Lady Derring Takes a Lover (Palace of Rogues #1) by Julie Anne Long

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A mistress. A mountain of debt. A mysterious wreck of a building.

Delilah Swanpoole, Countess of Derring, learns the hard way that her husband, “Dear Dull Derring,” is a lot more interesting—and perfidious—dead than alive. It’s a devil of an inheritance, but in the grand ruins of the one building Derring left her, are the seeds of her liberation. And she vows never again to place herself at the mercy of a man.

But battle-hardened Captain Tristan Hardy is nothing if not merciless. When the charismatic naval hero tracks a notorious smuggler to a London boarding house known as the Rogue’s Palace, seducing the beautiful, blue-blooded proprietress to get his man seems like a small sacrifice.

They both believe love is a myth. But a desire beyond reason threatens to destroy the armor around their hearts. Now a shattering decision looms: Will Tristan betray his own code of honor…or choose a love that might be the truest thing he’s ever known?

Rating: B+

Confession time: I still haven’t managed to read all of Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series.  I’ve read four or five of the books, and the rest are on my TBR Pile of Doom; I think the series started before I got into romance reading in a big way, and I just haven’t found the time to catch up yet (and this isn’t the only author/series/book that applies to!)

Fortunately for me, though, I get to be in on the ground floor of the author’s latest series, The Palace of Rogues, which opens with Lady Derring Takes a Lover, the story of a young widow who takes a most unusual step in order to support herself after her husband dies and leaves her swimming in debt.  It’s clever, well-written and sharply observed; the author makes a number of very pertinent comments about women’s lack of agency and the expectations placed on them by society during the period at which the book is set, but she does it in a wonderfully subtle way that is never heavy-handed or preachy, which makes her heroine simultaneously refreshingly different and of her time.

Delilah, Countess of Derring, was married off to the much older Earl when she was barely out of the schoolroom.  Her marriage wasn’t happy but wasn’t terrible; her husband wasn’t cruel or abusive, he was just… mostly disinterested.  When he dies and the creditors start circling, Delilah doesn’t know what to do; she only knows she has no intention of dwindling into a ‘poor relation’,  passed from house to house, always a little out of place, a little in the way.

She visits her husband’s solicitor in order to find out if there really is no money for her – and while she’s there, her meeting is interrupted by a striking blonde woman, also in mourning… who turns out to have been the late Earl’s mistress, Angelique Breedlove.

The first sign that Delilah is going to be something of a remarkable heroine is that she actually feels some sort of kinship with the Other Woman and doesn’t freak out at the knowledge of her existence.  In fact, later in the day, they find themselves in the same dingy pub near the docks, and end up sharing a drink… and then agreeing to pool their remaining resources and go into business together.  The only thing Derring left his wife was a building in the East End near the docks, and Delilah has the idea of turning it into a boarding house – The Grand Palace on the Thames – but more than that, she wants to make it somewhere their (hopefully many) guests will feel truly at home, and where she can foster a sense of togetherness and family.

Captain Tristan Hardy is Captain of the King’s Blockade, and has the reputation of having almost single-handedly shut down every smuggling ring operating on and around British shores – except one, and it’s pissing him off royally. He’s currently on the trail of some most unusual and staggeringly expensive cigars he knows are being smuggled into England by the ruthless Blue Rock gang, but has so far been unable to stop their transportation from the coast to London.  His one lead is that the late Earl of Derring used to smoke them exclusively – and Tristan now decides he needs to find the man’s widow to find out what she knows.

This works as the springboard for the romance between Delilah and Tristan, but as a mystery it isn’t particularly compelling.  It’s competently done, but there’s no real sense of urgency about it; Tristan is described as the “King’s attack-dog” a man who will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of answers, yet his investigation into the cigars seems somewhat laissez-faire.

