Tuesday, July 28, 2009

This Duchess of Mine

This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James

This Duchess of Mine (finally) tells the story of Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont, and her husband Elijah, the Duke. The two entered into an arranged marriage at a young age and while Jemma was infatuated with Elijah he did not return the sentiment. This was brought home all too abruptly to Jemma when she walked into Elijah's offices in Parliament to find his mistress, Sara Corbett, bent over a desk with her husband behind her. Jemma ran off to Paris hoping that Elijah would follow and bring her back, but he waited 3 years to come to her rescue and even then he didn't take her back. He had felt so bad over the way things with Jemma had played out that he believed he didn't have the right to bring Jemma home and that it was her choice to go and have affairs and risque parties because he no longer deserved her. Despite the incredible rumors circulating around London Jemma wasn't quite as brazen as many had been lead to believe as she only took two lovers while in Paris and she apparently learned more about sex and love from the other women in Paris then from anything she did in the bedchamber. After 8 years Jemma finally came back to London with Elijah as both agree that it is past time for them to beget an heir but both are a tad bit unsure of how to go about with the other.

Jemma decides, oddly enough, that part of Elijah's problem is that he never had any fun and has been haunted by his father's exceedingly scandalous death many years before. Therefore she sets up her "friend" a French marquise to flirt with Elijah, perhaps in an attempt to get him to realize how harmless and fun it can be. This attempt kind of backfires when Elijah seemingly takes the bait and the two engage in a bit of back and forth. Elijah knows he made a terrible mistake all those years ago and although he knows that he can no longer expect the tender feelings that Jemma once had for him he wants to make her happy in the short amount of time he believes he has left. His father expired at a young age due to a heart problem and Elijah finds himself experiences erratic, slow, and rapid heart rhythm so he is convinced that he too will die young. When Jemma finds out she is horrified and determined to find a cure for the heart problem and she is aided in this endeavor by Elijah's childhood friend and her own one-time possible lover, the Duke of Villiers. Villiers is also engaged in an attempt to round up all six of his illegitimate children, an activity made incredibly difficult as his solicitor has disappeared after lying about the children's whereabouts. Our ending is a sweet little happily ever-after when James brings in a real-life doctor who real-life did find a cure for some irregular heart rhythms.

I thought James did an excellent little explanation of Elijah's affair with Sara- she doesn't just write it off as just a random affair and, although it doesn't entirely excuse his cheating on Jemma apparently hours after they had been together, it was certainly a new and interesting excuse/ explanation. In the same vein James did a great job redeeming Elijah by showing that he is sorry and deeply regrets what he has done and offers as proof his celibacy during the entire time Jemma was gone, although apparently he managed to take care of things himself (something that seems to be popping up in romance novels all over the place. The book was plenty hot- although the chess game didn't exactly get me going as I find chess to be boring, long, and basically everything not sexy. It seems odd to me that there is an entire romance novel series that deals so much with chess. It was interesting and fun to read about these two learning how far to push each other and what to do with each other now that there wasn't a sea in between them. James gave the reader a great perspective from both Jemma and Elijah's point of view as they navigated their newly developing relationship. We also got a bit from Villier's POV, which was nice, but also made me a little wary of reading his novel as he seems to have absolutely no feelings for anyone besides himself- maybe interesting.

I still am very unsure what Jemma really hoped to accomplish by having Elijah flirt with the French marquise. Wanting him to have fun and loosen up seemed a little too far fetched a reason for having your husband flirt with another reason. And then that of course led to both of them trying to make the other jealous at a party and that just strikes me as so childish and immature- especially when she was the one who had instigated it! The marquise struck me as a complete moron as I could not understand why she would accept advice on marriage from a woman who ran away from her own marriage for 8 years. I enjoyed how James used real-life doctors and events when "curing" Elijah's heart problems instead of having a random magical cure come into being. I think that Jemma kind of lost a lot of the risque-ness she was portrayed as having in the previous books in the series; she was always the wild one with the reputation but here we learn that she actually isn't all that wild and just pretends to be. It seemed sort of a cop-out as if James couldn't deal with a heroine who actually had had multiple lovers and enjoyed them too. I found myself liking the characters and rooting for them but I could never really figure out quite why as they seemed so unappealing. Last but not least I think that the cover got messed up at the printers as it looks like a picture that has been overexposed with another picture. Or it was just poorly designed.

