2003, European Historical Romance (Victorian England)
Avon, $7.50, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0380811073 Part of a series
Last year I discovered Lisa Kleypas after giving in to word-of-mouth recommendations and picking up Dreaming of You. I've been steadily working my way through her backlist ever since. So when the chance to review her latest arose, I jumped at it. It was definitely worth the opportunity to read early, as this book passed the ultimate test: it kept me, a Nervous Nelly flier, from dwelling on the laws of aerodynamics and my mind occupied during 11 hrs of flying from home from England. It takes a really, really good story to pull off that feat.
The story opens with Nick Gentry, first introduced in Lady Sophia's Lover, arriving at an upscale brothel. Nick is unable to tolerate the touch of anyone, let alone a woman, and at the age of 24, he's desperate to work through his problems long enough to have sex. With the help of the Madame, he finds a way to get past of some of his issues, and he becomes an accomplished lover in the process.
Flash forward three years later. Nick was once one of London's most notorious thief-takers and underworld figures, but a deal with his brother-in-law, Sir Ross Cannon, kept him from the hangman's noose, and instead he's become one of Bow Streets most daring runners. With a reputation for capturing the most dangerous criminals and solving the hardest cases, he's sought out for private commissions - which is why is he's lolling around in the country when he'd rather be in London chasing criminals. Lord Radnor wants Nick to find his runaway fianc�e, Charlotte "Lottie" Howard. Nick has traced her to a country estate where she's working as a lady's companion. He follows her there, posing as Viscount Sydney.
Lottie has lived a peaceful life for the past two years, despite always looking over her shoulder. Betrothed to a man old enough to be her father was bad enough, but Lord Radnor was obsessive and controlling. He sent her away to a boarding school where he dictated what she'd be taught, what she'd eat, how she dressed, and even how she should think. Lottie couldn't face the prison that would be her marriage to Radnor, so she ran. She's careful not to let anyone get too close, but Lord Sydney intrigues and overwhelms her. In a brief time she finds herself attracted to him.
Nick is shocked to find himself attracted to Lottie as well. He thought he could give her back to Radnor, but the more he gets to know her, the less willing he is to let her go. Unfortunately her employer finds out who Nick is and blows his cover. Lottie is understandably upset, but proposes a compromise: if Nick will protect her, she'll be his mistress. That's not enough; Nick wants it all. He'll be her protector if she becomes his wife. Lottie soon finds herself tangled up in a marriage to a man she could grow to love, if only he'd let her.
So begins a beautiful romance between two very intriguing characters. Lottie never once comes across as helpless. Yes, marrying Nick solved many of her problems and made her life easier, but the reader knows she could've survived on her own. Even towards the end, where the opportunity arises for a TSTL moment, Lottie shows common sense; instead of rushing off alone to face the villain, she takes someone with her. Most important, Lottie doesn't let her emotions run away with her. Many heroines would've used the fact that the hero lied in the beginning as an excuse to pout and hold it against him for the duration of the book, but not Lottie. She accepts what happened, gives Nick what for and then moves on. I like that in a heroine.
This is very much Nick's book though. Even if one hasn't read Lady Sophia's Lover they learn right away about his past, and that he was put in a prison hulk at 14 years old. Forced by a need to escape before he was molested, he took on the identity of another boy who had died, Nick Gentry, and let his real identity, John, Viscount Sydney, die. That incident haunts Nick and has molded him into the man he's become. As the story unfolds we see him coming to terms with the fact he survived when the real Nick Gentry didn't, and coming to accept his place in society as Lord Sydney. But more importantly, Nick comes to accept that he is deserving of love.
I only had one real quibble with this book and it relates to the sensuality rating. I said the book was hot and many will interpret as such. To me it seemed clinical. It read like Kleypas had a list to make the book provocative:
exposure fantasy: check!
bondage fantasy: check!
mention Tantric sex: check!
When the book focused on Nick and Lottie and how they felt about each other, let the sexual tension build naturally, and just went with the flow of things it was hot, but when Nick started bragging about learning techniques from the madame he used to visit, I was pulled out of the story.
We do get to visit with characters from previous books and their presence doesn't feel forced, they actually have an important and legitimate roll in the book. For the historical purists there is some fudging with the dates of Bow Street's activity, but Kleypas explains her reason for doing so in a note at the end of the book. Worth Any Price is a moving love story and I recommend it to one and all.
-- Jennifer Schendel
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Don't miss Lisa Kleypas's DIK review of The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale