Here’s the premise: Gillie Muir is struggling to make ends meet after her father’s death. Genteel card parties and some cooperation with the local smugglers mean she’s just holding on, but it’s difficult and she’s gradually being ostracised by good society. But newly-fashionable spa town Blackhaven in Cumberland attracts some odd characters, and when Lord Wickenden (known as the Wicked Baron) arrives, Gillie’s world is torn apart. In an echo of Heyer’s ‘Faro’s Daughter’, the baron has arrived to detach Gillie from a suitor whose mother thinks him unsuitable. He needn’t have bothered, for Gillie has no interest in the suitor. The wicked baron is another matter, however…
There’s a lot going on in the background here, what with the smuggling and some other undercover business (trying to avoid spoilers here) and various romantic entanglements. The heart of the book, however, is Gillie and Lord Wickenden. He starts by trying to bed her directly, then tries to woo her more subtly and ends up entirely entangled in her affairs and revealing a much more generous nature. Gillie, on the other hand, falls instantly in love and that can only end badly… can’t it? I confess to astonishment at the number of inventive ways and places and situations the baron exploited to steal a kiss from Gillie, but it felt completely in character for him, and I totally understand why Gillie fell for him.
The ending is suitably dramatic and my only complaint is that, even when our hero and heroine have reached what appears to be an unshakable accommodation, the author throws up yet more bumps on their road to a HEA. I felt Gillie was being pretty silly at the end there, and in fact her judgement was a bit suspect in other ways, too. However, she’s a fine independent lady and a good match for the wicked baron, so I forgive her.
The historical accuracy is almost impeccable, apart from a few trivial errors. For those who like their Regencies totally sex-free, there is one tasteful but graphic sex scene and a certain amount of impassioned kissing and general lusting.
I loved this book, and since I had the smarts to pick up the first four books of the series as a box set, I’ve got plenty more of Mary Lancaster’s work to enjoy. Highly recommended. Five stars.