Rating: The entire Duchesses series is a good one, but some have been better than others with "Duchess by Night" being by far my favorite. An above average book, but not all that inspiring and memorable.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How to Abduct a Highland Lord

How to Abduct a Highland Lord by Karen Hawkins

Fiona MacLean and Jack Kincaid engaged in a brief yet passionate affair that ended when Fiona discovered Jack had a mistress, breaking her heart and making him swear off love and marriage for all eternity. When the feud between their two clans erupts, Jack's half-brothers accidentally kill Fiona's brother Callum, Fiona is convinced the only way to prevent more bloodshod is to marry Jack and unite their clans. So she marries him- while he is still suffering from a massive bump on the head and minor dillusions of being in heaven. Needless to say he is not happy to wake up and discover himself married to the woman who broke his heart. He is determined that he won't let his marriage to Fiona change his way of life and thinks the best thing to do to protect his heart is to go back to his whoring, drinking, and gambling. But his passion and growing feelings for Fiona are making this very difficult indeed. Fiona is equally determined to convince Jack that the two of them can have a marriage that is more than one in name only and thinks that the two of them spending time together is the perfect way for them to get to know each other and fall in love. So the two spend the first few weeks of marriage in bed, sleeping, eating, shopping, and than some more in bed together.

Unfortunately Jack left behind a scorned lover in Lady Lucinda Featherington and she is furious to learn that Jack is not only married, but that Jack is so enamored of his new wife that he is giving up the comforts of his bed. She teams up with Alan Campbell, a Scottish Lord whose family had long ago sold off their land to the MacLeans and is thus determined to wreak vengeance on them and on Jack for being richer than him. When Jack realizes that Fiona has come to expect him to spend his nights at home worth her he embarks on a mission to prove that he has not been completely domesticated and takes off into the night. Fed up and frustrated with something she doesn't know how to control Fiona heads out too and quickly runs into Alan Campbell who is more than willing to make friends wtih his enemies new and angry wife. On two occassions Fiona comes face to face with Jack's past; one where she confronts Lucinda and another where she and Jack attempt to out perform each other to make the other jealous/ mad. But just as Jack and Fiona are settling in together trouble strikes; someone is trying to hurt, possibly kill Fiona and while Jack is determined to get to the bottom of it Fiona's brothers become convinced that he is the culprit. The villians, and the ending, isn't exactly hard to guess, but it sure is sweet.

This is the first book in Hawkin's MacLean series, the second being To Scotland with Love, and it is heaps better than the next one. I had complained that I disliked not reading the characters' first meeting, but I realized it wasn't necessarily that I didn't read about the first meeting, but that it took them so long to realize how the felt for each other. Jack's character is so depressed after Fiona leaves him that he turns to whoring and drinking, however he certainly manages to turn away from his dissolute ways very quickly. It literally occurs right after their first evening together while he as at a party and discovers himself suddenly not interested whatsoever in a gorgeous woman he had (4 days previously) been in massive lust with. But this is in keeping with the rest of the book as the entire story seems to take place in a week. Although we are informed that nearly a month has passed we are only really privy to the happens and goings on of a few of those days and it makes the time line seem much shorter. I didn't really mine this bizarre lapse of time as at least the author makes the reader aware that more time as elapsed and does not just leave one confused by how Fiona can find herself pregnant less than a week into her marriage.

