Ok, I thought that we had done away with silly, unlikely heroine names like Raven, Parris, Skye and now Bliss? UGH! But Melanie George (along with Nicole Jordan) writes very much in the tradition of those late 70's early 80's bodice rippers, so I suppose we should not be surprised. We're all familiar with stories of women who, through circumstances beyond their control, wind up with nothing, forced to either become governess or mistress. Well here's a twist in that in this story, it's a man who's lost all.
Caine Ballinger has lost everything but his useless title as Earl of Hartland due to his father's debts - especially to the Earl of Exmoor. He's been reduced to "pleasuring" the current lady of the manor, the malevolent Olivia Hamilton who bought Northcote on the old earl's death. Caine hates Olivia (and himself) but with no money and no prospects, he is left with little choice but to do her bidding (sexually) in order to remain in his family home. During a house party, Caine becomes intrigued by one of Olivia's guests - Bliss Ashton who just happens to be the daughter of the man he blames for all his troubles, the Earl of Exmoor. Caine resolves to hate Bliss because of her father, whose intractability over Caine's father's debts to him contributed to his death. But there is something besides hate in his eyes when he looks at the lovely Bliss and it does not go unnoticed by Olivia. Not keen on having a rival for Caine's attention, she challenges him to seduce and ruin Bliss with his reward being the return of his family home, not to mention revenge on the Earl of Exmoor. Though unwilling to go along with any of Olivia's machinations, he agrees knowing it is just one more black mark on his already dark soul. But he's desperate to get his home, not to mention some small measure of his self-respect, back and to get Olivia out of his life forever. Any guilt he feels about using Bliss is blunted by his need for revenge against her father. And so his pursuit begins.
Of course he succeeds in seducing her, they fall for one another and she discovers his true motivations. She flees to Paris to forget Caine and move on with her life. Easier said than done - especially when Caine shows up in Paris determined to win her back. Can she trust him with heart? Can he truly love her? And, given the unsavory things he's done and the fact that he has little to offer her, can he make himself worthy of her?
If you like your heroes tortured, Caine will perfectly fit the bill. He's a man on the brink of despair, especially once he realizes his feelings for Bliss. But a couple of issues: Olivia's character was pretty much one-dimensional in that she did cruel things because she enjoyed it and because she could. And if Caine had no money, how does he pay for travel and lodging when he follows her to Paris? And toward the end there seemed to be more than necessary complications, revelations and some too easily resolved conflicts. But I must say that Caine's despair and self-loathing were very well depicted. When Olivia reveals Caine's ugliest secrets to Bliss his despair is palpable and his reaction borders on pathetic. You just wanted to pull him into your arms, squeeze him tight and tell him it would be all right. Though not perfect, this is a highly sensual story of a man who's done many ugly things and the woman who might just be his salvation.