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.