The romance, however, works a great deal better.  Delilah and Tristan are well-matched and their tentative steps towards each other are really well done; she’s never experienced desire or sexual pleasure but is no blushing virgin either, and doesn’t leave Tristan in doubt about her interest in him.  She’s a terrific heroine, one who gives the impression of being naïve and wholesome – people don’t expect her to be funny or to take a stand on things (a mistake even Angelique makes about her) – but really, she’s clever and witty, as well as being incredibly kind, and genuinely wanting to make people feel comfortable and happy.  Tristan is a hard-nosed individual with a job to do; fiercely self-contained, he doesn’t let people know him easily but he simply can’t help being drawn to Delilah, and right from their first, inauspicious meeting, the chemistry between them sizzles.  Like Delilah, he has a dry sense of humour and fun that is unexpected, and the moments he allows that snarky, devilishly teasing side of him out are among the best things about the book.  Their romance is a slow-burn, full of longing glances and slightly risqué flirtatious comments, and it’s simply delicious.

The other relationship in the book – that between Delilah and Angelique – is unusual and superbly done; I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything quite like it before.  Not just because it’s the wife and the mistress, but because it’s two equally strong female characters, albeit from different social strata, with strengths and weaknesses that play off each other and who are bonded through their relationships with – and impoverishment by – the same man.  It’s one of the best, most satisfying female friendships I’ve ever read in a romance novel – but the downside is that they’re so well set-up, and the focus is so firmly on them for the first part of the book that I felt Tristan was rather underdeveloped by comparison.  And following on from that, while Ms. Long does a great job setting up her motley crew of secondary characters and boarding house guests, (Tristan’s relationship with his Lieutenant provided some wonderful insight into his character) I felt some things could have been omitted without diminishing the overall story and that time and page-count could have been spent with Delilah and Tristan.

Those niggles aside, Lady Derring Takes a Lover was a really entertaining read. Delilah is an engaging heroine and I enjoyed her relationship with the pragmatic Angelique very much; and while Tristan is perhaps a little underdeveloped, he’s still a hero worthy of All the Swoons. The set up for the next book has me very intrigued and I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Welcome back to the world of historical romance, Ms. Long.  You have been sorely missed.

TBR Challenge: What I Did for a Duke (Pennyroyal Green #5) by Julie Anne Long

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For years, he’s been an object of fear, fascination…and fantasy. But of all the wicked rumors that shadow the formidable Alexander Moncrieffe, Duke of Falconbridge, the ton knows one thing for certain: only fools dare cross him. And when Ian Eversea does just that, Moncrieffe knows the perfect revenge: he’ll seduce Ian’s innocent sister, Genevieve—the only Eversea as yet untouched by scandal. First he’ll capture her heart…and then he’ll break it.

But everything about Genevieve is unexpected: the passion simmering beneath her cool control, the sharp wit tempered by gentleness…And though Genevieve has heard the whispers about the duke’s dark past, and knows she trifles with him at her peril, one incendiary kiss tempts her deeper into a world of extraordinary sensuality. Until Genevieve is faced with a fateful choice…is there anything she won’t do for a duke?

Rating: A-

Incredible as it may seem (and it still does – to me!) the Pennyroyal Green series is one that I haven’t yet completed.  I’ve read the last three or four books but not the earlier ones, so I decided to pick up one of them for September’s TBR prompt to read an historical romance.  The novel is fifth in the series and was originally published in 2011 – and I’m rather partial to the formidable but misunderstood hero trope, which is what decided me on this particular instalment.

Alexander Moncreiffe, Duke of Falconbridge, is not a man to be crossed.  A certain aloofness combined with a reputation for ruthlessness and the rumours he killed his wife for her money makes him an object of fear and fascination among the ton, although of course, his immense wealth and title mean that he is welcomed everywhere.  Sardonic, charismatic and darkly attractive, women want him and men want to be him; and recognising the futility of attempting to change society’s opinion, Alex does nothing to dispel the rumours and actually, rather enjoys the reputation conferred upon him and is only too willing to play up to it on occasion.

