"Connie Brockway is a master at creating sparkling chemistry."
"[Connie Brockway's] work brims with warmth, wit, sensuality, and intelligence."
"Connie Brockway's powerful characters grab you by the heartstrings and pull you into their world, their hearts, their love!"
"Connie Brockway's work is an absolute delight!"
--Catherine Anderson, author of Annie's Song
"Ms. Brockway [is] among the finest writers of the genre."
--Pen & Mouse
Brockway writes a true period piece - no machismo "Fabio" lords, no saucy-but-virginal maidens. Nobody is a street scamp who discovers he/she is a bluebooded, wealthy aristocrat by the end of the book. Jack and Anne are far more complex and multi-faceted. Jack is dark, driven, and sexy, yet always very controlled; meanwhile, he's in complete turmoil inside. Anne is quite likable, yet human, with an aching emotional void which she seeks to fill by her reckless behavior. The story is equal parts tenderly romantic and darkly sensual. The "scene" in which Jack requests to hear his Christian name on Anne's lips gave me goosebumps!
The secondary characters are refreshing, unique, and fascinating, rather than mere foils for hero and heroine.
In sum, a fine, full-bodied read which has probably ruined me against any others that will follow!
This is an amazing book with very few missteps. Firstly, a warning. This is the story of two people with secrets, one with a double life, and with considerable emotional baggage. If you do not like books about troubled heroes and heroines, avoid this book. Secondly, the tone of the book is obsessive. Both hero and heroine are obsessed with each other, and at least one secondary character is obssessed with the hero. The hero has a reason to "stalk" the heroine, but if this theme and the overarching theme of obsession makes you uncomfortable, avoid this book. Lastly, this book contains some rather explicit scenes (definitely R rated) but the hero and heroine do not actually come together until relatively late in the book (and after they are married). If you like your bedroom scenes earlier and more conventional, again, this book should be avoided.
All right. Now to a quick review of the book. I cannot praise Brockway enough for coming up with these two memorable characters (to whom I can compare only David de Abyngdon in Hunter's BY ARRANGEMENT and Miss Milton in Kelly's MISS MILTON SPEAKS HER MIND, both reviewed by me). Both hero and heroine have murky backgrounds, exist on the edges of society while moving among the very elite, and possess dark secrets. Both are haunted by their past decisions and by the actions of others. The hero is Henry Seward, otherwise the Hound of Whitehall, a notably spy and intelligence officer. He is not noble, he is illegitimate, and the reputed son of a cold-hearted spymaster. The heroine Anne is the daughter of a merchant, who married a wealthy gentleman who became a war hero (of sorts) by dying in action, along with most of his crew. She has his rank, his money, her father's money, and the cachet of being a war hero's widow. Anne however is not free to spend her income as she wants, thanks to the tightfisted trustees who do not agree with her wishes. She wants to spend her late husband's wealth to aid wounded and impoverished soldiers and sailors returning from the Napoleonic Wars to a peace where they are not wanted. She tries to raise funds from the social elite, but promises of funds are not kept. Anne cannot expose the non-payers, because she is chaperoning her late husband's cousin who is of obscure if genteel birth. To do so would ruin young Sophia North. Anne, therefore, devises a method of getting the money from the deadbeats. How? Well, she becomes a master thief who steals jewels and money from the non-payers, and then from other aristocrats who can afford to lose their money and show no social conscience. With every theft, she becomes more and more reckless.
During one such theft, she is cornered by the Hound of Whitehall, aka Henry Seward, aka Jack. She manages her escape brilliantly, but leaves behing a man obsessed with catching her - firstly, because she has escaped from him, and secondly, because of the method of her escape. There is also a little promise that she had made him (under duress) and broken. Seward suspects that the master thief is a member of the social elite, and he knows the thief is a woman. So he obtains an introduction into the Prince Regent's circle, where he is looked down upon by most of the courtiers and hangers-on because of his birth and lack of wealth, but accepted because the Regent accepts him [think Brummell here]. In a series of confrontations between him and Anne, her secret is teased out by Jack and then guessed at (partially) by some others. Anne is in jeopardy, not just because of her thieving at a time when stealing a handkerchief was a serious crime, but also because she is believed to have stolen a mysterious government document.
The denouement is brilliant. A lot of surprising, and sometimes unpleasant secrets are revealed, showing up Jack's lifetime struggle with morality and ethics in a new light. [Clue: the secret lies in his birth and childhood in a Scottish orphanage, as well as in his name].
The real villains are not who you would guess. Sophia, Anne's ward, plays an ambiguous role turning from an ambitious if selfish young woman into something rather more complex (and not more likeable). At the end, we are not sure whether Jack and Anne will be able to live happily ever after, given the number of forces ranged against them. We must hope that they will have a Happily Ever After ending, bound by their love and mutual obsession, and their recognition of the emotional baggage that has so warped each of them for so long.
Some caveats: Anne's playing a companion (rather than a chaperone, the correct term) to a young relative of her late husband was not too well-explained. A companion was usually a lady without financial resources of her own. Otherwise, the period, with its political and social turmoil, was beautifully evoked - even if at times, the book sounded more Georgian (late 18th century) rather than late Regency.
Recommendation: Must read - if you like dark complex books with characters balanced between good and evil. I could not put this book down and read it (rapidly) in two hours.