The third and final book in Connie Mason and Mia Marlowe's entertaining and collaborative historical Royal Rakes series, this was my favorite.
The premise of this series is based on historical fact. It takes place in 1818, when the three ducal sons of King George competed to wed and birth an heir…the next King of England. Unbelievably, the newspapers called it the Hymen Race Terrific.
The three heroes in the Royal Rakes series were all blackmailed in a questionable war incident to ruin the potential bridal candidates so that the royal line couldn’t continue.
The story starts out right away with mischief and excitement. Lady Serena Osbourne, a candidate to become the mother of the next King of England, has a long list of Forbidden Pleasures she wishes to try, the first being to pose as a man and gain access to an exclusive gentlemen’s club. She meets Sir Jonah Sharp when he helps her escape the club after her ruse is discovered. He later ends up helping her to accomplish her list. This plot reminded me of Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean but, in this story, Lady Serena is a very strong young lady, the daughter of a marquis, not an awkward and unconfident woman. She knows her duty yet she is determined to live her life on her own terms before she fulfills her commitments. I admired her strength and determination to follow through on her adventures and it is interesting to watch her strive for more from her life than mere duty.
Jonah Sharp is a gentleman with an air of command and mystery. He has earned a baronetcy under secret circumstances, but he eventually confides in Serena when her father arranges for him to protect her. This is almost too convenient. After all, he is being blackmailed to ruin her so what better way than to be in close proximity to her? I love the scene where Jonah stands up to her father when he tries to strong-arm Jonah into doing his bidding. A former military man, Jonah works for the Crown under dark and covert circumstances.
But Jonah’s conscience gets in the way of his assignment to ruin Serena. He comes to admire her very much and to care for her. And, after he confides in her, she comes to feel more for him than friendship as well. The dialogue and conversations throughout the story are wonderfully realistic as Jonah and Serena come to know and care for one another.
Secondary characters are well rounded and colorfully portrayed. Amelia, Serena’s former governess-turned-companion—think Miss Taylor to Emma Woodhouse in Jane Austen’s Emma—is a baron’s daughter without a dowry. When Serena insults her dear friend with some hurtful words, it is painful to read.
Rhys Warrington and Nate Colton (the heroes from Waking Up with a Rake and One Night with a Rake) reappear as they band together to find the person who framed them in the war incident that hung over their heads. I enjoyed their banter and assistance to Jonah in his current assignment.
The romance is so beautiful to read I was worried how Serena would react when Jonah’s nefarious scheme was revealed. Both are very likable and I found myself rooting for them all the way. When Jonah helps her achieve a Forbidden Pleasure (ahem) not on her list, her hilarious first reaction is outrage that women don’t know about this and then proposes to write a pamphlet on how women can pleasure themselves until marriage.
Jonah admires Serena’s mind, something that both amazes and impresses her. “His odd compliment made heat bloom up her neck and spread across her cheeks. Some women were praised for their eyes, their swan-like necks, and white hands. Sonnets had been composed to the dimples on a lady’s knees in some of the more salacious love poetry she’d read. She’d never heard of a man praising the way a woman’s mind worked. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her.” (p81)
The excitement of two parallel but connected mysteries as well as an entertaining romance is so engrossing I didn’t realize that the first love scene didn’t happen until page 102 and the full love scene until page 289. It didn’t seem like forever; it seemed just right.
One of the things I love about historical romance is the history. I learned that a “claque” was a paid group of clappers that was introduced to the theater during this time (1818). Mia Marlowe is a former opera singer so her theater descriptions are a delight to read…and this librarian loved researching her historical mentions.
I also love discovering the little attentions to detail in historical romance. For example, the image of sipping hot chocolate and hot buttery scones at breakfast (pp258-259).
"She dreamed of a few things for herself before she left this world. She wanted to experience romance. She wanted to feel passion. She wanted to know what it was to give herself to someone she cared for and be given to in return." (p19)
"And another part of him, a confused part, wondered if he was just another item to be checked off her confounded list. He wasn’t sure why it should be so, but it irritated the fool out of him to think he might be lumped with smoking a cigar. Neither more nor less important, but merely something Serena wished to try." (p208)
A lovely story filled with excitement and emotion, realistic and interesting situations, a poignant and beautiful romance, well-drawn and colorful characters, and two concurrent mysteries running throughout the novel.