At the beginning. I was hoping that this book would get better. Then slowly the characters crawled around my heart and before I knew it, I was stupidly staring at nothing with a smile on my face, thinking about the Spencer and Amelia. Sigh. Tessa Dare, I love how you make me feel!
This book does the near impossible. It convinced me I had no good reason not to like the book and the protagonists even though I didn't like the premise and I didn't really agree with how the heroes grappled with the emotional conflict. It was a bit like making a friend and discovering their flaws after their qualities and still wanting to be friends with them. But onto the review.
Amelia d'Orsay is proud of her family and generous to a fault, but she and her family is on the verge of destitution. Worse, she is a wallflower, not too pretty, plumper than is usual and over the shelf. When she goes to society events, the talk is all about the "Duke of Midnight" Spencer Dumarque who makes a point to only dance with one girl, usually the prettiest, and then leave. The mix of arrogance and barbarism (because Spencer wasn't raised in England) seems alluring to the ladies and all of them want to attract his notice, but Amelia knows it won't happen. Until one night her scapegrace brother reveals he got into debt to Spencer, she decides that she might as make her bid, and manages to steal the dance. From there, the murder of the founder of the Stud Club (that Spencer was trying to own in order to disband) interfere and Spencer and Amelia get enmeshed into the coils of the intrigue.
I liked Amelia from the start. She has good qualities, and good flaws, and we understand her point of view even when we disagree. The author characterizes her in very realistic terms, and I was crying by page 11 and Amelia had not even met the hero by then. It was a little harder with the hero. The single mindedness, the ruthlessness, sometimes even the childishness of his character are taken to extremes that I'm not sure are good fits for the character's background. I didn't understand where it was coming from other than the need of being mysterious and alpha male like. Again, the book, like a lot of romances, suffers from sudden sexual attraction, you know like when the hero touches the heroine and she feels herself "tingling, down there, to her shock and dismay". (It's not a direct quote, but you get the idea). But I think the author redeems this by taking the first encounters relatively slow.
The intrigue plot is really just in the background and doesn't really do more than just get characters to point A to point B and provide a setting for more books to come. Again, something I didn't really like that I can't really complain about because the soon to come heroes make interesting secondary characters (though for sequel purposes are not really explored into detail) and provided relief from the two thirds point of the book where all the characters do is mate like rabbits. The denouement is rushed and feels a bit tacked on and I felt if it had come a little earlier it might have been used to better effect in terms of plot and emotional conflict.
But that's where you understand whether you buy these books for a mystery plot or for the romance. If it's for the romance, you can forgive the so-so plot because the Ms. Dare extracts all of the emotional juice of the characters, of the settings, of the emotional conflict and the plot (such as it is), and she does make it interesting to read. I read this book without skipping from 4 AM to 1 PM, and I didn't want to let it down, despite all my gripes about the parts I didn't like. Fortunately there's also a great deal to love.