Then fire sweeps through the city, cornering the young lovers with no hope of rescue. Desperate to share their last moments together, Kathleen and Dylan impulsively marry. Incredibly, they survive. Now, as the fire burns down to cold ash, Kathleen must tell Chicago's most eligible bachelor that he has married a fraud. But the joke's on her. For this gentleman is no gentleman. While Kathleen had hoped to win Dylan's love, he had planned only to capture her heart and steal her fortune. Dylan Kennedy -- con artist, gambler, and ne'er-do-well -- has been unwittingly caught in his own game. Now the real sparks are about to fly.
Comment: This is the second installment in the Great Chicago Fire trilogy by author Susan Wiggs. The books can be read as standalone but there's an obvious sequence in the facts presented and they are best read if in order.
In this second story we follow maid Kathleen O'Leary as she goes along her friends' Lucy and Phoebe ideas that people from good breeding and families will always recognize one another and Kathleen will be discovered as a fraud. But if she succeeds in being asked for a special event then she will prove people only believe what they see. This seems to be proven real when one of the most sought after men in Chicago, Dylan Francis Kennedy, is smitten with her and asks her to dance and later on to the ball.
What Kathleen doesn't know - nor anyone else for that matter, is that Dylan isn't who he says he is and, in fact, it's even poorer than Kathleen herself. In the aftermath of the fire that affected so many lives, can Kathleen and Dylan come to terms about what they mean for one another?
While reading the first book, the reader is given some little clues about this and that including the protagonists of the following stories. It's nothing detailed, only a reference to Dylan saying he is rich and looking for a wife and we see the preparations of turning Kathleen into the mysterious young woman to be presented as some heiress or, at least, belonging to a good and well placed family.
I was very much looking for to this story based on those glimpses because I really thought I'd get that story, the one about a woman who only wants to know what it's like to be rich and noticed and that of the man who will like her beyond her origins and masquerade. A bit like Cinderella really, I actually like the Cinderella trope in romances.
However, it wasn't so, I haven't read the blurb for this book while reading the first so it was quite the surprise when I was reading this book and realized Dylan is as much a fake as Kathleen! This wouldn't be a sweet romance about Cinderella-like characters but a story about common people who lied and were caught in their secrets and deceiving. I mean, I was ready to be convinced Kathleen's actions wouldn't cause harm to everyone and that a man would still love her but the two of them playing to be someone they're not and the joke instead of being on the other is actually on the reader? Ehhh...
This fact alone kind of crumbled all my expectations for this book and I was already disappointed, no matter how interesting their story ended up being.
I liked Kathleen's family and I do applaud her dreaming of being different, of having a different life, of trying to have a different reality. I also like she didn't just give up but it's not as if Dylan is a great catch! Could she really be in love in such a short time and can she really be expected to not change her feelings when she finds out he not only deceived her too but wasn't even sorry and let her go when he found out the truth? I don't think it's brave and persistent to still go after some liar if they leave you while saying bad things about you...
Dylan is a character I both understand and dislike. Yes, her is a liar and he doesn't come from a good childhood so his actions are understandable but at the same time he is a grown up, why can't he be a good citizen or why didn't he try? Yes, it's much easier to settle and don't try and that's realistic but this is a romance, for me to like the hero he has to, at least, try. He never does, even by the end, when the HEA happens, he didn't try to change, he simply saw the light once at church but went away and got lucky, what he does to help or to switch something within his own limits isn't ever for himself, it's because it serves a purpose, even if good intended.
Because this book didn't positively surprise me nor did the main characters turned out to be anything close to what I expected, I can't really say much about it. The plot has some interesting moments, especially when the protagonists interact with other characters and when they try to help in feeding the poor after the fire, but the whole thing left me rather disappointed. Not even the relationship between the main characters seemed strong enough or romantic enough to justify everything else, so...
I really hope the third one won't be like this and is actually as intriguing as it promises.