Last week, I was reading a book with a vampire for a hero and a were-something for a heroine and thought to myself, “Okay, that’s it. I’ve had enough.” I’ve reached my paranormal threshold. No more vampires, were-things, witches, demons… but I’m not sick of faeries yet, so keep those coming, authors! Anyway, I resolved my ennui by indulging myself with some good hard Dick… Philip K, that is, and some Octavia Butler. When I started lookin’ for luuuurve in my reading material, I picked up the one author that gives good romance and has never led me wrong (except once or twice in the past). Lisa Kleypas writes yummy, imperfect males and strong, sympathetic heroines (most of the time). What I also like about Kleypas’ work is that she doesn’t write about conventional heroes and heroines. The hero in this book, for example, is not a Duke or an Earl, but a Bow Street Runner… a cop, who comes from very humble beginnings. The heroine, on the other hand, is a whoooore. She’s not a streetwalker, but she is a prostitute to the wealthy, powerful men of England’s upper-nobility. Edgy! What made this book really work for me was the hero. Oh, Grant Morgan… he’s a supercop and super-lover and super-detective-spy rolled into one. And… I just really, really loved the way he loved the heroine. He doesn’t wait till the last few pages to tell her, either. Nope, he tells her in the middle! Unheard of! That Lisa Kleypas… she’s a visionary.
Vivien (Pretty Woman… walking down the street… pretty woman… the kind I’d like to meet…) Rose Duvall is the most celebrated courtesan in London. She has the ton’s most powerful, wealthiest men fighting to be her protector and their wives hating her and plotting her demise for stealing their husbands. Because Vivien is London’s most wanted courtesan, she can get away with acting like a complete brat. She doesn’t care about anyone else but herself, is intelligent enough to manipulate any situation to her advantage, and has the tendency to use and abuse men, then drop them when she’s tired of them. Which is why it is no surprise to anyone when she soon finds herself beaten, strangled, and floating face-down in the freezing waters of the Thames. She is pulled to the docks by a dockworker who assumes she is dead, and wakes up a day later in a very nice, very warm bedroom, half-dead from hypothermia, and unable to remember what happened or who she is (yes, children, it’s an Amnesia Story, woo-hoo!). Sitting by her side is a very, very attractive man who informs her in no uncertain terms that she is a dirty, dirty whore… and oh, he’s her boyfriend. Though Vivien can’t remember who he is—-and she’s quite certain that amnesia or not, she would never forget such a man—-she does know that the man sets her pulse racing and her girly parts tingling. The man also tells her that someone tried to kill her—-the bruises decorating her throat like a necklace convinces her of that—-and that she will be staying with him until he finds the killer.
Our hero, Grant Morgan, is an infamous Bow Street Runner and damn good at what he does. He is so good, in fact, that there are dime-store novels (ha’ penny) inspired by him and his exploits and people can’t get enough of them. He’s also made some wise investments in the past so he’s plenty rich and lives in a very nice house. He gets invited to the best ton parties, if only ’cause he’s so notorious and the ladies luuuurve him, and he is fully aware that he is nonetheless an outsider and will never truly be a part of their world. In one of these parties, he encounters Vivien Rose Duvall and finds himself entranced by her hotness. He knows she’ll never go for him because he is neither titled nor super-duper powerful, but he’s a confident kind of guy, and figures he should give it a shot anyway. As soon as he gets to Vivien’s side and she opens her mouth, however, his erection totally deflates because he immediately sees her for the superficial, manipulative bitch that she is. Vivien attempts to use him to get away from an ardent suitor, but Grant turns her down, and walks away. Naturally, Vivien gets totally pissed and spreads some rumors about him acting like a total dick when she rejected him. Grant gets pissed because people start saying that he’s not so tough after all if he got rejected by some broad. Grant figures he could finally get back at her when he finds her practically dying (he is the investigating officer) and takes her back to his house. His plan is this: make her think they are lovers, get her to fall in love with him, use her up, and callously dump like she has done with her many lovers in the past. That’ll show her!
During the course of his investigation of Vivien’s attempted murder, he finds out all kinds of unsavory stuff about her that makes him want to hate her more, but the woman lying helpless in his bedroom is nothing like the woman he knew. No, she seems like a totally different woman. Hmmm... She’s shy, kind to the servants, guileless, and oh, she likes to read! Even as Grant starts to fall in love with her, he knows he shouldn’t because she could only be trying to play him. Oh, and it’s not like there’s a killer running around looking to try again or anything.
