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.