So often whether or not a book is a success for a reader comes down to how willing we are to suspend our disbelief. That’s pretty much what it boiled down to for me while I was reading Marguerite Kaye’s latest Regency romance. While there are parts of this story I think are very well done, it is the underpinnings of the tale that I just can’t seem to wrap my brain around.
Lady Deborah Napier is the Dowager Countess of Kinsail and is barely tolerated by the new Earl, her late husband’s cousin. Not only did her late husband run the finances into the ground, but Deborah failed to provide an heir, so now Dear Old Cousin is left with a mess in his lap. Her marriage was a spectacular failure, and it’s still something that haunts her. Deborah doesn’t really know who she is. Years of emotional abuse took their toll, and in response to that, she created an alter ego, Bella Donna. To amuse herself and maybe take some of the sting out of her past, Deborah has written a series of scandalous novels about Bella, with the hopes that one day they’ll generate enough funds for true financial independence.
Elliot Marchmont is a former soldier and spy. Two years after the war and things are not going well for England’s veterans. With no safety net, and many of them with serious mental and physical ailments, it’s not uncommon to see them begging and living on the streets. The government is turning a blind eye, to which Elliot cannot abide. So he seeks his revenge by robbing from those he feels have “done wrong” by the country’s soldiers, breaking into their stately homes. He then takes his ill-gotten gains, fences them, and pours those profits into charitable organizations. He’s breaking into Lord Kinsail’s house to steal a rather large diamond when upon his escape he literally lands on the Dowager Countess. A stolen kiss is all it takes for both of them to get hooked.
Their paths naturally cross again, and when they do – that’s when the story begins to slide south for me. Elliot spills a lot of secrets to Deborah for a man who has been labeled a notorious villain by the elite and various London newspapers. In turn, Deborah proposes that Elliot take her with him the next time he plans a robbery – and he agrees! I’m sorry, I just couldn’t wrap my head around a Dowager Countess turning housebreaker. Naturally she gets a thrill from it, puts the episode into a novel, and when her editor loves it – he tells her to juice up the story with more such escapades. For that, she needs to stay in contact with Elliot, a man who makes her feel things her late husband most certainly did not.
If you can get past the housebreaking aspect of this story, there are other elements at play that really do work better. Deborah is a hot-and-cold-running heroine, which does get bothersome after a while but becomes more understandable as the author reveals more of her backstory. The unfolding of Deborah’s past, the fall-out that was her first marriage, makes you not only feel sorry for her – but for her late husband as well. I also like the aspect that both Deborah and Elliot are hiding behind personas they created for themselves. Deborah creates Bella Donna as a way to bolster her non-existent self-esteem, and Elliot creates master housebreaker “The Peacock” as a way to avenge his best friend’s death. However, these personas eventually begin to overshadow their creators, to the point where Elliot and Deborah must both ask themselves, “Who are we, really?”
This isn’t a perfect read, mostly because the housebreaker stuff didn’t work for me at all. But other aspects of the story, coupled with Kaye’s writing style, make this a quick read, and not an altogether unpleasant one. I imagine this story will be more of a success for readers who can roll with the concept better than I did.
Just who is Lady Deborah?
I am the Dowager Countess of Kinsail, and I have enough secrets to scandalize you for life.
I will never reveal the truth of my soul-destroying marriage—some things are too dark to be told. But at least no one can guess that I, a famously icy-hearted widow, am also the authoress of the shamelessly voluptuous romances currently shocking the ton!
Only now I have a new secret identity, one that I will risk my life to keep—accomplice to Elliot Marchmont, gentleman, ex-soldier and notorious London thief. This adventurer’s expert touch ignites in me a passion so intoxicating that surviving our blistering affair unscathed will be near impossible….