Saturday 19 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 92: "Luck Be a Lady" by Meredith Duran

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Miss Catherine Everleigh has spent most of her life at her father's side, learning to appraise antiques and become the natural successor to his auction house. Her brother got to go away to school, Catherine was tutored at home by a governess. Her father's will stated that she would have equal controlling share in the Everleigh Auction Rooms with her brother, but only once she's married. Now she knows her brother is embezzling funds to support his political ambitions. He keeps introducing her to what he considers suitable marriage candidates, but Catherine knows that they would all play directly into his hands.

Most of society calls her "the Ice Queen", a moniker she's not particularly bothered by. She's fully aware that most men do not want an educated wife whose chief concern is antiquities and running a business. However, she will not get her full inheritance without a husband. As it becomes clear her brother may actually sell the Auction Rooms, she needs to find someone who will help her seize control from her brother. The only man who comes to mind as a suitable ally is Nicholas O'Shea, the charming uncle of Catherine's former assistant, Lilah. Catherine's plan is a marriage of convenience, which she can use to gain control of her share of the business. That a family connection to an East End mob boss may severely hamper her brother's political ambitions is also something she can use as leverage.

Nick O'Shea has kept an eye on Catherine Everleigh ever since his niece went to work for her company. She's always been the perfect embodiment of all the things that he can't have. In control of a large area of the East End, without even having to break the law to do it, Nick is looking for new challenges. Marriage to the lovely Miss Everleigh would lend him added respectability and help him move his power base further into the fully law-abiding realm. A marriage of convenience, with no talk of love is fine by him. After consummating the marriage, however, he's no longer so sure about living and sleeping apart, as he wants Catherine in his bed every night, and he's willing to use every dirty trick he knows to seduce her.

Catherine Everleigh was an important supporting character in Duran's previous book, Lady Be Good. While having read that book gives a deeper understanding and shows her from other character's point of view, this book works fine on its own. Catherine is seen as a cold woman, because her main concern is her passion for her business. She was frequently made to feel that she was unnatural and displayed inappropriate behaviour by her mother, but loved nothing better than to learn how to restore, appraise and value antiquities at her father's side. The Everleigh Auction Rooms is everything she values and cares about, and a traditional marriage to someone of her own class would mean that she would have to give up on her dreams. It makes her furious that her brother is able to gradually steal money and run the business to the ground, while she is powerless to stop him.

The marriage she proposes to Nick O'Shea is a secret one. After consummating the marriage to make sure it is legal, she fully intends for them to live apart and for the marriage to be dissolved after five years. She just wants to get her brother to sign over her share of the company to her, to prevent him from running the business into the ground. She knows men consider her very beautiful, but knows they find her a blue-stocking and inappropriately masculine in her interests. Catherine also seems to view stronger emotions and sexual desire as something that happens to other people, not something she herself is capable of or likely to ever experience. Yet she feels an unexpected thrill every time she comes near Nick O'Shea and the release and pleasure she gets when she finally lets herself relax and enjoy herself is a revelation to her. Of course her strict mother has made her believe that desire is unseemly, so it takes Nick some time (and admirable restraint) to coax his wife back into his bed.

If this were an Old School romance, I suspect Nick would be a whole lot rapier than he is here. Instead, because this is a Victorian historical written for the modern woman, while he uses every trick in the book to try to seduce Catherine and make her accept that she is a sensual, passionate woman and there is nothing wrong with that, he never pushes her into anything she doesn't want to do, and on one occasion even stops in the middle of something pretty hot and heavy because she changes her mind. A very good example of "No means no", which may or may not actually be anachronistic. I don't care - respecting a woman's wishes, even when she would clearly be happier and certainly more sexually satisfied if she kept going, is always attractive.

Catherine's brother is a complete tool. He's quite possibly too cowardly and villainous for it to be interesting, but the actions he takes over the course of the novel are sadly all too plausible. Because of his betrayal of Catherine, we are introduced to a character important to a previous Duran hero, and I would not be surprised in the slightest if this lady with a tragic past turns up in a future novel as a heroine.  

Luck Be a Lady is one of those unusual historical romances where neither of the protagonists are titled, although they are from different social classes (as I think most writers think this is the best way of causing tension between the couple). I don't seem to come across those very often, and it's a nice change of pace. Duran has only let me down once, and I will continue to look forward to her romances.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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