Lest you all think I hate everything, this is a Praise to Balance the Snark. I described this one to Sarah as “a soothing avocado mask of a book.” A Regency with a plot that is both logical and entertaining! Dialogue that feels like real people would say it! Characters that are both likeable and entertaining and NOT STUPID! It’s a Regency, so we’re in familiar territory, but dude. SOOTHING AVOCADO MASK.
It also has one of my top ten opening lines ever:
“There comes a time in every rogue’s life when he will be called upon to give up his vices, repent of his wild ways, and become a respectable man.”
David Reece is a rogue. The younger twin, with THAT older brother- you know the one, the perfect son, who can do no wrong, who everyone likes, who pays his servants on time. David has spent his wayward youth raising hell and breaking things. David has had a come-to-Jesus moment, and has accepted, mostly, that it’s time to grow up.
One of the BEST THINGS about this book is that it’s not easy. IT IS SO HARD TO BE A RESPONSIBLE AND RESPECTABLE PERSON YOU GUYS. His past keeps coming back to bite him in the ass. His old friends are pissed because he won’t come out and play, the grown ups are all mad at him for his history of tomfoolery, shenanigans, and ballyhoo.
David’s brother, Marcus (the Duke of Exeter), however, has faith in him, and gives David the responsibility of running the Exeter estates while Marcus is off with his brand new wife on their honeymoon trip. David is determined to make this work- he’s turned over a new leaf, dammit!- but it’s so hard. And boring. And he keeps finding reminders of what a fuck up he is.
On his way to London, after turning this virtuous new leaf, his stagecoach is robbed. On that stagecoach is a young, lovely, genteelly poor widow. This genteelly poor widow is Vivian, who is actually a part of the gang: she’s the signalman, and the one who plans all the heists, and she’s the one who pawns the stolen goods. They swipe the duplicate of the Exeter signet ring from David, and he’s really pissed.
Which is how David catches her- his disreputable past has made him known to most of the pawnbrokers in London, and he passes word that he would be very interested in finding the person or persons who pawn his ring. Vivian goes to one of those pawnbrokers while posing as the poor widow, and gets snagged in a trap set by David. David drags her home to his house and locks her in a room until she tells him where his ring is.
He admits later on that this was not a well thought out plan. It’s a dick move, and he doesn’t take into account that she might be as stubborn as he is. And she is! There are four walls, a roof and a feather bed, and she’s grudgingly pleased by them, and she gets plenty of good food, and she’s actually happy about that (all of these things are not often found in her usual life), but he locks her in a room for DAYS AND DAYS and won’t let her out. Eventually, the butler starts smuggling her books (at David’s direction, but still), and that’s all well and good. She discovers she really likes reading plays.
His come to Jesus moment involved a carriage accident that broke his leg, and he’s still recovering from it- the bone has healed, but the muscle tone is not back (and being nearly seven weeks out from my own ACL reconstruction surgery at the time I write this, I SO FEEL HIM. My leg is pathetically weak, and this is after 4 weeks of PT) and after walking too much, his leg aches (WORDY MC WORD, Mr. McRoguepants). One night, he brings in her dinner, and then, because his leg is about to give out, he sits down on the bed, and actually talks to her.
She does not talk back, but gives him “the cut direct,” sitting with her back to him, but still occasionally glaring at him. He says okay, then, fine, it’s time to Turn on The Charm. So he bribes her first with hot chocolate.
Mmmmmmm. Hot chocolate. Nomnomnom.
Then, later, he comes in drunk and morose because No One Likes Him, and Being Respectable is SO HARD and woe, woe, emo woe. And she’s like first world problems, bucko. Woe is you, you have a house and lots of food and clothes that aren’t crap and a family who actually like you, so PUT ON YOUR BIG ACTING-DUKE PANTIES AND DEAL. And he, after getting over his shock that anyone would actually talk to him like that, concedes the point. In the grander scheme of things, he doesn’t have it that bad.
Which, okay, true, these are first world problems, and problems of his own creation, but still problems. And he realizes that keeping her locked in a room is a dick move. And he doesn’t really care about the ring anymore, he really like HER. So he buys her a pretty dress and takes her to the Theater Royal Drury Lane.
(OMG this is another thing I loved about this book. I was in London for a month this summer and I LOVE reading about places I’ve actually been. Drury Lane? Green Park? St. James Park (my favorite)? Kings Cross? Bath? BATH IS THE BEST PLACE EVER.)
(Sorry. I think my squee is leaking all over this review.)
Anyway, they go to the play, where he introduces her around telling everyone a different story (“The Danish royal family? Really?” “Well you’re part Irish and Denmark is North…east, so… it’s totally the same.” “I don’t think it is.” “Maybe not, but SHE doesn’t know that.”) and his wastrel friends meet her, and she has the best time ever and they get home and he kisses her and FIREWORKS.
It’s SO HOT.
(Squee. All over this review. GET A MOP.)
In the meantime, David has finally acquired a household staff that will work for him. However, his incredibly proper butler is scandalized at the presence of a woman in a bachelor household. David mollifies the Incredible Proper Butler that he is saving Vivian from a life of crime. And they find excuses night after night to stay up until the butler goes to bed and then run quick like bunnies to her room and make like the bunnies.
It all comes crashing down when a friend of David’s with the Bow Street Runners shows up and is like “Dude, they know you’re being a highwayman. You should cut that shit out.” And David is confused, but they figure out that the guy who nominally led the gang Vivian was the mastermind for has kept the signet ring they stole from David and is claiming that he is the Black Duke and robbing people.
So David and Vivian crack a harebrained plan to stop him. And off they go. It’s so totally harebrained. It’s awesome. I’m not going to do my usual full summary because I WANT YOU TO GO READ THIS BOOK. I read this shit so I can PUSH IT ON THE UNSUSPECTING BITCHERY.
I loved this book so much. I loved reading it. It’s ADORABLE. They’re so smitten with each other. They LIKE each other. They are GOOD together. Vivian makes David happy, and David makes Vivian happy. I was grinning like a mad fool while reading about them. (ON THE SUBWAY. This is possibly why no one sits next to me, because I look crazy.)
I wasn’t sure exactly how these two crazy kids were going to make it work (I knew that they would, because I have read a romance or two in my time), but I loved the ride. I would honestly put this up with The Spymaster’s Lady as one of my favorite romance novels ever.
As a footnote, I’m currently reading What a Gentleman Wants, which is Linden’s first book in the trilogy about the Reece family, and this is not a fluke. She is the awesome, as SB Sarah’s Gracie would say.