Charlotte Arkendale has known privation and want. She has also known evil. Once, when her sister was fourteen, her rakehell father-in-law attempted to sell her sister's virginity to pay his debts to one of his cronies. The man had a beautiful voice, but she never got to see his face before running the pair of them off with an unloaded pistol. With her mother already dead, she was all her sister had left to defend her, and she succeeded. The next morning, her father-in-law was dead, and she had to find a way to keep them both alive.
Now, years later, she runs a discreet service that ferrets out fortune-hunters for women of quality, men who might be after a woman for nothing but her money. But when Baxter St. Ives presents himself to her as answering her ad for a man of affairs, she senses that something is not quite right with him- that he is something other than he is presenting himself to be.
And of course, she is right, for Baxter St. Ives is there to investigate her- seeing if she is the blackmailer and murderess he believes her to be. He also knows evil, for he once travelled with a friend named Morgan Judd- a fellow chemist, until he decided to use his talents in making chemical mixtures for Napoleon, completely turning his back on England. When St. Ives tried to stop him, his former friend threw acid at him, marking him forever. St. Ives managed to escape before the laboratory blew up, but he still carries the scars years later.
It is his aunt, Lady Trengloss, who thinks that Charlotte is a blackmailer, but when he returns to her house to be instructed in his new duties, she confesses her true profession. she makes discreet inquiries for women who have inherited money into the background of men who propose to them. At once, Baxter realizes why she needs the services of a man who is also a bodyguard as well as an inquiry agent and man of affairs. But, she tells him, recently one of her clients was murdered, a Mrs. Drusilla Heskett, and that she feels responsible for her death. She feels that she must investigate her death to see if information that Charlotte did or did not provide, led to Mrs. Heskett's death.
The first order of business is to search Drusilla's rooms. And while they search, they are nearly discovered. But Charlotte has found a sketching book that once belonged to Drusilla. And some of its pages bear markings that remind St. Ives of old symbols found in Alchemy books. And it is obvious that someone is after the sketchbook, for attempts are made to steal it from Charlotte's house But why? Aside from the perhaps alchemy symbols, there seems to be nothing incriminating inside it, nothing that would make anyone want to steal it... or kill for it.
As Baxter and Charlotte attempt to find out who killed Drusilla Heskett, Baxter finds himself falling for his most unusual employer, and imagining her in a new role, one under his body as he gives her pleasure, and finds his own release in return. But when she suggests a mere affair, how can he convey to her that a mere affair won't satisfy him? That he wants her body, and her love, for all time? Can he convince Charlotte to give up her hatred of marriage based on the mistreatment of her stepfather and step forward into a lifetime of love and happiness... with him? And will the villain they face- with ties to both of them- be able to separate them and take Charlotte for his own?
Another excellent Amanda Quick book. Here we are getting to see the same sort of hero as in her D, M, R and S books. Baxter is sort of a Renaissance man- mostly good with his mind, but well able to take care of himself, and Charlotte is his foil, intelligent, bold and honorable- things all men aspired to back in the Regency period, but generally not women. And although feminism is not even winking over the horizon yet. Charlotte doesn't believe in or even want marriage, having lived through her mother's disastrous second marriage where she lost everything to a man who took everything away from her. Because in those days, everything a woman had became her husband's when she married.
It's just this sort of thing she tries to prevent for her clients with her service. By her nature, she is mistrustful of most men, but her time with Baxter allows her to come to trust him as they work together to find out who killed Drusilla Heskett. And once she starts falling for him, she falls hard, and the two of them almost can't stop touching each other. Seeing their romance and physical relationship take shape, and each of them accept each other for who they were, scars included, was nothing short of heartwarming. I always enjoy reading Amanda Quick because of these scenes and how each couple she writes about make these scenes their own and somehow different, even though the emotions of them are all the same. Finding someone who accepts you as you are makes for something both warm and thrilling, and I can't get enough of the stories when they finally come to that point.
I really liked this story, both for the romantic and mysterious aspects. I loved how each character, hero and heroine, came together and found something they never would have counted on for themselves- love. Their sex scenes were open, honest and thrilling. In fact, it made me crave someone to love me that way. And I can't get enough of reading Amanda Quick. Highly recommended.