As the daughter of a Duke, Lady Hero Batten has known it was her duty to find a husband since childhood, and has always comported herself in the most proper way in order to accomplish that goal. Still, she can't help sometimes wishing that things could be different. Hero is about to be engaged to Thomas, the Marquess of Mandeville, a man who can be a bit dull and stuffy, but she knows that it is a good match. That is, until the night of her engagement party, when she accidentally walks in on a man with stunning green eyes in flagrante delicto with a woman she knows to be married to someone else. The whole scene stirs foreign feelings within her, but being a proper lady, she helps the couple to escape an encounter with the woman's drunken husband. Afterward, Hero and the man share some sharp banter before returning to the ball, thinking never to see each other again, but Hero couldn't be more stunned when he is later introduced to her as Griffin Remmington, none other than her future brother-in-law.
Griffin is something of a loner and normally spends his time at his estate in the north, but business and his brother's engagement ball brought him reluctantly to London. After their encounter at the party, Griffin can't stop thinking about Thomas' fiancée. While returning home after a long night handling his secret business in the slum of St. Giles, Griffin chances upon Lady Hero. He is surprised to learn that she is the patroness of a foundling home there and neither her brother nor his knows that she is making frequent forays into this dangerous part of town to oversee construction of a new orphanage. Partly because of his protective nature and partly out of a desire to continue seeing her, Griffin "persuades" Hero to allow him to accompany her whenever she is going to St. Giles. Each time they are alone together, their attraction burns hotter until they can no longer deny their desires. But will Griffin be able to quit his questionable business dealings before it's too late for him, and will Hero be able to set aside her "perfect" life to allow herself to take a chance on a man like Griffin?
Notorious Pleasures was a really good second installment in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. I liked it better than the first book, Wicked Intentions, in large part because I connected with the characters more deeply. Also, unlike the first story which is set almost entirely in the London slum of St. Giles, I would say that the narrative was about equally split between St. Giles and the high society functions to which I've become accustomed in historical romance. I have to say that I began reading Notorious Pleasures with some doubts. I'm not a fan of love triangles, and it was clear from the synopsis that this was going to be a big part of the story. However, "love" might be a bit strong of a word since Thomas and Hero's impending nuptials are nothing more than a business arrangement and there is no love between then to speak of. I think in this case I wasn't as bothered by it as I might otherwise be, because I never felt like a great guy was going to be left out in the cold. I also spent a large part of the book wondering just how Hero and Griffin were going to get together. In Elizabeth Hoyt's capable hands, it became a romance of ups and downs that was full of passion as each of them comes to terms with their love for one another.
Right from the start, I could sense some hurt beneath Griffin's devil-may-care facade. Even though he was the second son, he has a much stronger head for business than his brother, Thomas, the Marquess. As such, Griffin has made sacrifices and taken risks for his family in order to secure their finances. At first, I had very mixed feelings about how he had accomplished this. I understood why he did it, but there were times when he seemed to have lost touch with how his business affected other people. Much like with Wicked Intentions, Ms. Hoyt took a chance on a character who had made questionable choices in his life, but in the end, he saw the light and not only found a way out of his shady business dealings but also found a way to made things better for those he had previously harmed. Griffin may have had some moments when he came off as hard and cynical, but he also had a vulnerability about him, especially when he thinks of loosing Hero or the respect of his mother whom he adores. There were times when Griffin seemed completely overwhelmed by how strong his feelings were for Hero. It was like he was a man adrift and drowning until she came into his life, bringing meaning and purpose, and then he became utterly immersed in his love for her, unable to live without her.
