Where the Heart Leads by Stephanie Laurens
Where the Heart Leads is the story of Barnaby Adair, third son of an Earl and private investigator (who has appeared of Lauren's other Cynster books) known for tackling members of the ton who have committed crimes, and Penelope Ashford. Penelope is the sister-in-law of a Cynster, the founder and chief director of the Foundling House, an orphanage and training school for East End orphans, and is determined to never give up her freedom and marry. When four of her boys are "kidnapped" from their homes shortly before Penelope is supposed to pick them up, she turns to Barnaby to help her find her missing orphans. He in turn enlists the help of his police sergeant friend Stokes who enlists the help of his "friend" Griselda who grew up in East End but escaped to open up her own millinry shop. The four quickly narrow the possibility down to a burglery school and then narrow their suspects down to a list of known burglery trainers and then set off to do "investigating" which involves going to East End markets and trying to subtly get information out of people.
Somehow, through reasons that seem to have no relationship to their investigative skills, the quartet does manage to uncover a large amount of information which makes the villian nervous and causes him to target Penelope. Barnaby gets protective, but fairly early on Barnaby realizes Penelope would make the perfect wife for him and thus embarks on a journey to convince Penelope that marrying him is a good idea- and all her idea. Penelope in turn thinks it a great idea to answer some of her questions regarding sex and takes it for granted that the affair will be no strings attached. Until Barnaby's dedication to her cause causes her to realize he is not just another airheaded ton gentleman. The investigation heats up until things unsurprisingly come to a head, but the villian, while introduced late in the book, comes as no surprised to anyone- he being the typical nasty romance novel villian. There is the typical confrontation/ catch the bad guy scene where Barnaby and Penelope are forced to confront their feelings for each other when their lives are threatened, admit their love, and live happiliy ever after.
My first Stephanie Laurens book (that I've reviewed) and it is far from her best. Usually Laurens can be counted on for at least steamy (if drawn out and melodramatic) sex and lots of it but even that was a disappointment. There were two total scenes and, even more so than expected, they dragged on incessantly to the point where they were not even sexy. Plus she has tons of inuendo; where the sex is implied (we come in as they're finishing or we leave just as it gets good) and to be honest I absolutely hate that. To make it worse kinky stuff is implied but never followed through on- major disappointment. Also I was disappointed that we only got one mildly steamy scene between Griselda and Stokes as I found their little side relationship more intriguing than Barnaby and Penelope's. And I do not like romance novels that constantly illude to the happy marriages of those couples the author has previously written about- something the Cynster novels almost all do.
The sumary was so full of the (supposed to be) side-plot because that was by far the majority of the book. The two were almost never together outside of the investigation and even their sex seemed to have been driven by needing comfort when the situation was becoming difficult. The plot was interesting and certainly different from the norm with no spies. It was great to read about a heroine dong something good for the community that wasn't at all annoying and seemed to be created solely for the purpose of having the reader "like" the heroine. The secondary villains were cool characters, well developed, and fun to read about, and it was nice that we got to read quite a bit about what was going on in their world while they were plotting. Even the children were well-represented; those who were developed avoided being overly pretentious or cute.
Rating: I did not like this book. It wasn't a romance novel in my opinion- it was 400 pages of kidnap plot with 50 pages of a poorly and slowly developing romance.