This book is a Regency era romance between two people who seem destined to be apart - not only does society suggest they shouldn't be together, but initially they also find each other deeply irritating. Emma may not be a great beauty, but there is something about her that people cannot pinpoint. She is honest and direct, and Darius finds her impossibly single-minded in her bid to keep the auction house running. Darius, meanwhile, is tall, handsome, moody and intense. He too is tenacious in his plans for the auction house. More experienced, he knows the physical effect he has on Emma and he hopes to use it to gain the upper hand, but to his frustration, he finds her obstinacy and directness somewhat alluring, and he is unexpectedly drawn to her.
The plot follows Emma and Darius's separate paths of discovery in solving the mystery behind Emma's father's death and their frequent misunderstandings regarding the running of the auction house. The book is well written, detailing both Emma and Darius's point of view, which helps you to engage with both characters and understand their motivations and viewpoints. I loved the descriptions of and witty comments about Emma and Darius's tumultuous relationship, which often made me smile:
"You would also be wise not to call me presumptuous unless you are eager to see just how presumptuous an earl can be."
"Then I will find other appropriate words. High-handed. Conceited. Arrogant..." She burned his ears with every other descriptive she could think of while the horse bore them away.
She stood. Her color rose. Her eyes flashed lightning. He half expected a spear to appear in her hand and for her to bellow a Celtic battle cry.
There were also some lovely descriptions of tender moments, where you are reminded of how alone and out-of-her-depth Emma must be feeling:
She did not have to stand alone in that embrace, or be strong. There was no sorrow while those kisses pressed her lips, her face and neck, and no worry or calculations. No thought at all, just the delight of new, fresh sensations, much like feeling the first warm spring breeze after a hard winter.
This book features many of the societal scandals typical of the Regency period, and with some spies, smugglers, art history and a country at war with France thrown into the mix, it provides an interesting backdrop to Emma and Darius's story. With a rounded, heart-warming ending, I really enjoyed reading this first book in Madeline Hunter's new series, and I look forward to reading more.