The two scenes I mentioned above (where Fiona literally confronts Jack's past) were just so much fun. The first involves her confronting Lucinda and does not end with her running away crying and does involve a scandal that is much talked about the next day. Needless to say our little heroine wins and it is wonderful. The next involves Jack and Fiona trying to one-up each other by flirting with either Alan Campbell or Lucinda, drinking and toasting, and gambling. While it certainly has it's juvenile aspects and roaring jealousy/ possessiveness, it served to bring Jack and Fiona's feelings for each other to the forefront so that they have difficulty continuing to deny them any longer. Also as mentioned above the whole "mystery" of who is trying to harm Fiona is far from difficult to solve, but there is something to say for convoluted twists and turns in side plots that don't detract from and take over the romance of the story. Another thing that was far better in this than in her next book is the sex- this book is far hotter and realistic in dealing with these two getting physical. Like all the books in the MacLean series this one also deals with the "MacLean curse" whereby they all control their weather with their emotions and it just seems like such an odd and out of place power; something I could definitely have dealt without.

Rating: This was far better than To Scotland with Love, which I gave two hearts to. But I definitely don't think it was worth 4 hearts at all. There just wasn't enough to the book to warrant giving it that many.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ways to be Wicked

Ways to be Wicked by Julie Anne Long

Sylvie Lamoureux has grown up as the adopted daughter of a former opera dancer and has worked her way to the top of Paris' ballet corps. While her adopted mother is out of town Sylvie discovers a letter from England, from a Susannah Lady Grantham, claiming to be Sylvie's sister. Sylvie takes advantage of this to escape from her cold lover, Etienne, and runs to England. Unfortunately for Sylvie, Susannah and her husband had run to France to look for her and because of a recent and much publicized trial their butler is inclined to be skeptical over her claims to be lady Grantham's sister. So Sylvie seeks refuge with man she had met earlier on the stagecoach: one Tom Shaughnessy. The bastard Gypsy-Irish man with red hair owns the White Lily, a risque dance club where buxom young ladies dance for the enjoyment of the establishments wealthy patrons. Tom offers Sylvie a job as a dancer and she finds the work to be far from what she is used to back at the Paris ballet. Nevertheless she recognizes that she needs some form of making money while awaiting her sister's return and so she keeps the job, despite her physical differences from the other girls and their shock over her hiring.

Tom finds himself intrigued and surprisingly attracted to the newest addition to his lillies. Added to his new frustrations is the discovery, although the actual discovering and first meeting doesn't occur in the book, that he has an illegitimate son, whom the mother has abandoned with her family. Sylvie has heard rumors of Tom's illegitimate son, but believes it the boy is a son he shares with an ex-dancer of his named Kitty. Tom has been planning to open a "Gentleman's Emporium" which would be an expanded version of the White Lily featuring dancers, gambling, boxing, etc... but it isn't long before one by one his financial investors begin to back out. Tom has placed a good deal of his own money in the project and is scared that he will once again be reduced to the circumstances of his youth. Eventually a torrid kiss leads Tom to place the future of their relationship in Sylvie's hand and she finally accepts (260 pages in). But Sylvie's jealousy over his supposed affair with Kitty, the man Tom is convinced is talking his backers out of their investment, and the backstabbing going on behind the scenes in the White Lily all conspire to keep them apart until in the final 20 pages everything, from the arrival of Susannah to resolving their love and outing the "bad guy," is magically solved.

Some of the most heartwarming scenes in the book were those between Tom and his newly discovered son, the 2 year-old Jamie. Jamie is written realistically for his age and Tom's interactions with him are adorble and just so much fun to read; from his accidentally teaching his son to say "buddy hell" to their playing with a ball. In addition there is a beautiful passage from Tom's point of view when he discovers Sylvie doing ballet in the attic. The passage really showed off the author's writing ability and didn't drag at all, as so many such passages might have. Long also does a great job of writing between the interactions/ relationships between all the women in the White Lily. From Daisy the aging diva who refuses to admit that her best days are behind her, to Molly the up-and-coming beauty who finds herself jealous of Sylvie. And of course there are scores of other girls who all fit into the White Lily's inner working and they all have their own way of dealing with the new, sudden, and surprising addition to their dance team. I was also pleasantly surprised that the book did not overwhelm us with Tom's womanizing ways (although they're definitely mentioned) which now seemed to have been played up a little too much in the teaser I read in another book.

