Injured war veteran and former spy Damien Northfield has been called upon by his friend, Sir Charles Peyton, to put his former spy skills to good use in investigating the potential blackmailer and murderer of several nobles within their circle. Lady Lillian (Lily) Bourne, with the enthusiastic assistance of the Dowager Duchess of Eddington, is re-entering society and the season after a disastrous elopement to Viscount Sebring which left her reputation in shambles. While attending the latest formal ball, Lily retires to the library for a moment of solitude from the evening’s social expectations only to discover Damien being pursued by Lady Piedmont, wife of the man who is pursuing the seat of Prime Minister. Lady Piedmont’s forward nature is quite irritating to Damien whose intentions were to also seek a moment of solitary refuge. With a firm and quick rejection, he places her outside the hall of the library and quickly locks the door. Damien knows there is someone else in the room and after pouring himself a well needed brandy, he announces his knowledge of Lily’s presence and makes his introduction. Both are intrigued by the other, but Lily knows her reputation cannot afford another scandal, so she precedes to leave, only to break the key in the lock and cause them to be stuck alone together in the library. Finally realizing escape through a secret passage is their only option, they brave the darkness and arrive at the cellars unscathed and unnoticed. Lily returns to the ball and Damien quietly takes his leave. Upon pursuit of information as to the mystery of the blackmailer, Damien quickly learns that Lily may be the connection due to the circumstances surrounding her scandalous elopement. Once a spy, always a spy, Damien sets out to find out the true nature of the circumstances surrounding Viscount Sebring’s rejection of Lily and also hopes to answer a few of his own personal feelings with regard to his new found pursuit of Lillian Borne.
This is my first disappointing read by Emma Wildes and to be honest, I almost DNFed the book. The pace was very slow after Lily and Damien’s initial meeting. They had very little interaction in the first half of the book and Ms. Wildes focused more on the blackmail mystery (which was lacking in itself) as opposed to the romantic nature of this couple. I was truly bored through the majority of the book and this is a first for me with Ms. Wildes’ work. For a spy, Damien’s personality lacked flair and enticement. His character was overall flat even in his personal pursuit of Lily. (It was page 192 before they experienced their first kiss.) I am a reader of many genres and when I read historical romance I do not expect a “smut” aspect. However, I do expect chemistry and passion and to be captivated by the main couple in a way that just the sexual tension is enough to satisfy. I never felt like Lily and Damien developed those attributes and therefore, their interaction was quite mundane in a romantic sense. What saved the book was the developing romance of the secondary characters, James Bourne (Lily’s cousin) and artist/painter Regina Doudet (half-sister of Viscount Altea). Regina is seven year’s his senior and after being deeply hurt and betrayed by a lover years ago, she has decided that she has no intentions of seeking love or commitment with any man-until James. Regina and James chemistry was immediate and charming and their seductive story is what kept me reading to the end.
The blackmailer’s identity was obvious early on and provided little drama to the overall storyline. Sebring’s reasoning as to why he did not marry Lily and allowed her to take the fall of their elopement was a mystery that was quickly solved as well. Disappointedly so, the overall tone of the story is not what I have come to expect from Ms. Wildes. I am hoping this is a one time incident and that her future books will once again feature her well-known ability to create engaging and appealing romance.
Regina sat down in one of the chairs and deliberately let her dressing gown drape open.
“Do we really want to discuss biblical applications of artistic endeavors, or shall we explore yet again the more earthly aspect of the term biblical?”
He grinned. “I favor the latter.”