Synopsis and review contain spoilers for the Maiden Lane series.
By day, Winter Makepeace is a quiet, unassuming schoolmaster and the manager of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children. By night, he is the avenging angel known as the Ghost of St. Giles, protecting those who cannot protect themselves. When Winter is seriously wounded while disguised as the Ghost, his two worlds collide in a way he never could have predicted.
Lady Isabel Beckinhall finds the injured Ghost unconscious in the street, being pursued by an angry mob. The danger and romanticism of his character draws her, and knowing that he is a wanted man, she cannot just leave him to die or be hanged. Instead, she takes him home and tenderly cares for him. The mysterious man will not allow himself to be unmasked though and disappears before dawn, leaving Isabel wondering about his identity. Isabel is also a benefactress of the Foundling Home and when one of her cohorts initiates efforts to have Winter dismissed from his position, Isabel comes to his rescue as well. She volunteers her services to tutor him in social etiquette, so that he may navigate through society more easily to find supporters for his cause. The stoic schoolmaster intrigues her in a way that no man ever has, and the more time she spends with him, the more he reminds her of a certain masked avenger.
When the Ghost is accused of murder, Isabel will stop at nothing to keep the man she has fallen in love with safe. But little girls are disappearing in St. Giles, and Winter cannot stop until he finds them and rescues them from the clutches of the evildoers. As they seem to work at cross-purposes, a burning passion flares between Winter and Isabel until neither can deny the call of their hearts.
Wow! I'm beginning to think that Elizabeth Hoyt simply isn't capable of writing a bad book, and that's a very good thing.:-) I had really been looking forward to Thief of Shadows for a long time, and it certainly didn't disappoint. It ended up being another fabulous read in the Maiden Lane series and in a virtual tie with Scandalous Desires for my favorite book in the series so far. I just couldn't get enough of the scrumptious Winter and think he was the perfect match for Lady Isabel. The only thing that could possibly make this book better is if I could erase my memory of it, so that I could read and enjoy it all over again as though I'd never read it before.:-)
I've been crazy about Winter since the series first began and am so glad that he finally got his own book. When Winter is himself, he's a simple, shy, unassuming schoolmaster whose commitment and devotion to the children of the Foundling Home is touching beyond measure. When he takes up his avenging angel alter-ego of the Ghost of St. Giles, he becomes a more confident man who dares to banter with and even kiss the woman he has come to admire. He also harbors a depth of emotion that drives him to keep playing the Ghost, because he simply cannot leave the children and other helpless souls of St. Giles unprotected. Winter is definitely a man in whom still waters run deep, and it was an absolute joy to watch as he gradually integrates the two personas. Winter thinks of the Ghost part of himself as an animal, but in reality, he's far more self-aware than most men, which in my book, makes him quite civilized. He's always very controlled in his actions and knows exactly what he's getting into before he does it. This made him falling for Isabel all the more heartfelt, because it was a deliberate action which he had no intention of ever recanting. Winter has been so focused on caring for the children all of his adult life that it is an unfamiliar feeling when Isabel cares for him and shows him some small kindnesses. He is a very intuitive man who recognizes that Isabel is hiding some secrets of her own, and against all reason wants to unmask her in the same way she is doing with him. He is quite masterful at reading between the lines and understanding all the things that Isabel doesn't say and occasionally shocks her with his astuteness. Winter is a very intelligent man who recognizes that same attribute in Isabel and respects her as his intellectual equal. Winter has the heart of a poet and utters a number of incredibly romantic and swoon-worthy lines that I'll not soon forget. I love the way he often says, "As you wish," and can't help wondering if the author was paying homage to The Princess Bride. I think the thing I adored most about Winter though is his view that making love is an intimate expression of love and commitment and not merely lust or sex. He knows from the moment he first makes love to Isabel that he is laying claim to her for now and always. When Isabel initially rejects his suit, he patiently bides his time until she comes to terms with the idea of marrying him. Even when it seems like everyone else has gotten the upper hand on him, we discover that Winter is an incredibly clever man who really had control of the situation all along and when it came to Isabel, he used that ingenuity to stay close to her and continue to carefully press his suit. Winter was a sweet, gentle man who leans toward the beta side, but when he takes up the mask of the Ghost has a streak of alpha protectiveness. Everything came together to make him an all-around delectable hero who has definitely earned a spot on my all-time favorite heroes list.
