4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Some nice characterization, some very intense sexual chemistry, and a lot of nice twists here and there: she’s the wealthy and experienced one, he’s the virgin with no real position. The background intrigue is just so-so (I often find it hit-or-miss) and the story-within-a-story was similarly just… ok and the Maiden Lane series with its many, many Ghosts of St. Giles is not holding together as believably as I’d like now that I’m a few books in. Still, the core romance is strongly written and has believable dips and climaxes that keep you entertained and emotionally involved.
Winter Makepeace is a kind of drab, phlegmatic teacher of orphans… and at night he dresses up in a Harlequin costume (much less sexy sounding superhero get-up) and enacts the part of the Ghost of St. Giles (protecting the weak, etc). One night, when he’s on the losing end of a battle, he’s rescued by Lady Isabel Beckinhall.
There’s some interesting tension from both of our characters: Winter doesn’t want to be involved in any relationship because he wants to be completely focused on his missions and his work. He’s chosen to be celibate and virginal, and isn’t particularly thrilled when it’s suggested that he get some tutoring (from Lady Isabel) on social mores (flirtations, double-entendres, etc).
The fact that Winter doesn’t initially tell her (obviously) about his secret identity, and that there’s this hidden attraction from her towards both Winter and Winter’s alter ego provides some nice dimension to the traditional romance. Unlike other romances, the reasons each of our characters has for not wanting to engage with the other (sexually or emotionally on Winter’s part and sexually without emotion on Lady Isabel’s part) is actually completely believable. Lady Isabel’s been married before and has some baggage from that. Winter’s got his mission. Because both their attraction and their unwillingness to commit are well-written and believable, we get a passionate, gradually intensifying relationship that can’t quickly or easily resolve (no stupid misunderstandings or idiot ball, just adults who can’t quite commit for real issues/concerns that have to be resolved).
That said, I didn’t love some of the secondary characters quite as much (it’s even less resolved than usual, though it’ll get addressed in the follow-up), and the maid tension/mystery was more meh than in some of her others… Still, the romance part of this, and the physical passion between the characters is believable and hot.