I had a definite problem with the lack of steam in this novel. There is a kiss 250 pages in then two quick completion scenes in a row (including one with what I suspect is a cream-pie, but I don't want to think about that). The author's non steamy prose is beautiful and the longing thoughts these to have about one another are so well written, it's a shame she just doesn't seem able to do the steam. This also happened in her novel, "The Perils of Pleasure" which makes me wonder if she just can't do it. I was also confused about the discussions about Sylvie's relationship with her Parisian princely lover Etienne. He was older than her and had apparently just "taken" what he wanted without asking. This infuriates Tom as apparently the author didn't want discussions on the double standard of man-whore heroes who want their women untouched so the woman has to have been taken advantage of. Also confusing this is Etienne's apparent love for her? The relationship and discussion about them could definitely have used some fleshing out. It also would have led to a much better angle on the angst besides Tom's fear that he's not good enough for her and she deserves better.

Rating: This writer has an excellent way with words; she can create amazing characters and detail their interaction and relationship excellently. She just can't do any steam and this was a book featuring two physical people with a past and should have had much more.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Virgin's Secret

The Virgin's Secret by Victoria Alexander

Grabriella Montini's brother believed he had discovered an important and ancient seal whose imprint would lead the owner to find the lost city of Ambropia, which had been guarded by the Virgin priestess until it had slipped into the annals of history. Unfortunately when it comes time to present his discovery to the antiquities society it is only to discover someone has stolen it and replaced it with an easily recognizable forgery. He, and by consequence Gabriella, are convinced it was stolen by fellow antique hunters Nathanial and Quinton Harrington so after his death Gabriella heads to England to confront them. While sneaking into the Harrington household to search for clues she is discovered. The dowager countess insists that Gabriella come to stay in the househole to stop any possible rumors about Nathanial and Quin being antiquities thieves and to stop any assaults on Gabriella's characters- since the dowager had been friends with Gabriella's English mother. Nathanial appoints himself her partner in crime to determine who stole the seal and very quickly finds himself being more and more drawn to her and the feeling is reciprocated. It isn't very long before he begins to contemplate the idea of forever. However Gabriella has determined she will never be wed as when she was younger, much younger, she was seduced by one of her brother's colleagues younger brothers.

So Nathanial and Gabriella set off to determine who has stolen her brother's seal and there two suspects on the list in addition to Quinton and Nathanial Harrington. There is Lord Rathbourne, a cold hearted and ruthless collector who has been known to go to any lengths to get what he wants and Mr. McGovern, an American collector who has a decent if rather mysterious reputation. Through it all Gabriella does not cross either Nathanial or his brother off her list but as they work together Gabriella begins to trust him more and more. This is definitely good news for Nathanial who has begun to realize that he can not imagine a happy life without her- he admits to her that he loves her independence, her intelligence, her stubborness, and her determination and dedication to her brother's memory. When Lord Rathbourne offers Gabriella a job cataloguing his collection Nathanial is incensed but Gabriella sees it as a great opportunity to make a name for herself in the antiquities world and use her knowledge. Things immediately go awry when a vicious murder occurs and the truth about Enrico begins to come out. Gabriella and Nathanial finally admit their love but circumstances continue to try to tear them apart and trust is hard to come by in the cutthroat world of antique hunting.

My first impression of this book was not good: the search for stolen antiquities and lost cities made me a little nervous that this was going to turn out like "The Perfect Wife," arguably the worst romance novel I've ever read what with 3/4 of the book being dedicated to the extra plot and/or other romances going on. But I was pleasantly surprised that she did such a great job of ensuring that there was enough of the story dedicated to watching the relationship between Gabriella and Nathanial growing. It does seem to grow rather fast when one bothers to count the amount of time that actually elapses during the book, but I guess the protagonists spend so much that time together it makes sense that feelings would grow rather fast as well. I can understand that the Gabriella and Nathanial had to have some excuse for spending so much time together, not to mention make it possible for them to sleep together, but the reason given for Gabriella moving into the house was more than a little far-fetched. But I guess a lot of stuff in romance novels is so I can't let it get to me too much. As I mentioned in my review for "A Little Bit Wicked" Alexander can be a master at dialogue and she does not disappoint in this novel at all. Gabriella and Nathanial engage in amazingly fun and well written banter, arguments, discussion, and lectures without it getting petty or annoying as it so often does. Especially fun "discussions" occur when Nathanial discovers Gabriella is not a virgin and every time they discuss their future or love.

