This is only the fourth book by Adele Ashworth that I have read (the others being WINTER GARDEN, WHEN IT'S PERFECT and the first book in this trilogy DUKE OF SIN). While I've generally enjoyed her books, I've never been quite as enamored of her work as many readers who would consistently rate her books in the 4 1/2 or 5 star range. Having said that, I SHOULD have liked this book much more than I did. I liked the hero and heroine, I liked the plot, I liked the character development. Unfortunately, the book simply did not hold my interest like it should (particularly the first half) and I'm not sure I can clearly articulate why. It took me six days to read this book, a period during which I would normally have read two or three books, because I kept putting it down. I found my attention wandering while I was reading it, though that effect did fade as the book progressed.
Olivia Shea is half French, half English and runs a perfume house in Paris called Nivan that she inherited from her stepfather. She is a very competent business woman and is very proud of her accomplishments. Except for the biggest mistake she's ever made - trusting and marrying Edmund Carlisle. She discovered on her wedding night that Edmund had disappeared taking her inheritance with him. Well, he's not going to get away with this. And so Olivia goes on the hunt, finally tracking him down in London. She plans to confront him, right here in this crowded ballroom, and make him return her funds!
Samson Carlisle, Duke of Durham is rather bored with the ladies of the ton. They all look the same, act the same. And so, it is with wary interest that he agrees to be introduced to a "Frenchwoman" who has asked to meet him. His trepidation stems from a scandal from his past which involved a treacherous French woman and his own devious twin brother, Edmund. On meeting Miss Olivia Shea, formerly of Elmsboro, now of Paris, he is struck by two things. The first is that she is incredibly, strikingly beautiful and the second is that she thinks he is Edmund. Sam has not seen Edmund in a decade and their parting was extremely unpleasant. When Olivia discovers that Sam is Edmund's twin, she is shocked, wondering what else she never knew about her husband (what indeed!). When she tells Sam the whole story, he agrees to help her find Edmund and get her much needed funds returned to her. And so they leave for Paris, where Sam will pass himself off as Edmund in order to flush him out.
Time spent together allows this couple to get to know and like one another, and eventually they fall in love. Olivia quickly realizes that, twins or not, Sam is nothing like Edmund. He's honorable, honest, but clearly does not trust easily. He also keeps his thoughts and feelings very close to the vest and so he is not so easy for Olivia to figure out though she's keen to try. For his part, Sam is extremely attracted to Olivia on a physical and intellectual level, but his past experience keeps him from fully trusting her. As they get ever closer to their prey, they find it increasingly difficult not to act on their mutual attraction. And as the night of their confrontation with Edmund arrives, what will happen when the masquerade is over?
Though some readers may dislike Sam, or perhaps find him a bit grim, I found Ms Ashworth's depiction of Sam very realistic. He is a man who was hurt and betrayed and as a result he is wary of people in general. I also liked Olivia whose optimistic confidence in her abilities and judgement is totally shaken by her experience with Edmund. In the end these two are perfect for one another. I just wish the beginning had flowed a little better for me.