I’m very torn on this one. The early parts I loved, despite the whole plot veering way into the red zone on the plausibility meter. But the later parts – meh. And most of the good/meh dichotomy springs directly from the hero’s behaviour. When he’s gentle and tender with the heroine, he’s lovely. When he turns into the Hulk – not so much.
So here’s the (highly implausible) premise: Grant Morgan has risen from the gutter to become one of the most feared and respected Bow Street Runners, specialising in jobs for banks which pay rather well. He’s become rich enough to live like a gentleman and get himself invited to at least the fringes of good society. That’s where he encounters drop-dead-gorgeous courtesan Vivian Duvall, but when he turns down her proposition, she spreads the rumour that she had turned him down, making him a laughing stock. So when Vivian washes up in the Thames almost dead, Grant takes her home and decides that he’s going to make sure she lives so that he can have his revenge on her. Only trouble is, she’s lost her memory, and she doesn’t behave at all like the Vivian he knows…
So far, so wildly unlikely, but never mind. In the early chapters, Grant’s forceful personality is all focused on getting Vivian well again, and not alarming her, so that she will stay around long enough for him to have his wicked way with her. This makes him delightfully gentle and thoughtful, and I really liked the way such a big, powerful man was portrayed, treating her as delicately as a child. But of course he has an end in view, so it isn’t long before he’s getting inappropriately close to her, holding her on his lap and even getting into bed with her (purely to keep her warm, you understand).
This is where the story veers off the rails somewhat, because Vivian is, at this point, behaving with uncharacteristic innocence, considering she’s a renowned and shameless courtesan, while also finding herself inexplicably drawn to her supposed protector (who’s actually planning to ravish her). Grant’s motives are pretty clear at this point, but hers are far murkier, and I didn’t find them particularly convincing.
But when she starts to recover, the plan to solve the mystery of her attempted murder gets pretty silly. Having spent the first half of the book keeping Vivian’s survival a secret, and hiding her safely away where she can be protected, Grant parades her in front of half the ton at a fancy evening do, having deliberately invited every likely murderer along. And then he lets her wander off into the gardens alone. This is where the plot lost its last tenuous grip on plausibility.
After that, it all gets too silly for words, and falls down the rabbit-hole of Cliche-Land, and Grant turns into the Hulk. Frankly, I skimmed most of this nonsense. On the plus side, the author can write, and she’s done her research, and if there was a little too much detail on clothing and furnishings for my taste, that’s a personal preference, not a criticism. I liked the premise here, of two characters who are mingling with the fringes of society while being from a much lower class, and I liked some aspects of Grant’s personality. Vivian suffered from being too contradictory to be believable, but then I’ve always had trouble believing in heroines who are supposed to be oh-so-virginal, but turn into drooling puddles of lust as soon as the hero smiles rakishly at them. The sex scenes were pretty much the usual for the genre, after a long, slow build-up with a ton of sexual tension. This was an interesting read, if not wholly successful for me, so I’m going with three stars, but there was enough potential that I’ll certainly try another Kleypas in future.