Jo Goodman is one of those authors where I can only wonder, how the heck did I never stumble upon her when I first started reading romance, particularly historical romance. I’ve read a few now and I have to say I am going to be trolling through her back list with all haste.
USA Today bestselling author Jo Goodman delivers a deliciously wicked tale of forbidden desire that knows no limits. . .
Olivia Cole is devastated to learn that her ne’er-do-well brother has promised her to the operator of a London gaming hall as payment of his debts. Olivia accepts her fate–even if it means that her reputation will suffer from living among rogues and gamblers. But when she meets the sexy and mysterious Griffin Wright-Jones, Viscount Breckenridge, Olivia has more than just her good name to worry about–for he rouses in her wanton thoughts she’s never dared entertain–until now. . .
Griffin wears the scars of his life on his striking face. Although he wants Olivia like no other woman before, he doesn’t force her to share his bed–a difficult task considering how beautiful she is. But with each passing night, Griffin and Olivia’s resolve weakens until finally they take their greatest gamble on one night of reckless pleasure. . .
Note: This is a highly triggering book. If you are easily triggered avoid this book.
I fell in love with Olivia Cole the moment that I met her. She was so self-possessed, even in the face of the small hardships we know of initially. She is living with her brother and is on poor terms with the rest of her family, due to some mystery. Her brother is a wastrel who has gotten himself in debt and put his sister up as collateral. Whether he meant to do her a kindness or even assumed she would be safe is a matter for debate. What is not for debate is that her brother doesn’t really think and is still a child in many ways.
It sounds like the usual fluffy in romance novels/terrifying in real life trope, but in this case it really, really isn’t. Yes, Griffin is attracted to her, but he isn’t the one orchestrating the trade. He is trying to solve the mystery and trying to keep his reputation for not being cheated. And so, Olivia ends up living under his roof, where he feeds her, cares for her, brings in a doctor as needed, pays for her staff and keeps things going so she will have a home to go to should she leave. But he knows that it is unlikely her brother will ever come up to scratch. Mostly Griffin is kind and patient, and of course attracted and curious about the mystery of Olivia.
Griffin isn’t perfect. While he didn’t purposefully try to push Olivia into becoming he mistress, when she jumped that way, he didn’t abuse her of the notion. That is not precisely ok, but for the time period, and compared to how other romances were typically written, it was wonderfully, refreshingly restrained. And he doesn’t just take, he pays attention, he is kind and gentle and caring, things she has never known. He starts to figure out her past, and becomes even more caring, trying to help her deal with her issues. For Olivia’s part, she is reveling in the first care she has ever received. In Griffin, we have the wonderful experience of actually watching the hero falling in love with the heroine, long before he even knows, and way before she knows. He even says I love you first, knowing she is unlikely to be able to say it back. And he isn’t aggressive about forcing her into it.
I know some people are likely to claim an issue, that this is just the stupid trope of the heroine’s past traumas being “cured by magical peen”. I didn’t see it that way at all. Olivia is strong, she recovered a great deal on her own and became self-sufficient in ways women of her birth station almost never could. And she healed more with Griffin because of his care, his trust, his respect. That she was able to love him physically was just one small part of the puzzle, and really the smallest part. The biggest part was learning that she was brave, that things weren’t her fault, and learning to trust herself and others. And frankly, she taught much of that back to Griffin, he needed those lessons too. Really it was a lovely romance.
The story itself isn’t fast paced, it kind of puts me a little to mind of The Escape in how it is plotted. There were some mysteries, and a few tight spots, but mostly this is a character driven story. And since I genuinely liked the characters, faults and all, I enjoyed living their lives with them. I enjoyed figuring out the mystery, and seeing the characters come into their own.
My one issue with this book is that there was no dramatic comeuppance for the villains in the piece. Basically it focuses more on Olivia’s being to get over what happened to her, and her no longer fearing the villains, not feeling she got justice. Or at least I waffle on this issue. On the one hand, I appreciate that this isn’t wish-fulfillment and completely unrealistic. Not everything is tied up and happily finished, except for the hero and heroine. All too often that is a frustration of mine, things that get tied up in ways that make no sense for the time period, just to make readers happy. On the other hand the villains were awful, awful awful people and there is a real sense that other children may be in danger if not now then in the future. So there is a true feeling of regret on at least this reader’s part that something diabolical didn’t occur against these miscreants. So, in moments that I’m bitter that nothing really bad happened to them, I like to consider Griffin and how he has a tendency to quietly and competently manage things. I like to assume that once things calmed down he put his skills and resources to work and settled things with the villains once and for all. Did that happen, or did the author make any provisions for me to assume that he would? Nope. But that is what I like to do in these cases, think about what the hero I know might do in the future. In any event, even with that, this is a 5 star book for me.