Hero is the daughter of a duke, but I had sensed during her few scenes in Wicked Intentions an inner desire to live a more normal life. Ms. Hoyt definitely built upon that in Notorious Pleasures. Hero has been groomed from the cradle to accept her place in society and therefore is very controlled in every aspect of her life, leading Griffin to dub her Lady Perfect. Underneath it all though, she longs to break free from her gilded cage and really soar but is too afraid of what might happen if she does. Hero is a very generous woman who is a patroness of the foundling home in St. Giles which was such a large part of Wicked Intentions, and which burned down at the end of that book. She is working very hard to see the orphanage rebuilt and the children properly cared for, but is running into trouble at every turn which is where Griffin comes into the picture, offering his help. She is very perceptive, not only about Griffin not being as bad as he allows everyone to think he is, but also about Thomas not being quite as perfect as he seems. Even though Hero initially didn't want to be attracted to Griffin, she was drawn to him like a moth to a flame. Although she had her doubts and uncertainties about a relationship with Griffin, she always gave very freely of herself to him every time they were together. It was rather frustrating to see Hero take so long to give into her feelings for Griffin, but ultimately, I thought she was brave to finally break free from society's expectations and just follow her heart.
Griffin and Hero have an inauspicious first meeting that was both sensuous and funny when she catches him in flagrante delicto with a married woman. Afterward, the pair engage in some deliciously sharp, witty bantering that perfectly expressed their mutual underlying attraction. I like how the author showed that their interest in one another wasn't merely lust. As Griffin was helping Hero with her work in St. Giles, they discovered an intellectual connection through a shared affinity for classical Greek literature. During these times, I thought their dialog was great. Their getting-to-know-you conversations just flowed very naturally. When they consummate their relationship, the love scenes were very intense right from the beginning and only grew more so as the story progressed. Sometimes, it felt like they weren't merely making love, but their very souls were connecting.
Much like with the first book of the series, the supporting players were strong and varied with some characters returning and new ones being introduced who may become future heroes and heroines. Griffin's brother and Hero's fiancé, Thomas, seems outwardly perfect, but could be a bit self-absorbed. Underneath it all, he wasn't a bad guy and was a lot like Hero, wanting to do things that society would frown upon but his title and position in Parliament weighed heavily on him. I was glad to see that things worked out for him in the end. Griffin's sister, Margaret, is a very nice young woman who wants to help Hero with the foundling home. She also wishes to marry, but wants it to be for love and so far, is having no luck finding the affection she so deeply desires. At first I thought Hero's brother, Maximus, might support her when it came time to break her engagement, but his stalwart stand against the gin trade which he holds responsible for the murders of their parents, ends up causing some friction between them. Much like Thomas, his friend and political ally, he wasn't a bad guy, just very staunch in his opinions. If Ms. Hoyt deigns to make him a hero, I think the right woman could certainly loosen him up a bit.;-) Hero's sister, Phoebe, is a sweet girl who is loosing her sight, and I think she would make a really interesting future heroine. It was great to see Winter and Silence again. Silence has not too surprisingly become a mother to Mary Darling, the baby who was left on her doorstep at the end of Wicked Intentions, and I'm pretty sure I now know who left the baby and continues to anonymously bring gifts for her. Silence continues to suffer from a lack of self-confidence and weathers through a tragedy as well. She sights Micky O'Connor, the man who both frightens and intrigues her, a couple of times, and I'm eagerly looking forward to their book, Scandalous Desires, which is coming in October (2011). Winter is still hard at work, running the orphanage, and is to become the hero of the fourth book, due to be released in the summer of 2012 and tentatively titled, Thief of Shadows. The Ghost of St. Giles returned as well. Once again, I thought I had figured out who he/she was, and once again, I was apparently wrong. This is a mystery I'll definitely be looking forward to solving. Last but not least, were the matrons of the Remmington and Batten families, Griffin's mother and Hero's Cousin Bathilda. Both were wonderful supportive ladies who were always ready with a word of wisdom and always looking out for everyone's best interests. Cousin Bathilda's little dog, Mignon, was adorable too, and knows a good man when she see one.;-)
Overall, Notorious Pleasures was an enjoyable story with a great cast of characters who I took pleasure in getting to know. Due to Hero holding back her feelings for so long and a few somewhat slow places here and there, it wasn't quite a perfect read, but it came close. All in all, it was a very tight and well-written book. The ending was suspenseful and brought about closure to everything in the way I had hoped. I also loved the fairy tale told in snippets at the beginning of each chapter which has become an Elizabeth Hoyt trademark. I thought that it complimented the main story perfectly. Notorious Pleasures was an all-around fun read and I'm very much looking forward to the next book in the Maiden Lane series.
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