Olivia and Lisle are characters who first appeared in Lord Perfect and who have now grown up, grown together while very far apart, and grown ready for their happy ending. Lisle is in Egypt with his aunt and uncle doing sandy digs for archeological treasures, and Olivia is back in London, digging up trouble and always up to something, while tirelessly and faithfully chronicling her adventures, limited though they are, to Lisle in letters. Lisle is a somewhat spotty but affectionate correspondent for Olivia, and for years they have maintained their deep friendship over long distances solely through written communication.
Olivia adores Lisle, and yet is wise enough to know that, while no one could possibly be better for him or love him more than she does, he will always yearn to be away from England, away from his crazy family and their stifling manipulations, and therefore away from her. (Major points for Olivia’s character for that wisdom.) When Lisle comes home and finds himself maneuvered into visiting a supposedly haunted property in wet, drippy, opposite-of-Egypt-in-every-way Scotland, Olivia comes up with a very quick and very devious scheme to have them both sent to Scotland where, even though she knows Lisle will likely be miserable, she plans one last attempt to turn his head and get him to notice that she is perfect for him, and possibly even better than Egypt.
There’s a Sarah MacLachlan song that always makes me smile wherein she sings, ‘Your love is better than chocolate, better than anything else that I’ve tried. Your love is better than ice cream… and it’s a long way down, back to the place where we started from.’ As much as I hate to compare a book to a pop song, that pretty much encapsulates this story: Olivia knows there is nothing better than Lisle, and is hoping Lisle will realize that he does care for her, that adventures with her are better than Egypt’s mysteries and adventure, and that the long history of their affection and deeper friendship will serve as an excellent foundation for the future.
Olivia’s realism is wonderful: Lisle is her friend, and she knows him better than anyone, but even with that knowledge, she’s sometimes surprised and annoyed by her feelings for him. She knows she’s got it bad and steers herself way from getting all moony over him, even when she can barely help herself:
Their comments brought back the warm pressure of his powerful arm across her body. She could practically feel it, still, as though he’d left an imprint, curse him. Never mind. He was a man being excessively manly, and it was thrilling, but she’d recover.
And being Lisle, naturally, he had to be aggravating and turn up more quickly than she’d expected.
Olivia and Lisle are wonderful characters, revealed in letters and piece by piece as complex and admirable people. They know their own faults and flaws, and they effortlessly depend on one another. Olivia made me laugh out loud, and Lisle was smoking hot in all the right places, a supportive yet sardonic friend as well, and the two of them are just piles and piles of fun to read about. Their dialogue is uncommonly fun:
“Any competent fellow can strike a spark as easily and quickly—and more safely—with a tinderbox.”
“Most people won’t practice ten thousand times, on purpose, just to prove they can do something,” she said.
“I did not practice ten – Gad, why do I let you bait me? Is it too much to ask you to stay close? We don’t know how much clearing out they’ve done.”
“Just because I’ve squeezed my gigantic bottom into men’s trousers, you needn’t assume my brains have shrunk to masculine size, ” she said. “I’m perfectly aware that you’re the one holding the only candle, and I’m not longing to trip over stray bits of cathedral.”
Olivia isn’t pert and sharp with him to hide her feelings; that is just how they talk to each other, and it’s marvelously fun.
The only complaint I have, and it’s minimal, is how easily their nemeses are revealed and dealt with, how it all wraps up with the one-scene simplicity of a Shakespearean comedy – but even then, that simplicity is brought about by a complex and captivating plot.
Prepare for squeeful gushing! This is a book that many fans will make that noise about, the one where someone says the title and a handful of people half-groan and half-squee in response. You know, the Romance Reader Noise.
I loved the plot, I loved the characters, I loved the warmth and eloquent slow development of their friendship into deeper (and hotter!) attraction, I loved the setting and the mystery and the cast of characters around them, and I loved that yet again, Loretta Chase has demonstrated that anyone seeking to correct someone’s misapprehension about romance novels should select from several of her books, including this one, to see How Good Romance Gets Done.
Special note to Ms. Chase: Holy hopping in my chair, thank you for writing this book.