Unfortunately much of this greatness turned out to be just a prologue to one of the most frustrating endings I have ever read. The downfall starts with our intelligent, level-headed heroine running into a burning building to fetch letters that had been written to her mother. We are supposed to realize these letters are important to her because her mother died while giving birth to her, but... running into a burning building? I almost wished she would burn. It gets worse when, of course, she is on her death bed, so Nathanial has to arrange to save the reputation of a man who doesn't deserve any sort of reputation saving. And gets worse as Alexander does everything he has to to keep our protagonists from having their happily ever after before page 370 (the historical romance novel end all), including some far-fetched trip to find a ridiculous necklace. And instead of telling his mother to shove it, that he wants to go back to the injured woman he loves, he goes along with it! Not to mention she learns about important family information through a LETTER! AND we have the obligatory "OMG! It might not work out! It's not working out!" until the final 2 (yes 2) pages when everything is resolved. Except, we discover in the epilogue, the mystery of what actually happened to the seal- you know, what the book was about. It was just a one-two-three-four-five....fifty... punch of stupidity coming at me for 30ish pages. Also- very little steam; 2 kisses, 1 actual steamy scene.

Rating: I gave "A Little Bit Wicked" the benefit of the doubt, but while at first I could not decide between 3 and 4 hearts, the ending left me confused between 2 and 3 hearts. The ending sealed it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Historical Christmas Present

My first review of a collection! Decided to review each story independently of each other with each getting a separate rating.

"I Will" by Lisa Kleypas

Andrew, Lord Drake, has just discovered his soon to be deceased father has cut him out of his will due to his dissolute behavior. In an attempt to convince his father he has changed his ways Andrew invests the help of his friend Cade's sister, Caroline who has an impeccable reputation and at 26 is definitely on the shelf. When Andrew promises to pay of Cade's immense gambling debt and leave him alone- no more tagging along to brothels, gambling hells, etc..., Caroline agrees to help the ruse. Everyone, including Andrew's father, easily guesses that the courtship is a ruse, except Caroline's featherbrained mother Fanny, but it isn't long before both Andrew and Caroline are beginning to notice their feelings for each other. Andrew is entranced by Caroline's incongruous mix of innocence and temptation and Caroline is falling in love with the new Andrew whom she has helped emerged- one who doesn't drink or gamble. Unfortunately Andrew is equally certain that this new Andrew does not really exist and as much as he would like to admit his feelings for Caroline he is terrified that the old Andrew will come out and ruin Caroline's happiness. When Andrew's father finally dies Andrew and Caroline are confronted with both of them having to deal with Andrew's past and deciding his future.

I do not think the plot of the heroine saving the hero from his horrible past and his debauched ways can work in a short story. It's hard to pull off even with the full 370 pages, but, I believe, impossible to do in slightly more than 100. There is not enough time to really get to know how the character has changed and we don't know enough about him to be sure that he will stay that way. This comes close, but she took on a little too much- his demons were too strong, his past too haunted, his wickedness a little too wicked to overcome. I liked the realistic relationships between the various family members; Caroline and her brother and mother, and Andrew with his illegitimate half-brother and his domineering father. This one also had by far the most amount of steam- approximately 25 pages were dedicated to steam and most of it was good. There was certainly a good bit of angst when Caroline began to doubt Andrew and, one good thing about such a short book, it couldn't really drag on too long. I don't know whether I not I liked the confrontation scene near the end between Andrew and Caroline. I like the idea of a heroine fighting for her man, but when he repeatedly tells her he's not interested (even it is just to protect her and he really does love her) it just seems a little too much like masochism. But oddly enough the part of this book that really stuck in my head was how Kleypas consistently referred to Andrew's sister-in-law as "girl." Despite being a RITA Award winner this was definitely not the best in the book and far from the best Kleypas has turned out.

