The first book in the Spies and Secrets series, published September 2004.
Calliope Minton is never far from scandal. And her greatest pleasure is capturing the nobility at their worst. Donning a daring disguise, she poses as a society courtesan to get closer to London's leading bachelor. However, her ruse might have brought Calliope too close to her favourite target: James Trenton, Marquess of Angelford, a man who appears less foolish and more dashing with every meeting ...
James is certain the enchantress is hiding something -- and she is driving him mad ... with desire and curiosity. Already occupied with trying to expose the "artist" who has been humiliating him in the papers, James does not need another mystery! But all the lady's secrets will be revealed when they are forced to join together to find a vanished mutual acquaintance -- and perilous circumstance tosses the Marques’s bewitching, irresistible adversary into his arms.
This book has been my purse-book, so it took me quite a while to finish. Only reading about half an hour a day during my lunchbreak. But still, the story did grab my interest. It was a really original plot, where the heroine is a social nobody, and dons disguises to be able to infiltrate the ton. Her last one was a ladies companion, dressed very dowdy, but she got sacked in a very public scene, so that road was closed. Her latest personality is that of Esmeralda, a courtesan. Her mentor and friend, another caricaturist, has set her up with a distant cousin of his, Stephen, who knows all about the masquerade, and is happy to play along. Especially when he sees the attraction/enmity/sparks between Calliope and his best friend James. James can surely use some love in his life.
Stephen sure finds it funny when James get furious about the new hot caricaturist, who seems to have him in the spotlights, and not in a flattering kind of way!
Both Stephen and James are spies for the government, but someone in their group seems to be dirty, as some accidents have happened lately, and some confidential information has gotten in the wrong hands. Stephen has a lead on who the traitor is, but when he gets too close, he is attacked by villains and disappears. Calliope doesn’t know what to do, especially as someone threatens her adopted family. She doesn’t have an object, they would be after. And here comes Angelford to the rescue, taking her out into the ton, trying to find out what happened to Stephen, and who the traitor is. James is also determined to find out Esmeralda’s secret, as he instantly recognises her as the dowdy ladies companion who ruffled his feathers so often. If she wanted a protector, why should it not be him? And with Stephen missing, perhaps he gets his chance at seducing her …
What made this plot difficult to follow, where the many similar names of the suspects. I just could not keep them apart. Holt and Roth for instance. The many secondary characters, and not only the traitor who wants to get rid of them, also a woman who wants to get rid of Esmeralda as she wants James for herself … Even though James makes is very clear he is not interested.
I did like the story, but I could not always understand Calliope, and all the things she does. And you really cannot learn how to ride a horse in an hour and participate in a scavenger hunt, galloping and gallivanting about the estate. Especially not sidesadlle. I refuse to buy that. I liked Calliope’s “sister”, and how protective they are of each other. I hope Deirdre will come back in this series.
So, a nice historical romance, some mystery and suspense, and just a nice read if you don’t think too much about it all. Then you will lose your love of the story itself.
I will read more by this author, as I like her writing style and her humor. And as this was her first book, I am certain the rest will be better. I liked the originality of a low born lady (her mother was a mistress and opera singer) who makes her living as a caricaturist, and chorus girl in the theater, where her adopted family works. The men in this story are more “normal”.
With this book, I have certainly met my self imposed reading challenge, of reading at least one book a month that has been gathering dust on my shelves for over a year.