When he finds Ian Eversea in bed with his fiancée, he is (naturally) furious, but instead of challenging Ian to a duel he decides to make him sweat and keep him wondering as to when he will exact his revenge or what form it will take.  He decides that poetic justice will best suit his purposes and gets himself invited to the house party being held by the Eversea family at their country estate in Pennyroyal Green; there he intends to seduce and then abandon Ian’s younger sister, Genevieve.

Genevieve has been in love with Harry Osborne for years, and is sure that at any moment he will declare his love and propose.  He’s handsome, funny and charming (if a little oblivious at times) and they have a lot in common, such as their love of Italian art.  So she is devastated when, during a tête-á- tête, he confesses his plan to propose to their mutual friend, Millcent and, heartbroken, attempts to hide herself away as much as possible.  When the formidable – and fascinating – Duke of Falconbridge singles her out for his attentions and seeks her company, Genevieve tries to avoid him – but is intrigued in spite of herself.  Soon, she discovers a man rather different to the one she’d expected; he’s authoritative and very ‘ducal’ of course, but Genevieve sees through the highly polished veneer to discover a man capable of charm, humour and considerable perspicacity, at the same time as the duke encourages her to discover and admit to certain truths about herself.

This is one of those books where not very much happens – no kidnappings, pirates, spies, missing heirs or murders – but in which the pages just fly by and the reader becomes completely and utterly invested in the central characters, their interactions and their gradually developing romance.  Neither Genevieve nor Alex is exactly what they seem, which becomes a point of commonality between them; Alex’s reputation as a cold, sometimes cruel man is not undeserved, but he’s also clever, intuitive and witty, while Genevieve is widely believed to be sensible, quiet and shy whereas she’s nothing of the sort. Her demeanour is the result of careful consideration rather than natural reticence, and she is often impatient with the mistaken impression society has of her.  I loved the way Ms. Long used flowers to point up the impressions held by others of Genevieve and her sister; Olivia is routinely sent bouquets of vibrant, colourful flowers by her numerous admirers, while Genevieve, when she gets flowers at all, gets daisies and narcissi and pale, insipid arrangements, until one morning a huge display of roses that is – magnificently intimidating and almost indecently sensual – arrives for her.  Of course, it’s from Alex, and it’s a wonderful way of showing that he really sees Genevieve for the remarkable woman she truly is.  In spite of his plan to debauch and ruin her (which is soon abandoned in an unexpected and fitting way), we see that he is coming to genuinely care for and understand her while she is doing the same thing as regards him.

Julie Anne Long’s writing is superb; deft, witty, warm and perceptive, she has a knack for dialogue and vivid description, and for creating multifaceted, flawed and yet thoroughly engaging characters.  (Although I really wish someone had corrected all the errors with titles – a duke is never addressed as “Lord” anybody). Alex is a formidable man but he’s also a very lonely one who is tired of playing society’s games and wants some peace in his life.  Genevieve is misunderstood and undervalued, a young woman who doesn’t yet really know who she is, but who learns, through her association with Alex, how to be the passionate, vibrant, pleasure-loving woman she really is.  They really do bring out the best in each other, and I loved the fact that Alex wanted so badly for Genevieve to become her best self; even if he couldn’t have her for himself, he wanted her to have that and to be properly appreciated.

What I Did for a Duke is a captivating character-driven story that has no need for flashy plotlines and over-wrought drama to propel it forward.  What begins as a May/December romance between an underestimated young woman and a world-weary rake slowly morphs into something more complex and nuanced, a story about two people able to see past the distorted lens with which they are each generally viewed to the real person inside – and to love that person unreservedly.  When AAR reviewed the book on its release, it was awarded it DIK status, a judgement with which I wholeheartedly concur.

It Started With a Scandal (Pennyroyal Green #10) by Julie Anne Long

it started with a scandal

Lord Philippe Lavay once took to the high seas armed with charm as lethal as his sword and a stone-cold conviction: he’ll restore his family’s fortune and honor, no matter the cost. Victory is at last within reach–when a brutal attack snatches it from his grasp and lands him in Pennyroyal Green.

