very engaging. Pippa is clever and inquisitive without being annoying or ‘feisty’; and Cross is suitably brooding and dangerous, trying to atone for what he perceives to be the sins he committed years ago which destroyed his family.
In many of the historical romances I’ve read recently – the majority of them, I’m sad to say, by newer authors – I’ve noticed a sad lack of sexual tension between the hero and heroine. Sure, they have sex – but there’s no sense of any emotional connection being built between them; there are none of those stolen touches or almost-kisses that a skilled writer can turn into something as scorching hot as an explicit sex scene.
Thankfully, Sarah MacLean is one of those authors. The tension between Cross and Pippa sizzles from the outset – even though he doesn’t even touch her for over half of the book. But this allows the author to make the most of the careless touch and the almost caress, culminating in the scene where he seduces her with his words alone.
If I have one niggle, it’s that the ending seemed rather rushed (although I liked Pippa’s solution and was amused when I read the author’s note about its derivation) and that it felt as though Cross, who has carried his burdens for so many years and has ruthlessly instilled in himself the belief of his guilt – was able to put that all aside rather easily. But there is no doubt that he earned his redemption, so I can overlook the rather hasty conclusion to the story.
The rake-and-the-bluestocking is a frequently used trope in historical romance, but I feel as though Sarah MacLean has given it a fresh lick of paint with this book. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read, with compelling characters and a permeating sensuality. Highly recommended.
With thanks to Avon Books and Edelweiss for the review copy.