"Three French Hens" by Lynsay Sands
Brinna is a scullery maid in the household of Lord Menton when she is suddenly called upon to act as lady's maid to Lady Joan Laythem. Upon noticing a striking resemblance between herself and Brinna, Joan insists that Brinna take her place and deal with Lord Royce Thurleah, whom Joan's father had arranged a marriage with years ago. Despite being told Joan was spoiled and surly Royce is strongly attracted to Brinna and pleasantly surprised to find her level headed and willing to help others. Royce is ecstatic to find that the woman he has to marry to gain her dowry for his property (his father had left his estates riddled with debt and poor management) is also the woman he is rapidly falling in love with. The arrival of Joan's father throws a kink in the plans but Joan is determined to continue the charade until the day of the wedding finally arrives. Brinna is horrified to discover that Joan has run off with Royce's cousin Phillip and left her to deal with the consequences, and the penalty for impersonating a noble person is death. In our climactic ending we discover some very interesting things and everything ends up perfectly happily ever after.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story- I wish Lynsay Sands had written more non-vampire books. I loved Brinna and I even came to enjoy the comical moments that Joan, and her cousin Sabrina brought to the story. The happily-ever-after was perfect but did make sense, although the explanation behind it was a tad far-fetched, but still believable. There was angst, there was steam- although not too much- there was funny moments and there was a very believable romance between Royce and Brinna. It did get a tad bit maudlin as Brinna reflected that maybe her life had been better than Joan's as at least Brinna had the love of her surrogate mother Aggie. I wasn't really up for a poor little rich girl theme. The funny scenes inevitably came about when Brinna would forget how to behave as a proper lady and would do something so uncouth as to fall in the snow or use the word "arse." However Royce falling in love with Brinna seemed more realistic than her falling in love with him- he was a bit of a non-starter. Better than "I Will" and I liked feeling as if I really had read a whole story (even if I could have used more interaction between Brinna an Royce) and not like I had been cheated.

"Father Christmas" by Leigh Greenwood
Joe Ryan has been on the run from the law ever since he escaped from prison in Colorado where he had been wrongfully convicted of stealing the gold his partner, Pete Wilson, had taken. After escaping Joe realized that the best place to look would be Pete's ranch as Pete could not have had time to move the gold before he had been shot during a card game. When Joe shows up he discovers Pete's very pregnant wife Mary and his daughter from a previous marriage, Sarah. Joe is inexplicably drawn to the miniature family and finds himself taking care of the two women and their farm. He cooks, he fixes fences, he teaches Sarah how to milk the cow and Mary begins to fall in love with him as the man who would take care of her, appreciate her and never leave her, as he begins to fall in love with her as the woman he could be a family with, love, and never leave. But time is running out for Joe and he knows that unless he finds the gold Pete must have hidden he will have to make a dash for it before the authorities come to haul him away. The arrival of the baby pushes his escape back and makes him more and more determined to find the gold, stay and become a part of the family. Christmas day is when our story comes to a happy ending, our loose ends our tied up, and Joe and Mary live happily-ever-after.

This was the most romantic of the stories in the collection but there was also next to no steam seeing as how our heroine was 8 months pregnant, although we were definitely made aware that Joe and Mary were drawn and certainly very attracted to each other. I guess I am a sucker for family/ baby stories because I loved reading about Joe falling in love and the scene where he was dealing with the birth was just amazing to read. She made it funny and heart wrenching at the same time. Basically all the scenes where Sarah, Joe, Mary, and the baby were involved- in any combination, were so touching. I believe it would have gotten old really fast if the book had been longer, but 100 pages was perfect for this kind of story. This was also the only real story where Christmas was really mentioned- it played a part in the other story- but in this one Christmas was where everything was settled and, literally, everybody's dream came true. I really enjoyed this story but I would really have appreciated a little more steam, even if it was just in a kiss.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Wild Pursuit

