That's the headline when Zoe Lexham returns to England. After twelve years in the exotic east, she's shockingly adept in the sensual arts. She knows everything a young lady shouldn't and nothing she ought to know. She's a walking scandal, with no hope of a future . . . unless someone can civilize her.
Lucien de Grey, the Duke of Marchmont, is no knight in shining armor. He's cynical, easily bored, and dangerous to women. He charms, seduces, and leaves them—with parting gifts of expensive jewelry to dry their tears. But good looks, combined with money and rank, makes him welcome everywhere. The most popular bachelor in the Beau Monde can easily save Zoe's risqué reputation . . . if the wayward beauty doesn't lead him into temptation, and a passion that could ruin them both.
Comment: Last month I've read the first book in the Fallen Women duology and it was the book I liked the least by this author so far. Nevertheless, already having this one I've decided to read it anyway because it would obviously be different, even though the focus was on yet another "fallen" heroine, theme I don't tend to enjoy but, you know, always hopeful authors do magic!
In this story we meet Lucien, the duke of Montgomery, and he is a well respected and admired man in society, but his life feels very lonely because he has lost his family. The person he admires the most is lord Lexham, the man who was friend of his parents and who helped him after each loss. That man also had a terrible loss, for during an ill-advised tour in the Mediterranean at a time of instability and war, his 12 year old youngest daughter Zoe was taken and he could not get her back. Throughout the following 12 years many young women came to him claiming they were his lost daughter but every time it was a deceit. Until now, when the "harem girl" as the press calls her, has showed up saying she is Zoe. Lucien decides to visit the Lexhams, clearly all in an uproar, to verify for himself, a duty he takes seriously as his obligation to the man he respects immensely but he is as surprised as everyone to see she is indeed Zoe... but she isn't the same childhood friend of before, she is changed....but isn't Lucien as well?
I did like this story better than the other one in the duology. That is simply due to the fact the main couple in this story is much more fascinating and compelling, which made the adventures they face easier to read and not as difficult to sympathize with, as opposed to the other book where I always kept a certain distance between what I was thinking and what the scenes supposedly would evoke.
Clearly, the main theme here is how Zoe, a very young girl at the time, was "sold" by servant and became part of the harem of the ruler of that region, since her white skin and blond hair were so exotic. Afterwards, she was given as a second wife to the ruler's son but somehow his illness stopped him from raping her as it would probably happen otherwise. For all those years, knowingly a caged slave, Zoe has plotted her escape and when the opportunity came, she used it and risked death to find freedom. That is how she arrived in England again, found her family who never forgot her but, of course, society is ready to label her s fallen for the kind of existence she was forced to have.
I actually thought we would have much more emphasis on this and perhaps Zoe would share a lot more than she does about her life in the harem. I can only guess this wasn't so to allow the author to focus things on the romance or on Zoe's adaptation to English society but the hints here and there about this experience sometimes feel a little too simple. Also, I should say the author's writing style is more along the lines of "amusing historical" so the idea was to let us see the characters face issues and reach happiness in a more unassuming way (as opposed to lots of drama, I mean).
The family and Lucien decide the best way for society to welcome Zoe again is to have the royals' approval, therefore Zoe will have to be presented to Queen Charlotte, who has recently lost a daughter. When Zoe is presented, somehow everyone sees in her the spirit and the courage so often seen in the deceased princess and that, apparently, helps Zoe being accepted, but before that, of course plenty of silly things happen to Zoe and Lucien and after each misstep and/or adventure, not only does the family need acceptance for Zoe more than ever, but Zoe and Lucien become even closer than they used to be as children, thus reinforcing their bond and current feelings.
The romance is the most obvious trademark style of the author. Quirky characters doing things that probably would be seen by others as too crazy or unlikely but their personality and name dismiss a lot of the doubts. The more they interact, the closer they get, especially since it becomes clear their relationship would further help Zoe's place among the ton and at some point it becomes easier to assume they will be a married couple. Of course their romance is cute and adorable and with many moments where we can just know they had always been destined to be together.
Not a lot is discussed about their pasts and their losses but the author is very good at letting things be said in such a way, one just infers and understands things between the lines. After the protagonist marry and things seem to be finally over, in terms of how Zoe will have a place in society, I assumed perhaps the story would end but the author inserted another plot point and Zoe and Lucien further deepen their bond by uniting forces to deal with a certain domestic issue... I confess I don't remember this subject being part of many historical romances but it was an interesting addition for certain.
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