22y.o heroine is reared to be a genteel lady to make a good marriage match.
It doesn't stop her, however, from sneaking out of her parents' estate one night & knocking on the door of 2nd-son & renowned rake 29yo. Hero.
Something she hoped he'd already forgotten. As she attempts to persuade him to introduce her to the man of her fantasies, the mysterious do-gooder thief named the Black Knight.
He agrees but heroine has to accompany him in Paris for the introduction. She also has to travel with him there in the guise of his wife for business purposes,
which makes for uncomfortable, and sometimes passionate, nights as they figure out their feelings for each other and the intentions of the other.
She doesn't trust his rakish ways & he believes there's more to her infatuation with the Black Knight.
Problems intensify when she meets his beautiful Parisian friend
and when Hero's affections are rejected by heroine due to her feelings for the Black Knight.
The stolen emerald necklace at the Paris soiree they attended links all their embroiled issues all at once.
This was my 5th Ashworth's book, which marks 5 years since I last read Ashworth. I'd like to make this a string of 5s, with a 5-star rating of this book but I can't. It was close though. It's a solid romance, where both main characters clearly showed their love for each other in words & deeds. I especially liked that we're shown how womanizer Hero became monogamously dedicated to heroine, when they reunited 5 years later. He was considerate of her desires & needs, was keen to get to know her person, and was sexually uninterested in any other woman, which was wholly new to him. But I wish he didn't wait 5 years to pursue her since he admittedly was already wildly attracted to her then.
He made 7 weak attempts to court her, after their 1st kiss 5 years before. But it was mostly him getting dressed up for courting & then doing nothing about it. Once, he did actually knock on her door but she wasn't home & he didn't leave a message. I would've liked a more convincing attempt on his part to pursue her then. Instead of his half-hearted ones, followed by him taking up with other women left & right. He had a mistress or 2 and a bunch of more temporary lovers. The only reasons I could see for his failure to do so were his lack of love for her then, pride, immaturity, and/or his unwillingness to commit. Excusable for someone in his 20s but didn't make my heart race.
To even out the scales, heroine wasn't altogether that dedicated to Hero during their 5 years apart. She reciprocated his attraction & desired more from him. But due to his lack of pursuit & one time interaction, she didn't pine for him that long. I thought that was written justly. There's a huge imbalance in most romance novels, where heroine does the pining with celibacy and Hero does neither. One out of 2 with this heroine was an improvement. In fact,heroine felt embarrassed and ashamed of her behavior with Hero that fateful night 5 years ago and did her best to forget him and their first kiss. And really hoped he would've done the same. She also became infatuated with the Black Knight during their 5 years apart, building her fantasies of marriage & life from the tales about him. Her love for Hero, however, grew as substantially as his, when they reunited. And I liked that the basis of their love was from getting to know each other's good & bad.
What also made Hero and heroine's love convincing to me was how they didn't rush into sex, despite the numerous opportunities to do so with their pretend marriage & sharing the same bed nightly for weeks. They had great sexual chemistry but I appreciated that sex wasn't used as the primary driving force for their romance. Hero and heroine teased & laughed together, got into trouble together, solved problems & connived together, and showed their vulnerabilities to each other. Things they don't normally do with others. Time (and pages) was spent showing us how they got to know and become more in love with each other. It made Hero's change from being a rake to a one-woman man persuasive. I believed in his dedication to heroine and that he would stay that way in the future.
I liked that the romance was central to the story and that the Black Knight & spy/political stuff were peripherally linked to the romance. We got some 19th-century French and British politics along with the some spy intrigue. I liked how it was weaved in the story and that it didn't overwhelm it. Nor were we given superfluous (aka boring) information about it. It was done just right to give Hero and heroine's romance an interesting backdrop. That plus heroine's real reason for wanting to meet the Black Knight were reasons enough to give heroine sufficient time to be alone with Hero in another country. Heroine's secret motive for meeting the Black Knight were:
------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details------
for the Black Knight to steal the incriminating love letters between her mother and her lover. Somebody was blackmailing her mother with the threat of exposing her extramarital affair. She wanted to protect her beloved and tender-hearted father from the effects of the potential scandal. She believed it was her mother's ex-lover who was blackmailing her. Since the blackmailer was from France and her parents on a long vacation, her trip to Paris with Hero seemed the best idea.
Hero's own secrets are linked to the Black Knight. Because he was the Black Knight. We learn about his secret identity in the 1st chapter. His keeping it a secret from heroine until about 70% of the book made their exchanges about the Black Knight quite fun. I found it amusing when he got jealous of heroine's loyalty towards the Black Knight, especially when she'd put a stop to their sexual play because of it. He was jealous of himself, his spy-thief persona. It made him realize how he wanted her to love him for all of him, including the spy-thief and the nobleman collector parts of himself.
It took heroine a while to spill her secrets to Hero. There were also repeated remarks about heroine's grief regarding the night of their first kiss 5 years ago. When both of these were finally revealed towards the end of the book, they were both quite anti-climactic. Especially why heroine didn't want to think about their 1st kiss. It wasn't anything mysterious or exciting about it at all. Just that she felt embarrassed about it. I don't know why it was made to be a big deal and repeated through the book. That was disappointing. I had imagined it was linked to her secrets regarding the Black Knight. It wasn't.
All in all, it was a good romance with an HEA(happily ever after). The spy intrigue was minimal. The exposure of Hero and heroine's secrets to each other was more intriguing.
I recommend this book.