An afternoon of bliss brings a cascade of consequences for Elise Fountain. Shunned by her family and ousted from a job she loves, survival means a plummet down the social ladder to a position no woman has yet been able to keep: housekeeper to a frighteningly formidable prince.

The bold and gentle Elise sees past his battered body into Philippe’s barricaded heart…and her innate sensuality ignites his blood. Now a man who thought he could never love and a woman who thought she would never again trust must fight an incendiary passion that could be the ruin of them both.

Rating: A-

This, the tenth in the author’s Pennyroyal Green series, is a bit of an offshoot from it, as neither of the principal characters is a Redmond or an Eversea – and also perhaps a little bit of an exercise in delayed gratification, as fans of the series continue to await the final book, due out later this year.

That said, though, It Started With a Scandal is much more than an inconsequential filler slotted in to pass the time before the main event of Lyon and Olivia’s book; it’s a thoroughly enjoyable story with a Jane Eyre-ish vibe, featuring two people who don’t quite belong finding that together, they’re a perfect fit.

Lord Philippe Lavay is a member of the once powerful Bourbon family, and so is, in effect, French royalty. By the time this story takes place, he has lost most of his family and property to the Revolution, and is now fiercely determined to regain his family home and prestige while at the same time supporting the variously dispersed members of his family.

He is on the point of being able to re-purchase his home from whoever bought it after it had fallen into revolutionary hands, having spent years at sea and supplementing his income with covert work undertaken for the British government. Following one such mission, Lavay was attacked and badly wounded, and has removed to Pennyroyal Green in order to recuperate – and he is now faced with a difficult choice. One final mission will pay him sufficiently well as to enable him to reclaim his home and return to France, although given his physical condition, it’s not really much of an option. The alternative is for him to marry the money he needs in the form of the beautiful, self-assured Lady Alexandra Prideux, who would make him the perfect wife.

With his focus so firmly on difficult choices and on trying to deal with the amount of pain he is in, Lavay’s household goes its own way; the house is unkempt and his servants lazy. Upon the recommendation of Violet Redmond – now the Countess of Ardmay – Lavay interviews Mrs Elise Fountain for the post of Housekeeper, and engages her for a two-week trial.

Elise has recently been dismissed from her post as a teacher at Miss Endicott’s School following some malicious gossip, perpetrated by one of the pupils there, that her six-year-old son – Jack – is illegitimate. Elise cannot approach her family for help because they disowned her when she told them she was pregnant, so she must work to support herself and Jack. Immensely relieved at having – even temporarily – secured a position, Elise metaphorically rolls up her sleeves and gets to work, very quickly making it clear to the servants that their easy life is at an end, but winning them to her side with a mixture of good-humour and fairness that promises the sort of stability which is essential for the smooth running of the household.

I said at the beginning that the story has a “Jane Eyre-ish” vibe to it, and that comes from the relationship that springs up between the wounded nobleman and his servant – although of course, Elise is a housekeeper rather than a governess. Lavay is grumpy and rather forbidding at the outset, but there’s a wickedly dry sense of humour lurking underneath, which reminded me very much of Rochester as he plays verbal games with Jane. And like Jane, Elise gives as good as she gets, even as she admits that Lord Lavay is just a little bit scary – although not because of his ill temper or tight control. What frightens Elise is the way she responds to him; her past experience left her pregnant and abandoned, so she is naturally wary of forming an attachment which, given their relative stations in life, can only lead to more heartache. But even as her head gives her reasons to keep away, her heart can’t deny the strength of the attraction building between them, and of the way she wishes, just once, to have someone to lean on and to see her as beautiful and charming.