Usually, in a Kleypas novel, I totally groove on the hero, while not being so fond of the heroine (they are usually hysterical dingbats who do stupid shit that almost ruin everything and only make trouble for the super-duper awesome hero). Vivien, on the other hand, reacts to her situation and surroundings like a real person with half a brain would. She wakes up in a strange house suffering from amnesia with a darkly handsome stranger brooding over her and what does she do? She. Stays. Put. She doesn’t go running around all over London, trying to “help” Grant discover what happened to her. She just hangs out in his his bedroom, sleeping all day, reading in bed, gossiping with the maids… that’s my kind of heroine. In fact, she gets pretty pissed at him when he tries to involve her with his investigation because she’s afraid he’ll be putting her in harm’s way in order to solve his case and she’d get her butt killed for it. Even though she is initially intimidated of Grant at first and is reluctant to have him touch her, she does acknowledge his attraction to her and vice-versa without spending hours upon hours agonizing over it. She isn’t stupidly stubborn, is clever in her own way, and when her killer finally does catch up to her, she doesn’t hysterically fall all over her feet trying to get away from him. She actually comes up with a pretty good plan, only the killer catches her, anyway… and Grant has to save her. But up to the part where the killer knocks her out and tries to rape her, she was doing pretty well. A+ for trying, you! It was only when she got her memory back and Grant proposed to her that she started to piss me off (and that’s more than three-quarters of the way through… impressive!). She starts wringing her hand, torturing herself with shit like, “he doesn’t really love me, he only feels responsible for me!” and telling Grant she needs time to “find [herself]”. Dummy. While I understood why she did it (it ties up a loose end), I was still irritated by it because it was such a 180 from the established character that I found myself wondering, “Who is this lobotomized Barbie Doll?”
As for Grant Morgan… damn, check out that name. That’s a romance hero’s name right there. Kleypas fans like myself read the novels mostly for the hero. He’s Superman, Batman, and James Bond rolled into one. He’s Mr. Smooth. He’s Too Cool For School. And he had a shitty childhood and a dead brother he blames himself for. He’s the Best Bow Street Runner ever… except when it comes to Vivien, he’s all soft inside. He doesn’t want to trust her because he thinks she’s a vile, scheming whore, but the more he gets to know the woman living in his bedroom, the more he falls in love with her. There’s this beautiful scene in a carriage where the two of them are sitting closely together after Vivien got accosted by a suspect and Grant just becomes so overwhelmed with emotion that he looks at her and says, “I love you.” I died, oh I just died! There are so many of those moments in this book that I couldn’t help but sigh over Grant. He’s your vintage Kleypas hero; oddly enough, I was more fascinated with Vivien than him. I thought he could have been broodier, a little more resistant to his feelings for Vivien… I love me a tortured hero and Grant… just wasn’t tortured enough. If he’d been in Waterloo and suffered from PTSD and maybe had a limp… hot!
The suspense angle of this book was so-so. It was really just the backdrop for Grant and Vivien getting to know each other better. You’ll know the villain the second he pops up because… duh… Grant is immediately suspicious of him. I liked the little “twist,” in the end, and yes, there is one for those of you who are skeeved out over the idea of a WHOOOORE as a heroine. And before you ask, yes, Vivien is really a whore. She is not a fake-whore who turns out to be a virgin… she is a whore. As for the background, I would have liked to learn more about the Bow Street Runners and the London underground. For a hero who’s known for his exploits and busting criminal scum, we see surprisingly little of Grant’s supposed job. He interviews some people, scares a couple of them, but… that’s it. I would have liked to see him beat up a couple of thugs and pimps, I think. I could have used more of Grant beating some people up, for sure. Thankfully, there are two more books in this series: Lady Sophia’s Lover which stars Ross Cannon, Grant’s boss (yes, there will be sequel-baiting, but not intrusively so), and Worth Any Price featuring Nick Gentry who does NOT show up in this book at all.
The last Lisa Kleypas book I read and did not finish was Scandal in the Spring. I wasn’t planning on reading her again for a very long time ’cause I got glommed out, but she’s got a contemporary coming out and I’m excited to read it even though Sista Jane at Dear Author gave it a C+. It’s coming out in hard-cover (Kleypas’ first) and the price is a little steep for a substandard-sounding debut release. I’ll have to wait for the MMP. In the meantime, I do believe I shall be re-reading Kleypas’ backlist. I think I’ll start with Ross and Nick. Yay! Or I could study for my finals. Whatever.
Amnesia button courtesy of the lovely L.E. Bryce.
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