Where the Heart Leads

Stephanie Laurens
2008, European Historical Romance (1830s [Victorian] England)
William Morrow, $24.95, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061243396
Part of a series

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Hot

Stephanie Laurens is a rather prolific author, so I have felt weird about never having read any of her books. I vaguely recall starting one, but never finishing, so when I got the chance to review Where the Heart Leads, I jumped on it, feeling grateful that I would finally be able to check her name off my list of authors I need to read. Well, now I know why I probably didnít finish that first book...and I no longer have a desire to finish another! But hey, at least I got that check mark.

Barnaby Adair has been feeling incomplete as of late. He thoroughly enjoys his work with the police force, but his latest case, which occupied much of his time, has just concluded and left him with little to do. While Barnaby ponders his current state of ennui late one night, in walks Penelope Ashford with a new challenge for him. He has met her once before and can clearly recall the sensation of shaking hands with the willful woman. The reputation she has for flaunting societyís restrictions is obviously earned, as she is without escort in a bachelorís home late in the evening. But he gladly dismisses the manner of her entrance in favor of jumping on a new project.

Penelope is the current administrator of the Foundling House, an organization that takes in orphans and finds them a place in the world. Their practice is to visit the homes of applicants and ensure everything is ready for when the time comes that a child becomes orphaned and needs a placement. However, some of the boys who should have been picked up by the Foundling House were collected by someone else. When a fourth boy turns up missing as well, Penelope does a little sleuthing of her own and discovers that the same man appears to be making off with her boys. Taking matters into her own hands, she seeks the help of Mr. Adair, who is well-known throughout the ton as a successful chaser of villains.

Both Barnaby and Penelope have decided that they will never marry. It is a fine enough institution for some people, but would only inhibit their freedom and their ability to do what they love most. No proper gentleman would ever allow Penelope to work at the Foundling House in her current capacity, which includes frequent visits to the East End. And what lady would want a gentleman husband who plays with the police and enjoys putting himself in danger? But they are decidedly attracted to each other. The most innocent touch from Barnaby sends shocks through Penelopeís body, which is new to her. As a woman who wants to know everything (and often thinks she does), she decides to learn firsthand what desire and passion mean, and Barnaby is only too willing to oblige her.

If I met Penelope in real life (and was privy to her thoughts), I would hate the woman. I could not understand why Barnaby, who seems a decent enough fellow, would end up falling in love with such an arrogant, pompous woman. It was frequently mentioned that she thought little of the male mind and included Barnaby among that grouping. By the end she had graciously allowed him acceptance into the elite class of those she felt were as smart as her, but he had to prove himself again and again. She never seemed to like him, let alone truly care for him as an equal. During their sexual experiments, I felt she was only using him to further her knowledge and half expected her to move on to another man to see if she could achieve the same results. It must be mentioned, though, that when I wasn't thinking of the characters involved, I did enjoy the style of the love scenes.

I don't necessarily prefer alpha to beta heroes and try to judge each character as he is, but my proclivities became clear as a result of reading this book. Had a hero acted like Penelope, I'd forgive it more. Not the Iím-the-smartest-person-in-the-world syndrome, but the dominant, alpha part of Penelopeís personality. It didnít look good on her; made her seem the epitome of arrogance. But I liked Barnaby less for his acceptance of her nature. He continually followed at her heels. Apparently I only like betas when theyíre done well, and that is not the case here.

A cute secondary romance developed during the book's first half, but then the author forgot about them. Their story drops out of the picture and ties up only at the end of the book. But at times the mystery grabbed me, and I wanted to know the welfare of the kidnapped boys. And the points of view of the criminals made for some interesting moments. Yet the final denouement dragged and was rather hokey. For fans out there, this is called a Cynster novel, but no Cynster makes an appearance Ė they are only mentioned (Penelope has siblings who have married members of that family).

Where the Heart Leads desperately needed some charming characters to make it a worthwhile read. After reading several other reviews for this author, I found a definite theme amongst them that made me realize itís probably not such a bad thing that I havenít read her before. I certainly don't see myself doing so in the future.

-- Andi Davis

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