Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 24th, 2012
Date finished: April 27th, 2012
This is the third book in Dare's Stud Club trilogy, where the underlying mystery of the trilogy of who killed Lord Leo Chatwick is finally solved, so while it works on its own, it's probably more satisfying as a whole when read in sequence with the other two.
Julian Bellamy is the bastard son of a nobleman (he doesn't even know which). Determined to get revenge on as many noblemen as possible, he did everything to be rich, admired and adored, working tirelessly to ruin lords by winning their fortunes at the card table, or seducing their wives and female relatives. He was doing splendidly, until he met Leo Chatwick, and struck up a genuine friendship with the man. He also, shortly after meeting her, fell head over heels in love with Leo's twin sister, Lily . When Leo is killed in an alley, on a night when Julian should have been with him (because he was off seducing yet another nobleman's wife), Julian is determined to do everything in his power to hunt down his killer.
Julian also wants to make sure Lily is taken care of, and safe, and his solution to this is that she marry. While it's obvious to anyone who sees them together, that Julian is crazy about Lily, and she's really not averse to the idea of marrying him, he refuses to saddle her with a husband who's not only an infamous rake and scoundrel, but also an illigitamate byblow of uncertain parentage. Lily, however, is deeply concerned at the toll hunting for Leo's killer is taking on Julian (especially after he ends up unconcious and bleeding at her doorstep after a brawl) and makes him promise to take her to three society events, in the hopes that she can convince him that they should be together. But there are secrets about Julian's past that he hasn't shared with her. Do they have a chance if she discovers where he really came from?
Of all the novels in this trilogy, I think I liked this one the most. Julian literally lives a double life, which he's very determined no one finds out about. He got the money that allowed him to start building a fortune through shady means, but it's through careful management (and skill at the gambling tables) that he's been able to increase it. He does love Lily dearly, but in his quest for revenge against the nobility in general, he's lived a pretty reckless and promiscuous life, and he feels she deserves much better than him. I rarely read romances where the hero is the inferior one in rank, so this was an interesting change for me.
Lily's a great heroine. Bereft after the death of her beloved twin, she now has to watch her dearest friend endanger himself trying to track down Leo's murderers. Having turned deaf after a long illness, Lily's very uncomfortable about appearing in public (she and Leo had a system worked out to allow her to manage), and while she's rich and beautiful, she's pretty sure her disability will put most suitors off. When she discovers Julian's true feelings for her, she understands both why he's so hell bent on insisting she marry to be protected, and does everything in her power to convince him that the only man she'd ever marry, no matter his arguments against their union, is him. Their relationship is lovely, and the way they communicate is great.
The mystery of who killed Leo, which has been running through the entire trilogy, is also solved at the end, and the reason for his death, and the resolution to the mystery, turned out to be genuinely surprising. A nice conclusion to the series, but still not as wonderful as either of Dare's Spindle Cove books so far.