Thank you to Kay of Miss Bates Reads Romance for the recommendation!
Heat Factor: A few open-door scenes where the focus is more on the emotions than the moving pieces.
Character Chemistry: They have some serious trust issues, but that’s the whole point.
Plot: Guttersnipe + Rake in a Marriage of Convenience
Overall: The emotional beats in this book are PERFECTION.
Nell is in a serious tight spot. Her mother has died. She lost her job in the cigar factory after advocating for better conditions. Her best friend has been sent to jail for holding Nell’s bag (ok, so Nell had been doing some stealing to pay for her mother’s medical care). Her stepbrother is trying to pimp her out. Plus, her mother recently revealed that there’s this earl who might help them out, only he didn’t even respond to the letter she wrote.
More accurately: Nell is pissed. And since she has nothing to lose, she breaks into said earl’s house. Except the—naked—man she meets is not the old earl, but rather the new one, who has problems of his own.
Simon, for his part, is astonished when a woman shows up in his bed-chamber with a gun. Especially since she is the exact image of the old earl’s long-lost daughter, who happens to be a fabulous heiress.
The solution to everyone’s problem? A makeover slash marriage of convenience. Simon will help Nell claim her inheritance (yes, she really is the long-lost heir, it’s complicated and nonsensical but ultimately unimportant), and then they will part amicably and split the money.
As I was reading this book, I kept thinking that Duran absolutely NAILED the unequal match dynamic we have going on here. Nell and Simon are really from different worlds, such that Nell initially can’t even comprehend the kind of money they’re talking about. For her, 50 pounds is a fortune, more than her entire family could make in a year; for Simon, 50 pounds is pocket change.
Nell has tons of bravado, and she can pretend that she doesn’t need Simon or his makeover or his fabulous wealth—but she also really doesn’t want to continue to live in poverty, and she also knows that Simon has all the power in their relationship. This makes for a lot of angst as Nell slowly allows herself to be vulnerable, and to open herself to the possibility of love.
Duran handles that slow opening deftly. Take, for example, Nell’s reaction after she and Simon have sex for the first time:
Another, smaller shiver moved through him, and wonder touched her. She could never have guessed that a man might seem so vulnerable at this moment—or that, lying beneath him, she might feel so curiously strong. Her body bore Simon’s weight so easily. She did not feel used at all. She felt ferociously, vibrantly, alive.
This is a big moment for Nell, not because of *magic penis* and *loss of virginity* (though that is what happens) but because she is opening her protective shell. Her arc is really wonderful to read.
The unequal status between our protagonists—and Nell’s well-deserved fear of vulnerability—also makes for a truly gutting black moment, when she realizes that, for Simon, marriage isn’t quite the guarantee of security she thought it was; earls, unlike factory workers, have access to all kinds of people who can do things like have marriages annulled.
Of course, all’s well that end’s well. But the journey is what makes reading romance a joyful experience. And this one is worth your time.
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