It Started With a Scandal is an absolute delight from start to finish, and is definitely going on to my keeper shelf. The central characters are wonderfully characterised and perfect for each other, even though they come from very different spheres of life. Level-headed and determined, both have a strong sense of responsibility to others – Elise puts her son’s welfare above her own happiness, and Philippe is prepared to sacrifice his so that he can take care of those who depend upon him. Their loyalty and honour is balanced beautifully by their innate kindness and by the playful side of themselves they rarely allow others to see. They also have in common the fact that they are both adrift, neither of them quite fitting in with any particular echelon of society. Elise is well-born, but has had to take employment in order to support herself and her son, and Lavay feels out of place among his peers, people he comes to realise are as unbending now as they ever were.

The romance is a delicious slow-burn, full of sexual tension and wonderfully witty banter which, I readily admit, is my drug of choice when it comes to romance reading. But the book is so more than that – even as Lavay and Elise trade quips, they are becoming attuned to each other so that they learn almost as much about each other from what they don’t say as what they do. Their conversations are as laced with poignancy as with wit, which is one of the things that elevates this story from being a mere “feelgood” romance with lots of great, sexually-charged banter to being something far deeper. One particular moment pin-pointed this for me – a conversation about home which shows the importance of such a thing to both characters. Eloise lost hers when her parents disowned her and Philippe lost his in a much more violent way, but eventually they both come to see that home really IS where the heart is.

It Started With a Scandal is a beautifully written, character-driven romance, full of warmth, charm and depth – and I loved every minute of it.

Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Anne Long

bdie

She might look like an angel…

The moment orphaned American heiress Titania “Tansy” Danforth arrives on English shores she cuts a swath through Sussex, enslaving hearts and stealing beaux. She knows she’s destined for a spectacular titled marriage—but the only man who fascinates her couldn’t be more infamous…or less interested.

…but it takes a devil to know one…

A hardened veteran of war, inveterate rogue Ian Eversea keeps women enthralled, his heart guarded and his options open: why should he succumb to the shackles of marriage when devastating good looks and Eversea charm make seduction so easy?

…and Heaven has never been hotter.

When Ian is forced to call her on her game, he never dreams the unmasked Tansy—vulnerable, brave, achingly sensual—will tempt him beyond endurance. And fight as he will, this notorious bachelor who stood down enemies on a battlefield might finally surrender his heart…and be brought to his knees by love.

Rating: B

I haven’t read all the books in this series (so far) but I really enjoyed the one before this (It Happened One Midnight) and gave it an A-.

I was looking forward to a similar experience with Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, but unfortunately, I came away from it feeling a little disappointed.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book – I did. There is plenty of humour in the exchanges between the hero and heroine and between the hero and his numerous siblings, the principals are very attractive characters; it’s sexy and sweet and romantic, and all the secondary characters (who have presumably already featured in their own stories) are well drawn.

Tansy is an interesting and complex heroine, and I was impressed with the way Ms Long gradually peeled away the layers of her personality to reveal the truth of the emotionally bruised young woman beneath the shallow, flirtatious outer shell.

I was less convinced by Ian, however. He’s handsome, sexy and tortured by memories of his experiences in the war, but he wasn’t as well developed a character as Tansy, and isn’t one of those heroes that’s going to stick in my mind in the way some of them do.

I think that part of the reason for my disappointment with this book may be because I felt almost as though I had read two books that had been sandwiched together around the half-way point. For the first part of the book, Ian is very wary of Tansy – wary to the point of dislike – because he can see all too well what she’s up to, and Tansy, while she is absolutely knocked flat by Ian’s gorgeousness, is aware of his distrust of her. So they spend the first part of the story watching and circling each other and when they do meet, they are far from pleasant.

When things change, they change abruptly. The sudden détente comes as the result of a shared concern for a missing girl (who, luckily, is soon found unharmed) and after that, they begin to open up to each other and Ian finds himself telling Tansy things he’s never told anyone else and vice versa. While I was pleased that Ian and Tansy were at last warming up to each other, it felt almost as though the book had done a sudden handbrake turn and set off along a side-turning with little or no warning – hence what I said before about feeling as though two different books had been sandwiched together.