Isabel is a woman who wears her own mask quite well. To society she presents the perfect picture of a poised, confident lady, but underneath she's broken and grieving for dreams that have been shattered. When Winter comes into her life, he slowly begins peeling away the layers, leaving her painfully exposed, but then soothes her with the balm of his love. During their first encounter in this story, Isabel bravely rescues the Ghost of St. Giles. At this point, I think she is somewhat taken with the danger and romanticism of Winter's alter-ego, but once she starts falling for Winter and realizes they are one and the same, she becomes sick with worry over his safety while in the guise of the Ghost. I thought Isabel was a very intelligent woman to put the pieces together and realize that Winter was the Ghost. As Isabel and Winter begin to get to know one another, Isabel seems to enjoy needling Winter in a good-natured sort of way in an attempt to loosen him up a little whenever he's being particularly reticent. I love that Isabel sees the whole man behind Winter's stoic exterior, and that she sincerely wants to get to know him better. She recognizes the intense passion that hides just beneath the surface and is intoxicated by the thought of him turning that passion on her. Isabel may get angry with Winter for not telling her the truth about being the Ghost, but she still can't resist him even when he's not really trying to seduce her. She's quite simply drawn to him like a moth to a flame. Isabel is obviously rather uncomfortable with the little boy, Christoper, and I correctly discerned her reasons for that. However, it's equally obvious that deep down she cares for him too, and through Winter's calming influence, she gradually becomes more relaxed around children in general. I like the way that Isabel supports Winter too. She seems to understand his devotion to the Foundling Home and when one of her cohorts in the Ladies Syndicate tries to get him dismissed from his job as the manager, she sincerely wants to help him keep his position. Isabel definitely gave Winter a challenge when she attempted to fight her feelings for him, but deep down, she's been hurt and was simply afraid to love him for fear that he might someday betray her, or worse yet, look at her as less than a woman and eventually despise her. Lucky for her, Winter was a patient and determined man who wouldn't take no for an answer.
As a couple Winter and Isabel are a superb match. These two see and appreciate the parts of each other that no one else ever has. I love the way they flirt and banter but it's in a more reserved way than one would typically see in a historical romance. Winter is just too honest and direct for it to be any other way. Instead their dialog is like an exquisite dance, intricately choreographed to build sexual tension. Every look, every touch is more of the same, propelling them on toward the ultimate goal of falling in love and sharing passion. All this made their first kiss and their first intimate encounters explosively passionate, yet when Winter comes back to Isabel later, their love-making is deliciously slow and sensuous. He puts himself completely under Isabel's tutelage while unselfishly giving himself to her. His curiosity is adorable, and his attention to her needs bone-meltingly decadent. Virgin heroes like Winter are definitely an under-rated commodity in romance, and in my opinion, there should be a lot more of them.
Thief of Shadows has a number of memorable secondary characters. It nearly broke my heart when the selfish Lady Penelope teamed up with Lord d'Arque to stir up trouble for Winter. It was hard to believe that she couldn't see what an amazing man Winter was and how devoted he was to the children, but complacent people like her rarely do have an understanding of such things. Her quiet companion, Miss Greaves seems like a decent person though, and I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of her in the future. Joseph Tinbox is so sweet the way he looks out for Peach, a little orphan girl Winter rescues after she escapes from the "lassie snatchers." Even though Winter tries not to have favorites, he simply can't help having a special place in his heart for Joseph, and I think it's wonderful that Joseph recognizes on some level what Winter is doing and wants to emulate him. Joseph would make a great hero when he grows up, and this book left me with the feeling Ms. Hoyt may be heading that direction with his character. Griffin's sister, Lady Margaret finally found the love-match she'd been craving. However, I knew after taking a writer's workshop with Elizabeth Hoyt that Margaret's secret love affair was doomed, because she is set to become the heroine of the next book in the series, Lord of Darkness. Her hero will be Godric St. John, Caire's best friend from Wicked Intentions. Godric only appears in a couple of scenes in this book, and he seems to be very sad and depressed over the death of his beloved wife. I've loved both of these characters since I first met them, and think that they have the potential to make a fabulous match. After the teasers Ms. Hoyt gave us in her workshop, I can't wait to read their book.
Thief of Shadows was a perfect book that had a little of everything. There was action, adventure and a little bit of mystery as Winter searches St. Giles for the missing little girls and tries to figure out which high-ranking aristocrat is responsible for their disappearances. There is decadent romance as Isabel tutors Winter in the social graces and a whole lot more. I also loved Winter's intelligent response to those who called for his resignation and the way he cleverly turned the tables on them. Then there was the surprising epilogue which revealed an intriguing secret that explains something I'd been wondering about since the beginning of the series. It also leaves the reader with a mini-cliffhanger, and with that to explore and an unsolved murder that I hope will be resolved, there's a lot to look forward to in Lord of Darkness. It's going to be difficult to wait eight months for it to be released.
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