A Wild Pursuit by Eloisa James

A Wild Pursuit follows the antics of ... 3, 4... I don't know how many, different couples. Our setting is the house of the widowed Lady Esme Rawling who is her final month of confinement. An odd setting for a house party but she is indeed joined by her aunt Arebella, her lover, and several other parties. Our "main" couple, the one discussed on the back blurb, is Lady Beatrix Lennox and Mr. Stephen Fairfax-Lacey. Twenty-three year old Beatrix, Bea, is the disgraced daughter of a duke who had been kicked out of her father's house, and all respectable ton functions, after being found in a compromising position. Unlike other "compromising" positions this one was indeed compromising as our heroine is far from a virgin. She decks herself out in face paints, low cut and see through gowns and throws seductive glances at every man in her path. Stephen is 43 year-old member of the House of Commons whose dedication to the working man, despite being a Tory, has earned him a reputation as a completely respectable member of society as he is the heir to another dukedom. Upon first meeting Bea deems Stephen a "puritan" and he believes she is merely pretending to be a wanton and is hiding something he desperately wants to uncover. Both are wildly attracted to each other.

Our other characters include Esme, who is desperately trying to regain respectability through any means necessary, and the appearance of her lover, disguised as her estates gardner, is not helping matters. Neither is the fact that she is not 100% sure if Sebastian, Marquess of Bonnington, or her deceased husband Miles, is the father. And of course there is the fact that her husband died in a tuffle with Sebastian when he had snuck into Esme's bedchamber for a little tete-a-tete. They are joined by Lady Helene Godwin who had been kicked out her husband, Rees Earl of Godwin's, house and replaced by an opera singer in her husband's bed, mere months after their Gretna Green elopment. In an attempt to make her husband jealous she begins a fake affair with Stephen, but alas her husband has little reaction except to once again refuse her pleas for a divorce. And in a last ditch effort to keep Sebastian away from her, and protect her respectability, Esme claims to be engaged to Stephen. Neither the supposed affair or the supposed engagement make Bea happy, nor do Stephen's demands that she woo him instead of seduce him.

The most notable aspect of this book was the sheer amount of characters and "romances" involved. We got to read the story from the point of view of everyone involved and it certainly took skill on the part of Eloisa James that she was able to sympathetically portray not only our six heroes and heroines, but also different family members as well. But a 380 page book doesn't have room for 3 different romances and it shows. I was definitely left wishing I had learned more about Bea and Stephen and that their romance could have used quite a bit more fleshing out, especially in the bedroom. Both Esme and Sebastian and Helene and Rees' stories are obviously only partly explored in this book. There are numerous references to events that have happened in the past, presumably in previous books, and they will be continued in other books. While she certainly does a great job of providing enough back story that we are not left in the dark about events we haven't read about, it would have been nice to have read a whole romance from beginning to end. It was almost like she couldn't provide all the great things in a romance novel in one cople; we had sex between Sebastian and Esme, angst between Helene and Rees, and actual getting to know you and fall in love between Bea and Stephen. I also found it odd that so little mention was given to the 20 year age difference between Stephen and Bea except for him occasionally and briefly complaining about his age.

None of the couples provided much steam, although their bedroom antics were certainly laughable. My favorite is a scene where Helene throws herself at Stephen only to have both of them realize it's not what either of them want. A few allusion filled scenes between Sebastian and Esme are cut short before anything remotely exciting happens while the one (yes one) scene between Bea and Stephen is short, riddled with just plain odd happenings and is far from being steamy. I did like the way the author portrayed the relationship between Esme and her new son, William; she is overprotective after her younger brother died shortly after birth, and between Esme and her severely disapproving mother. And it was nice to read about so many fun women, with only a little in common, getting along so well and helping each other out, including Lady Bonnington reforming her prissish ways to help Esme through labor. Unfortunately Eloisa saved the best for the very end when both Bea and Esme decide it's time to declare their love and the epilogues were done very well.

Rating: I would have liked more of Bea and Stephen, less information from other romance novels and less setting up of her upcoming novels. I have given out quite a few 2 hearts recently and this isn't anywhere near as good as most of them.