I always find this one disappointing. I think it’s because I don’t care as much for the heroine as I might. It’s not that there’s anything really wrong with her — there are just ways in which I feel she lacks substance, and that makes this the weakest of the three Bow Street Runners novels. And that’s a shame, because Nick Gentry deserved better. Unfortunately, with so little to play against, he’s not exactly showing to his best in this book, either, and so the whole thing just ends up feeling like it missed the mark.
Well. The plot. Nick Gentry is three years into his forcible reformation as a member of the Bow Street Runners, atoning for his past as a criminal mastermind. He’s also still taking some private commissions, and one of them involves hunting down the would-be bride of the much-older and creepily-obsessed Lord Radnor. He finds her, but quickly realises she’s not what he had assumed — rather than a willful, spoiled girl being petulant, he finds an openly terrified young woman who still doesn’t let her fear jeopardise an iron core. Nick is impressed enough — and attracted enough — to offer to marry her as an alternative, to remove her from Radnor’s influence forever; Charlotte is desperate enough to accept. Then they have to figure out how to be married to each other, and there’s lots of negotiating back and forth, and a lot of Lottie trying to break through Nick’s defenses. It’s somewhat predictable, and without enough flair to make the predictability of the plot worth it. Kleypas does do a nice job with the villain; Radnor is a pretty scary creature, who invested a lot of money trying to turn Charlotte into “the perfect woman”. It’s sort of 19th-century Stepford thinking. It’s also implied that he molested her when she was a teenager, and when he realises Lottie is out of his reach, he kidnaps her younger sister to lure her away from Nick. Despite the promise of that set-up, the action sequence at the end deflates pretty quickly.
The other side of the plot comes from Nick’s sister Sophia, from (obviously), Lady Sophia’s Lover. Sophia is nudging Nick to reclaim his latent viscountcy, and her husband is supporting her — rather forcefully managing Nick’s life from a distance — because they’re both worried that Nick is going to get himself killed working for Bow Street. There’s also the matter of Bow Street’s tenure coming to an end, ceding to make way for the Metropolitan Police, which is an interesting but under-used historical tidbit. This plotline had potential, but didn’t get explored nearly enough; Nick has a temper fit, but then acquiesces in a grumbling sort of way. But Kleypas doesn’t do much with it past that. The announcement is the setting for a plot point, but we never really get to see Nick come to terms with his responsibilities in an emotional way.
The sex scenes were still good. I do appreciate that we open with Nick learning how to be a lover from a famous madam, and I like that Kleypas toys with a little bit of bondage play in this book. A little. Not much, because, well, historical romances just never seem to want to go there, much to my dismay. But it is there, and I’m glad for it. Other than that, though — I just don’t have a lot to say about this book. It’s serviceable; it closes out a trilogy; it could be skipped without feeling like you’re missing too much.