Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt
Winter Makepeace has lived his life helping others from running a home for orphaned children in the seedy areas of St. Giles to masquerading as the Ghost of St. Giles. As the ghost, Winter fights against injustice and protects those weaker than him, but his anonymity has lead many to paint him as a villain and law enforcements is searching for him. One night, after saving the life of Charming Mickey O'Connor because his sister is in love with him, Winter is wounded and while escaping through the streets is picked up by the widowed Lady Isabel Beckinhall. Isabel leads a charmed life, she is popular with the ladies of the ton and she immerses herself in fashion and charity. She is immediately taken with the ghost of St. Giles as her household works to save his life even though she never removes his mask. The two share a passionate kiss but both know that the ghost will never reveal himself to a lady. Winter goes back to the orphanage and Isabel continues with her life.
The orphanage he runs has lately been endorsed by a ladies charitable syndicate and the leader of the group decides that Winter does not do an adequate job of presenting the home and wants to install a new manager. Isabel decides to take Winter under her wing and teach him how to operate in society and while Winter is reluctant but he does want to continue running the orphanage. It is not long before Isabel begins to suspect that Winter is the ghost and as the two become closer he finds that he can confide in her and their relationship grows stronger. But Winter is determined that he will never give up his crusade for those less fortunate even if that means giving up his own chance at a true marriage. He needs to find the peer who is running a child sweatshop that sews ladies' stockings but with the police force on his back it is extremely difficult. At the end of the day he must decide if helping the children at his orphanage and making the woman he loves happy is enough of a reward and Isabel must show him that a life of happiness is within his grasp.
I have been eagerly anticipating this book for what feels like forever and after 3 books that hinted at the ghosts' identity, and reading about how monk-like Winter Makepeace was, I could not wait to read his story. He proves to be just as intriguing a character as I had anticipated. He was conscientious and caring, he wanted to help those less fortunate and he was single-minded in this pursuit, and a man who is so great with kids is always fascinating to me! I was not surprised that his chosen life had meant a life of celibacy for him and so I knew that whatever woman convinced him to find his own happiness first had to be spectacular. Isabel, while not as spectacular as I had anticipated for Winter, was perfectly acceptable for Winter and they did work as a couple really well and I enjoyed reading about their relationship. They spend quite a bit of time together and I really sensed the development in their relationship, which is something I always look for.
I did not enjoy how so much of their character was, quite literally, hidden behind masks, as if they were hiding their real selves from everyone and only could reveal themselves to each other. While this is a romance novels staple, I wanted more from Hoyt and was disappointed by how often this was mentioned. It started to seem like the characters themselves were not real people because they were so busy hiding. There was surprisingly little sex for a Hoyt book, and for a book about a male virgin who should have been far more excited about the prospect of losing it to such a wonderful woman, and it was not really all that exciting and stuffed toward the back of the book. The plot with the ghost and the police did take over the book eventually and it really did seem like it played an equally important role with the actual romance and I was surprised by how little interest I had for it. I also found the writing surprisingly flowery for Hoyt who usually has such great writing.
Rating: An enjoyable book, far from Hoyt's best, but two well suited characters who I liked and who had a strong relationship, with an interesting side plot.