New to me author and series that I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz about so naturally I had to alleviate my curiosity and give it a go. I was up for a flirty, slightly different historical romance.
This was the third book in a trilogy, but I got pretty lucky and didn’t have any trouble feeling comfortable following the story. I saw a few hints that characters might have been introduced earlier, but it didn’t affect the story. Really the only question I had after finishing was who the matchmaker was in the Matchmaker Trilogy title. Maybe the countess? Feel free to share if you know since I’m full of curiosity.
The story opens with heiress to her late father’s scent business, Augusta Meredith, weary of her place on the fringe of high society and of her life in general determined to really change things up. Her opportunity comes when she accompanies her friend to Bath where she seizes the moment to pretend to be someone she’s not in the persona of the widowed Mrs. Flowers. She will flirt and feel out the men of the town. She will tease the men, take on as a lover and discard him in turn. Her scheme depends on the Countess remaining quietly out of Bath society while she recovers and that nobody turns up who really knows her. Unfortunately, her first night out proves her scheme may be undone when she encounters Joss Everett, a poor relation to his cousin a nobleman she encountered in London. Can she persuade him to go along with her scheme? Trust a man?
Joss is not in Bath for his health or his own leisure. No, he is there to fix yet another problem his oblivious cousin has stirred up. There is a blackmailer to find and a family property to sell all so his cousin can continue his life of mild debauchery. Joss doesn’t fit in with his own family and the Ton because of his Indian grandmother and ne’er do well profligate of a father. He has realistic plans to eventually leave the employ of his own cousin and go to work as a man of business for someone with real need of him. He is distracted from his own troubles and his frustrating cousin’s blackmailer when he encounters the delectable Augusta Meredith pretending to be something she is not. He senses some of the truth behind her cold, ruthless scheme and warns her it won’t work the way she wants, but still reassures her that he will keep her secret. She doesn’t trust him and insists on a bargain. She will help him locate prospective buyers for his cousin’s land and a man who can nose out secrets if he helps her find the right gentleman to seduce.
Um’kay, this one didn’t grab me in the beginning and I struggled to stay with it most of the time. The basis for the story was on shaky ground from page one once I understood where it was going just as was the heroine’s character. The hero had promise, but even he wasn’t enough to balance out the other. The blackmail plot was of interest, but it didn’t provide that sense of tension and immediacy. The romance? No go for me there too. The heroine insisted that it was all lust and I didn’t see how she would inspire love. If this had been one of those madcap comedy stories then I would have been okay with some of what I was seeing, but it wasn’t (or at least I didn’t find humor in it other than the Countess and Joss’ silly cousin). Honestly, the trouble for me was the heroine.
Augusta’s scheme didn’t sit well with me and brought down my respect for her. I never saw her the way the book portrayed her. Use and discard is never okay in my book particularly when the other person is an innocent bystander even if they consent. Then there was the trouble of believability that she was some shrewd woman with business acumen, but yet her scheme as a whole didn’t impress me with her smarts. She is a wealthy heiress yet somehow she is supposedly passed over by everyone in the Ton. Didn’t make sense without her doing something vulgar or unforgivable to society’s rules which she didn’t. Joss is the one that is poor and struggling under true societal stigmas from his rake of a dad and bi-racial heritage, but she repeatedly acted like her ‘poor little rich girl’ thing made them alike or that he just needed to buck up and get over all his ‘trivial’ issues. Joss kept calling her strong, but I didn’t see that in the woman that was so filled with fear and distrust that she was afraid to be herself and refused to try for a real relationship.
I chose to keep reading to see if something would change my mind and I was given nothing to justify her behavior. In fact, my dislike of Augusta just grew the way she was playing hot and cold with Joss and held tenaciously to her schemes even though it didn’t have a prayer in the first place. Some guy dumped you? Oh boo hoo! It was all just so implausible and contrived-feeling for me.
Was it a total loss? No, not by a long shot. While I didn’t like Augusta and what she was up to, I could still appreciate the spark between her and Joss. They had some witty dialogue particularly when he was calling her on her crap or she was jolting him out of his self-pity. He tended to be morose and she made him see himself differently.
I could also enjoy those sparkling side characters. I think the Countess with her quiet strength and zest for life was my favorite.
Using Bath as a backdrop was a winner with me too. I loved the description of activities and places that are there without overpowering the story.
I appreciated that both the characters were from that emerging middle merchant class who are too genteel for the lower classes, but not blue-blooded enough for the upper classes so an interesting situation.
Overall, it was just tolerable for me. I got that use and discard thing the heroine planned in the beginning and couldn’t shake it. I’ll probably try something else by the author to see if a different heroine and her circumstances make the difference. I don’t feel this book is a universal fail and that others who enjoy spicy historical romance might really like it. Maybe next time.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this one in exchange for an honest review.
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