All Through the Night by Connie Brockway
After her outwardly saintly husband died while working as a navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars, Anne Wilder sets up a charity to help returned soldiers. She quickly discovers that while everyone is happy to pledge money, very few are actually willing to part with it. She takes to stealing into people's houses and while at first she only takes from those who have reneged on pledges soon she begins hitting people who have flung away or flaunted money without a care for the thousands of soldiers who fought in the war and returned home to an uncaring government. Jack Seward has been put on the case by Knowles, an important behind-the-scenes person in the government, and Jamison, another secret person in the government and believed to be Jack's father. Jamison and Knowles believe that the thief has recently come into possession of a very important letter with the potential to bring down the government when it was hidden in a secret compartment in a chest she stole. But no one knows that the Wrexhall Wraith is a woman and it has become almost a point of honor for the women of the ton to be victimized by the scandalous thief. When Jack and Anne first meet at a ton ball he is immediately drawn to her because of the way she holds herself apart from everyone and he senses that there is some inner pain in her- something that can connect them.
Jack comes so close to catching his thief but she teases him and arouses him until the finely hones skills he possesses to read those around him abandon him. He is convinced that she tricked him and becomes even more convinced that he must catch her at all costs. But the widow Anne Wilder continues to distract him and she panics when she believes that he is spending too much attention on her, making her rethink her relationship with her dead husband, and once again decides to taunt him into refocusing on catching the thief. Jack has narrowed his list of suspects down until he finally discovers that Anne is the Wraith he has long sought. He wants to hate her and knows that she has been lying to him from the first moment they met yet Jack cannot deny the draw that Anne has. When Jamison also discovers that Anne is the thief Jack is determined to protect her from his "father" and his cronies. Anne is terrified at what Jack could possibly uncover that she holds buried inside herself for the marriage that the world had regarded as perfect was in fact a hellhole of broken dreams, unrealistic expectations, and psychiatric torture. Uncovering the layers of hurt Anne suffered at the hands of her over-caring husband also releases the demons in Jack's past that come from lying about his parentage and together they realize that whatever Jamison tries to send their way they can fight.
I know that the synopsis makes this book seems very heavy on the "side-plot" of the thief, but Brockway actually did a very good job of inserting important elements of the romance into the story, even if at the time only one protagonist was present and s/he was just thinking about the other. There was certainly a lot of inner dialogue going on throughout the book as each charcter had a lot of inner struggles to deal with. I found Anne's dead husband problems a little odd, but it was certainly an interesting and new take and I enjoyed watching how Anne went from being completely bogged down from the guilt he instilled in her to the realization that she was not to blame for his death (and the death of the men he commanded) and that he had been the one with the problem. Jack was a little harder to deal with and it's not entirely resolved as to whether he was entirely able to squash his own guilt about taking the place as Jamison's son even though another boy was the true son. And Jack's own actions were amazingly puzzling; the man who claims him as his son, although they both know this isn't the truth, uses him and treats him horribly, refers to him as a "thing" and a creature he created, and yet Jack never rebels in any way until the very end when he is forced to in order to protect Anne. Kind of seems odd for a hero.
Brockway also does an excellent job of explaining that special something that Anne has always attracted people (namely men) to her. So many other authors resort to the heroine being pretty or just chalk it up to a pretty smile, but Anne is a well developed character who people are drawn to because she is her own person, she is self assured, and she is not afraid of herself. This book was very slow though, there was none of the witty dialogue/ banter that I despise when it is done to extreme, but I realize is essential for the "fun" and fast element of romance novels. Brockway is a great writer and certainly has a way with words and she goes into exquisite detail about what our characters are going through, sometime for better, sometime for worse.The side plot was obviously an essential part of the book and it didn't necessarily get in the way but it definitely took over and became the most essential part of the book. The sex was far from plentiful and while hot, some of it had an odd element to it that is hard to put my finger to it. There was a feeling that, while he felt lust for her and wanted her, he was still mad at her and wanted to punish her- although there was no force or anything remotely violent. There was a great amount of non- overwhelming angst but it wasn't exactly angst but more like resignation.
Rating: I liked the book and I loved the characters, but the book just had an overwhelming gloom of depression that, while interesting and new, wasn't exactly what I was looking for in a romance novel.