Why I read it: I've read Ms. Thomas' 3 previous releases and enjoyed them all. Plus, I thought they kept getting better so I was excited to read this new story. I read the excerpt on her website and I knew I was in for a treat.
What it's about: (here's the blurb from the author's website)
Elissande Edgerton is a desperate woman, a virtual prisoner in the home of her tyrannical uncle. Only through marriage can she claim the freedom she craves. But how to catch the perfect man?
Lord Vere is used to baiting irresistible traps. As a secret agent for the government, he’s tracked down some of the most devious criminals in London, all the while maintaining his cover as one of Society’s most harmless—and idiotic—bachelors. But nothing can prepare him for the scandal of being ensnared by Elissande.
Forced into a marriage of convenience, Elissande and Vere are each about to discover they’re not the only one with a hidden agenda. With seduction their only weapon against each other—and a dark secret from the past endangering both their lives—can they learn to trust each other even as they surrender to a passion that won’t be denied?
What worked for me: In short, just about everything. I think this is my favourite kind of story. Vere is a hero in the true sense of the word - he serves Justice (always written in the book with a capital J) and he solves crime and he doesn't get any accolades for it - and, whether he initially wants to or not, he rescues Elissande from a terrible situation (and Elissande's Aunt Rachel too). I'm a sucker for a good rescue - it's my very favourite thing to read about. I don't enjoy that a character is in trouble, but in a strange way, the direness of the situation is almost directly proportional to the amount of enjoyment I get when the rescue happens. In this book, there are some situational rescues along the way but really, the whole story is one big rescue story.
He kissed her on the forehead. "I'm sorry, my love. We should not have come. And you need never return here again."
He had been here, as he'd promised. And she had not been alone.
Such simple words but in the context of the book... oh my... *fans self*.
Plus, because I'm uncomfortable with the idea of only the hero doing the rescuing, Elissande does a "Pretty Woman" and rescues Vere right back. He is broken and damaged inside and she inspires him and encourages him to rise above. *sigh*
I enjoyed the secondary romance between Freddie and Angelica too. It was brief and cute and sweet and it did serve as some light relief in a book which was filled with a terrible (and delicious) tension.
I've read all the other books Ms. Thomas has written, I think I liked Private Arrangements (bk1) slightly better than Delicious (bk2) and I liked Not Quite a Husband (bk3) quite a bit more - but I'm talking like, B, B- and A- here - each of them had their own pleasures. But, this one? This is the best one yet. I love it. This author keeps getting better. I liked that she tried something new and went with what I'm going to call a "linear"" storyline - she started at the beginning and told the story through to the end. In her other books, there have been a series of flashbacks so we get to know the backstory slowly. I have liked it but it was nice to see Ms. Thomas trying something different. Not only that, but kicking ass in the process. I devoured this book in just over a day. As much as I tend to take my time reading the words Ms. Thomas writes and I did for this book too, I HAD to keep reading. The tension was too much and I just had to know what happened.
I read this in paper format and I had my trusty highlighter out many times so I could go back to passages that grabbed me for one reason or another. I can't share them all (or I'd just have to reproduce most of the book) but I've picked out some of my favourites to illustrate the beauty this author creates. She has such a lyrical way with words. Like this:
She smiled again, a smile luminous enough to serve as God's own desk lamp.
I enjoyed the subtle humour of the book too.
She had been married four hours.
She'd describe her marriage thus far as hushed.
She'd also describe it as long.
and sometimes, hilariously, not subtle at all
"Yes," he [Vere] said. "I am what you would call, well, not an heiress - I know that's a woman - but what is a man heiress?"Vere makes such a delightful idiot.
What didn't (work for me): Um, it ended? I had to stop? If I tried hard enough, I could probably come up with some little nitpicks but I'm on a high from the book at the moment and I just don't wanna. No, it wasn't the perfect book (is that even possible?) but from an emotional point of view, it hit all the right spots for me. I wasn't thrown out of the story, I totally connected with the characters, I cared about them and I was caught up in how they were going to get their HEA. Why nitpick?
Actually, on reflection, there was one little (tiny really) thing but I don't know how to mention it without giving away a significant spoiler. I just wanted to know how a certain character had known something about a certain other character - how's that for vague. If you read the book, you'll probably understand. Or not!
What else: It's not hard to pick out the theme in this book. It's all about hiding and masks and acting and, ultimately, truth. I'm sure it's not an accident that the hero's name is Vere - it comes from the root word meaning truly. (I looked it up because I thought I might have a relationship to veritas which I know is Latin for truth.) There's a delightful irony in Vere's name. He lies all the time. There are only a handful of people who know the truth about him and he doesn't socialise with them - they're his agent-for-the-crown colleagues. Even his brother Freddie doesn't know the truth. He hides and he acts and he dreams of his perfect woman. His perfect woman who happens to have Elissande's smile but who doesn't know him either. As much comfort as he draws from his ideal woman, she doesn't know him. At heart, I think Vere doesn't think he's worth knowing.
Elissande however, acts and wears a mask of smiles and gaiety out of fear of her Uncle. He's a monster and his vileness is portrayed in small snatches - he doesn't take over the book at any point and his awfulness isn't gratuitous. We know what we need to know and there is an air of palpable fear about Elissande and Aunt Rachel - the tension you feel in the best thrillers when you're scared when the cupboard is opened for fear of what's inside.
Even the investigation in the book is about diamonds, both artificial and real.
Vere recognises in Elissande a fellow actor - he sees her mask quite quickly,
Oh, she was good. So very good. Were he truly an idiot he would be thrilled.but misunderstands her reason for wearing it. Once he does, you'd think that, him being the hero and all, all the conflict is gone between them and it would just be the external threat to them that needs to be resolved. Ha! Think again! Vere has to face himself, his own fears and decide whether he wants to stay in the shadows with only a perfect dream for company or whether he wants to life a true life without a mask - taking the risk that life is not perfect. Elissande tempts him but he's scared of living in the open.
He wanted milk and honey; nourishing, sweet, wholesome. She was laudanum; potent, addictive, occasionally helpful in forgetting his troubles, but dangerous in large doses.It is that struggle which makes Vere so extra delicious to me. All the time he's doing the heroic rescue thing, he's broken inside. He needs Elissande to show him what he's missing and he needs her to give him the courage to change. He wants her to see him, truly, but is fearful of it also.
"Open your eyes and look at me".
She did. He withdrew and reentered her, slowly, slowly going deeper, deeper. And when she thought he couldn't come any farther into her, he did.
She gasped with the pleasure and depravity of it - his possession of her, while his eyes held hers.
"No pretending," he said softly. "do you see who is fucking you?"**
and a little later, her reply
"I never pretended it was anyone but you."
See, I told you she rescues him right back. Vere sees in her, a woman who has come through some terrible times undaunted. She's bent like a sapling in the wind so she didn't break. She's strong and heroic and Vere admires her. Theirs is not a relationship where she's just grateful. They are both equals and that is what makes me believe in their HEA. Oh, damn. I wish I hadn't read it yet. Because then I'd be able to read it and experience it for the first time again.
**Even when reading this passage, the profanity is so sudden and unexpected that it made me sit up and open my eyes. It was beautifully used to convey the self loathing Vere has; his desire to be known and his fear; to push Elissande away while at the same time wanting her as close as it is possible to be.