But not being hanged for her husband's murder isn't enough for Leila. She wants to learn the truth --- all of it --- from Esmond, a man who's been lying all his life.
Comment: This is the second installment in the Scoundrels series by Loretta Chase. I liked the first one enough to keep reading, even more so now that I have an idea of the author's style...although it does take some time in the middle for things to pick up.
In this second book, which takes place more or less ten years after the events in the first one, we have a daring and captivating hero who was one of the apparent villains in the first book.
Ismal is now known as the French Comte d'Esmond, a man who is fascinating, alluring and mysterious enough that everyone feels they want to know him. In fact, Esmond is an agent for the king and has been earning his redemption that way but the next task ahead of him puts him, once more, in the path of Leila, whom he briefly saw years ago during another mission and whose fate he now learns he might have caused.
Leila has become an artist although her marriage with the man who "saved" her didn't go the way she innocently imagined. She is a hardened woman now but the comte is a man she simply can't seem to ignore, even when she realizes he is a spy.
Will these two be able to work as a team? Will the things they share unite or separate them?
It was very entertaining to read this book. The story is fast paced, filled with things happening again and again and the two main characters seem to unite efforts from a certain point on in order to solve quite a mystery. They are investigating who could be the person who murdered Leila's husband and that leads them to all kinds of places and situations while trying to understand who could have done it and, at the same time, they start to realize they are fascinated by the other.
The story has all the ingredients to work out and for the most part it does. I would just say that some of the plot moves do seem to be set on some coincidences and when those are removed, a few scenes don't seem to be as incredible. However, this is my own perception and it doesn't really affected how the story flows, it's just that I'd change a few things to my personal taste.
The plot is daring, not just the investigation of who murdered Leila's husband - that isn't that out of the usual - but in how the protagonists got closer during that. I think the author was very clever in how she coordinated the several elements in the story and apart from the coincidences I've noticed, all the details worked out in a very structured way to lead to the final explanations. At some point, I wasn't yet certain of who could be the real guilty, but the reasons why were quite evident anyway. I just wasn't certain if the author wanted to surprise the reader with an unlikely murderer instead.
Plot aside, of course, the element that fascinates the most in this book is how the romance developed.
As a couple, the fun part is to see how each one thinks about the other and how through little details here and there we start to realize how deeply they care for the other. I think this could have been done even better because we are privy to the protagonist's thoughts but they don't share everything... obviously to maximize the revelations at the end but to me, although things were done well enough, it would have been even better to let them get those conflicts out of the idea and the author could have focused the romance in their own appreciation of one another.
Esmond is really a great character to muse about. He wasn't likable at all in he first book and I wasn't certain how he could be redeemed. It did seem a rather radical change of heart from one book to the other in how he perceived his attitudes... well, I'm glad about it because he turned out to be a good hero in this book but he could have been even better.
Leila was a character that I liked too, how she evolved... the thing is, we don't have enough scenes between them that would explain a connection beyond the basics between them because they don't really talk or share serious things about their feelings. I think the connection is still there, through other things and by acting in regards to secondary situations but... I wish Leila could have been a little more consistent in how she acted with Esmond. It was not very believable for me how she could be in love if for so long she was attempting to not fall for his charms.
It does seem I didn't have such a good opinion on the book but like I said, it was an entertaining story to read. I liked how the characters interacted with the secondary characters, how their relationships were developed, I liked knowing secondary things that wouldn't interfere with the main plot but were, nevertheless, interesting to add to the whole picture and how the main couple reacted to some of those things.
When the story ended, I was just glad the main characters had found their HEA and that some other characters weren't guilty as the clues seemed to be pointing out to distract the reader.