The pair certainly have had a difficult time of it, and I did enjoy the parallels Ms Long drew between their experiences and their reactions to them. I liked the fact that they were both honest enough with themselves to admit that some of the things they had seen in the other’s disposition also applied to them.

“I think you come at everyone before they can come after you, Tansy. You’re afraid to be – “ He stopped abruptly.
Vulnerable, she comnpleted silently in her head, astonished. Certain that’s what he meant.

And then later, there’s a point at which Ian realises that what Tansy had to deal with following the death of her parents and brother wasn’t too different to what he had to face when returning from war.

“And for quite some time it has felt like… I’ve been to school and learned everything there is to learn, and nothing has the power to surprise me anymore. Or scare me.”
[…]
He remembered returning… it was as if he’d used up every emotion he ever had, because he’d felt nearly everything there was to feel at such a pitch for so long that ordinary life felt rather flat and muted and painfully slow. He’d been willing to do nearly anything to feel something. And to forget.”

Both characters were likeable and almost refreshingly straightforward – inwardly. Of course, outwardly, they were just presenting a façade to the world – their coping mechanism – but the author got into both their heads sufficiently for the reader to know that there was much more to Tansy than a man-eating husband-hunter, and to Ian than an inveterate womaniser.

The ending felt rather rushed, too, and the resolution was just a little too convenient. I suppose one could argue that Ian’s actions speak to the depth of his feelings for Tansy, but I thought it was just a little too perfect.

Overall, I did like the book and will certainly be reading the next in the series – and also hope to find the time to read the earlier books I haven’t got around to yet. The writing and characterisation are excellent, I like Ms Long’s way with the humour and I think she’s built up a really superb set of familial relationships between her characters. Even though I’m not up to date with the series, I know that fans are eagerly awaiting Olivia and Lyon’s story (which I believe will be the next book but one), so I think it’s safe to say that there’s a bit of a shocker in store at the end of this one for everyone who’s waiting for the big reunion!

I have to confess that the cover model looks rather more mature than I imagine Tansy to be. Also – does anyone else think she looks like Kiri te Kanawa? I did a double-take the first time I saw it!

It Happened One Midnight by Julie Anne Long

ihom

More than one beautiful woman’s hopes have been dashed on the rocky shoals of Jonathan Redmond’s heart. With his riveting good looks and Redmond wealth and power, the world is his oyster—until an ultimatum from his father and a chilling gypsy prophesy send him hurtling headlong toward a fate he’ll do anything to avoid: matrimony.

Intoxicating, elusive Thomasina de Ballesteros has the bloods of London at her feet. But none of them knows the real Tommy—the one with a shocking pedigree, a few too many secrets, and a healthy scorn for rakes like Jonathan.

She is everything Jonathan never wanted. But on one fateful midnight, he’s drawn into Tommy’s world of risk, danger…and a desire he’d never dreamed possible. And suddenly he’s re-thinking everything…including the possibility that succumbing to prophesy might just mean surrendering to love.

Rating: A-

I’m woefully behind on the Pennyroyal Green series – in fact, the last one I read might have been book three – but that didn’t matter when it came to reading this, the eighth in the series.

Jonathan Redmond is the youngest son of Isaiah Redmond, renowned businessman and investor. He views Jonathan as something of a wastrel and even when the latter tells his father that for the past couple of years he’s been making investments in small businesses and asks to join his father’s consortium, Isaiah dismisses him out of hand. It’s plain that he has terribly low expectations of his son and instead of encouraging him in his business endeavours, Isaiah tells Jonathan he must marry within the year or be cut off without a penny.

As is the case with most of the young, handsome and charming men of historical romances, getting leg-shackled isn’t exactly to Jonathan’s taste. But as things stand, most of the young women of the ton are throwing out lures, and he supposes that one is as good as another and prepares himself to choose a girl to marry from their number.

