“Women mind their reputation if they want to marry. I don’t want to marry.”
As the eldest daughter of an English earl and his Indian mistress, Lila Marleigh knows what it’s like to be an outsider from “polite” society. As children, she and her sisters were wrenched from their home and sent to England, never quite accepted by those who claimed to care for them. Now Lila has set herself up as hostess of an exclusive gaming club, charming the ton that flocks to her establishment each night, though it shuns her by day.
One night, Ivor Tristram comes barging through her door, accusing her of being his father’s mistress. Lila defies his expectations at every step and convinces him to navigate London’s rat pits and pleasure gardens with her, in her quest to solve a violent crime.
As they set out together to uncover the truth, an irresistible passion ignites that will shake them to the core. Lila must fight to protect those she loves, yet the biggest threat is to the sanctity of the heart she has guarded so carefully all her life.
Everything about this book screams historical romance in a relatively traditional sense. We have the headstrong heroine who is determined to make her own way in all things. And then the reluctant love interest who is very much a rule follower – at least on the surface where it counts for society!
Lila is the oldest daughter of an Earl and his Indian mistress. When both died in an accident in India, Lila and her two younger sisters were sent to England to be raised by their father’s wife, Sarah, a rather bitter and angry woman who, understandably, is less than happy at having the proof of her husband’s infidelity thrust upon her.
Having not enjoyed the most wonderful of childhoods and a very negative experience in the home she was pushed into, Lila makes her fortune by running exclusive social events in her home – and by social events, I mean something of a polite gambling den. She has garnered a lot of male attention but doesn’t seem to be interested in any of it, though it’s not clear if there was someone in her past (that awful kiss with her perverse half-brother does not count!).
When Ivor Tristram bursts into her home and demands she stop seeing his father, it’s clear she is startled, but no amount of denying anything is going on will help her, Ivor is very set and determined, and there is an immediate attraction that both are only too happy to ignore.
Of course, things aren’t ever easy and when Maisie, the daughter of her childhood nurse, arrives begging for help because her lover Sunil has been accused of assaulting a gentlewoman – who also happens to be Ivor’s cousin – you just know they are going to be flung together.
There is a lot of mention of racial tensions – both in reference to Lila’s Indian and Maisie’s Caribbean heritage. Though she is dead, Sarah Marleigh’s influence lives on, both in Lila’s mind and her son’s attitude towards his sister.
Most of the romances I read as a teenager, and as an adult include some element of mystery, but the love story is the dominant factor. In this book, it was the mystery that overtook everything and luckily I am a fan of cosy crime or the meetings and determination to become some kind of Miss Marple would have been a little frustrating.
I really enjoyed reading about the developing relationship between Ivor and Lila, though I did occasionally find his staid nature to be a little frustrating, Lila’s actions were seemingly dictated by an event that occurred in her past, especially the guilt she feels when she was unable to do anything to prevent it.
Lila is a strong character and Ivor was a wonderful foil for her more audacious behaviours.
I get the feeling that this is the start of a series given the introduction of Lila’s two younger sisters and a decades-old mystery that closely ties to their past.
That having been said, I would be happy if this were a standalone, because the story of Lila and Ivor has been neatly tied up – they have each others’ measure and though it’s not a traditional happily ever after, it’s a close approximation.
This is a 3.75 – which on Goodreads makes it a definite 4…