Once the toast of the ton, Lottie Cummings is now notorious for being divorced—and without a penny. Shunned by society, the destitute beauty is lured to become a Covent Garden courtesan. But after refusing to oblige her customers, Lottie’s about to be turned out onto the streets. Until a dangerous rake saves her with a scandalous offer.
Publisher: HQN books
Release Date: October 26, 2010
This review first appeared at The Book Lovers Inc. The book was provided as an e-galley from NetGalley.
The illegitimate son of a duke, Ethan Ryder rose to the ranks of Napoleon’s most trusted cavalry officer—until his capture landed him in England as a prisoner of war. Now on parole, Ethan is planning his most audacious coup yet. But he needs to create a spectacular diversion. Having infamous Lottie as his mistress will lull everyone into thinking he’s busily bedding her instead of plotting deadly treason. Yet their business decision ignites a passionate relationship. And their unexpected bond may scandalize even these two wicked souls…
This is the second book in a trilogy, Scandalous Women of the Ton, which I didn't realize when I picked it up. Happily, my ignorance was not detrimental to reading or enjoying the book. It pretty well stands alone, the ties between the books are fairly loose. The leads from the first book, Whisper of Scandal, make a brief appearance at the very end of this book and the events in that book appear not to be essential to the second book.
This book is set during the Napoleonic War and the war is important to the story. providing the motivation for much of behavior of the male lead, Ethan Ryder, and the reason that Ethan and Lottie get together. It's central to the story but I'll get back to that.
Lottie is a divorced woman, which was not a common event in England in those days, and the fact of the divorce is scandalous in itself. Add in the events that led up to her divorce and she finds herself outcast from her family and osctracized by the Ton, England's upper class society.
Lottie married at seventeen, hoping for security, freedom from financial worries, and love. Her father abandoned her family when she was six years old and her family endured severe financial difficulties as a result. She got the first two wishes but not the last. On her wedding night her new husband informs her that they will not be sleeping together, ever, but she can have affairs provided that she is discreet about it. They live like this for about 15 years and then Lottie goes too far. He kicks her out and divorces her, leaving her penniless, friendless, and homeless. She ends up working in a whore house where her she finds that both her self-confidence and her sexual skills have deserted her. She's on the verge of being fired when Ethan arrives and offers to hire her as his mistress.
Ethan is the illegitimate son of an English Duke and an Irish circus performer. He was removed from his mother's care at the age of five and taken to live with his father and stepmother. Neither his father nor stepmother ever had much use for him, but his elder (by about 3 months) half-brother is his friend. He grew up feeling an outsider, unwanted by most of his father's family and with anti-British feelings. He runs away at fifteen, tired of being slighted, ignored and treated as lesser. For reasons I was never clear on, he signed on with the French and joined their army. At nineteen he has an affair with a French aristocrat which results in a son that he leaves behind, certain that the boy's mother can give him a better life.
Fast forward 18 yeasrs and Ethan has been captured by the British, as has his son, Arland. Arland ran away when he was fifteen, just like dear old dad, and, lying about his age, joined the French army. Arland is thrown into a jail while his father is given parole in the same town as his son's jail. It's a small country town, with, as Lottie complains repeatedly, noting to do. Ethan is forbidden from seeing or having any contact with his son. As you might imagine, Arland's captivity is all the restraint necessary to hold him and, provided he meets certain conditions, he lives a fairly normal life: a room of his own at an inn, dinner with his fellow captive officers or even at the houses of some of the local gentry, the occasional authorized trip to London.
Ethan and Lottie reach an agreement: Lottie will be Ethan's very visible, notorious mistress and Ethan will provide her with a cottage, a brand new, fashionable wardrobe, and a generous allowance. You may have already guessed that Ethan wants Lottie for more than her talents in the bedroom; she provides cover while he plots escape. Lottie wants nothing more than to return to the Ton and be rich.
I enjoyed watching the two of them negotiate their arrangement, get to know each other, and learn each others boundaries. Both are emotionally shut off, believing themselves unworthy of being loved and incapable of giving love. Cornick develops their emotional relationship over time and we see into both Lottie's and Ethan's hearts and minds. She does use a couple of cliches that particularly irritated me: the first time that Lottie and Ethan have sex, Lottie falls in love and Ethan discovers that he has tender feelings for his new mistress. That was some incredible sex! Another device that I found irritating was the number of problems between them that could have been solved or prevented by talking, communicating with each other. Now, to some extent, that's to be expected, given their experiences and the arrangement between them. Still, it did get irritating.
There were twists and turns that I didn't see coming, and a few that I saw right off, but overall the story is well plotted and there is some well-done characterization. The story ultimately sucked it in and kept me engaged.