Here’s the premise: seven years earlier, Catherine (Kitty) Bowman eloped to marry Simon Eastwick, and quickly discovered she’d made a hideous mistake. Simon is a crook through and through, and caught up with the evil underworld boss known as Flint. Now Simon’s dead, but Kitty’s nightmare isn’t over, because Flint is after her. With the aid of her sister and friends, she escapes London to hide away in Newmarket.
Helping her is cynical rake Nicholas Dacre, living a privileged life as a gentleman but also taking risks uncovering crime. Helping Kitty opens his eyes to a different, much less privileged, world without a multitude of servants at one’s beck and call. And of course Kitty opens his heart, too.
I liked both hero and heroine. Kitty’s resourceful and down-to-earth. Despite her upper-class upbringing, she’s spent years struggling to manage with little money and a cruel, negligent husband and she’s lost any pretensions to gentility. Her story is utterly heart-breaking, but her spirit isn’t broken in the least. Nick’s the dependable man she’s never known, but he has his own tragic history. The way these two circle round to an accommodation is brilliant. It’s unorthodox, but it’s perfect for their characters and histories.
Along the way, there are some lovely minor characters to spice things up. I particularly loved Molly (a respectable house, indeed!) and Kitty’s young daughter. The villain was pretty obvious from an early stage, but the denouement was still deliciously dramatic. My only complaint, and it’s a very minor one, is that there are a huge number of characters from previous books in the series popping up throughout. I couldn’t remember much about them, and would have liked perhaps a sentence or two more about some of them to remind me. However, there’s a full list at the front of the book and my leaky memory didn’t make any difference to my enjoyment of the story.
One word of warning: there’s nothing terribly graphic here but there’s quite a lot of off-screen sex going on outside of marriage, prostitution and some discussion of sexual and physical abuse. This is entirely in keeping with the characters’ connections with London crime rings, but this is not a fluffy traditional Regency of ball gowns and marriage prospects. It is, however, a very realistic look at the darker side of Regency life, a story that’s less often in the spotlight and although parts of it are very moving, it’s not at all a grim, depressing read. I loved every minute of it, the romance is wonderful and Jan Jones’ writing is, as always, word perfect. Five stars.