He is vaguely acquainted with Miss Thomasina de Ballesteros, the daughter of a Spanish courtesan who presides over the weekly salons held at the home of the eccentric Countess Mirabeau. Thomasina – “Tommy” – acts as hostess at these functions; she is vivacious, attractive and witty, having the gift of making whichever young man she is speaking to feel as though he is the only man in the room. Jonathan’s friend Argosy is smitten, as are many of the young bloods who attend the salons, but Jonathan takes a more cynical view. Possessed of an inordinate degree of charm himself, he is well aware of Miss de Ballesteros’ modus operandi and watches from the sidelines as other men moon over her and make bets as to who will be her next lover.

The highlight of the book for me was the superbly witty exchanges between the two leads. Both are highly intelligent and sharp-tongued with fabulous senses of humour, and I especially liked Jonathan’s ability to laugh at himself. He’s gorgeous to look at and knows it, but he’s not vain and frequently makes a joke of his attractiveness.

After he and Tommy have rescued Charlie from the mill

”I’m sure you always smell like starch and soap and bay rum.”
It startled both of them into a moment of awkward silence, the sudden inventory of how he smelled.
“You left out ‘and a certain ineffable manly goodness native only to you.’”

I really hope that’s the author taking a poke at the frequent references to the way heroines always seem to be able to describe exactly what scent is favoured by their men.

And then, when they are about to embark upon another daring rescue and Jonathan is wondering whether he ought to adopt a disguise:

”… a disguise will not be necessary. In fact, I think it will be most effective if you look exactly the way you do now.”
“Which is how…? Desire incarnate?”

But there is much more lurking beneath the banter, and it’s not long before Tommy has embroiled Jonathan in her dangerous scheme to rescue workhouse children who have been sold to work as little more than slaves in service, in mills and other businesses and who are being badly mistreated. It doesn’t take Jonathan long to guess at Tommy’s reasons for being so devoted to doing what little she can for these children – and he surprises himself with his own capacity to care about them. The scenes in which he interacts with some of these children – especially the rascally Charlie – are tender, funny and very genuine. That’s another thing that makes him such an attractive hero – he’s devoted to his family of course (despite his strained relationship with his father), but he discovers in himself a huge wealth of concern and caring for these poor, mistreated children who have no-one to care for them or about what becomes of them.

He finds that he cares deeply about Thomasina, too, and the way the romance unfurls gradually as the pair get under each other’s skins is a real delight.

Running alongside the hi-jinks surrounding Tommy’s exploits and the burgeoning romance is Jonathan’s determination to achieve success with his investment schemes and prove himself to his father. He shows himself to have a fine head for business and comes up with a superb marketing strategy to launch the printing business in which he is a partner by using the ton’s well-known appetite for juicy gossip.

I thought It Happened One Midnight was a thoroughly enjoyable read and it’s made me want to catch up with the rest of the series sooner rather than later. It was very well-written and I liked that the fluffy exterior had darker undertones dealing with issues which were certainly coming to the fore at the time. Jonathan was a wonderful hero – handsome, intelligent, wonderfully caring and possessed of a wit on which you could cut yourself shaving (!). He loved his family very much and was man enough to realise that life is short and sometimes you have to make your own happiness. He stood up to his father in a manner that allowed them to maintain a relationship and I thought, all in all, that he was a very mature, well-grounded individual.

Tommy was one of the more unusual heroines I’ve encountered in the pages of historical romances, but I felt that she wasn’t one of those who was written as ‘feisty’ for the sake of it. She had had a hard life and had learned to look after herself – often the hard way – and she found it genuinely difficult to believe that she had at last found someone who was prepared – and she could trust – to shoulder some of her burdens. The sexual tension between them was delicious, the love scenes were both romantic and sexy and I liked that neither character lost their sense of humour when they were in bed together. Out of it, Tommy matched Jonathan step for step and quip for quip, and while she may not have been the unspoiled virgin so often featured in romantic novels, they were a very well-suited couple and I can definitely see her making an excellent politician’s wife.

It Happened One Midnight is an entertaining and very enjoyable read that strikes a good balance between the romance and the more serious issues running alongside. Highly recommended.