Meh. I can’t say I loved this, but Kleypas always manages to keep me reading and I was entertained. The heroine, Pandora, was amusing and Gabriel, her hero, matched her wit for wit, banter for banter. Moreover, Gabriel is eldest son to Sebastian and Evie, my favourite Kleypas couple in my favourite Kleypas romance, Devil In Winter. Catching glimpses of their latter married years was one of the novel’s delights, but it didn’t make up for a narrative that splits right down the middle with an entertaining first half and an eye-rolling, here-we-go-again second. Here’s the back-cover blurb:
Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger. After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught-by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain. After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy—and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven . . .
This started out great and could have been a year’s favourite, were it not for that second half. Gabriel and Pandora, especially the latter, are a hoot from their opening scene. When Pandora tries to retrieve a lost earring for a friend, she ends up trapped by the settee where she struggles to reach the pesky object. Gabriel rescues her from spending a few hours wedged in by the settee’s elaborate scroll work. Given this is a ton ball, their bizarre settee-entrapped entwining makes it appear as if they’re in a compromising clutch. Gabriel does the honourable thing and proposes marriage, Pandora refuses, but the two families, the Ravenels and Gabriel’s, agree to let the couple get acquainted at Sebastian and Evie’s estate. This first part of the novel is super-amusing because Gabriel and Pandora’s exchanges are so much fun and we have a beloved double-family ensemble cast as the background to their courtship.
Once they’re married, however, and the HEA is complete, what to do with the remaining page count? Kleypas runs to type: put the heroine in danger in a ridiculous romantic-suspense plot, take a perfectly serviceable witty, sexy, amusing hero and turn him into an overprotective, unreasonable lunatic, and throw in plot twists and secondary characters to serve as sequel-bait. Did not like. And yet, I’m a Kleypas sucker and will read the next book in the series, Hello Stranger, because that sequel-bait, at least, worked.