Miss Sarah Moorehouse and her book club, The Ladies Literary Society of London have been reading the scandalous new novel, Frankenstein, which has fueled all of their imaginations. Sarah, her sister, and her two best friends decide to build the 'perfect man' using clothing that each of them 'borrows' from a gentleman attending the Marquess Langston's house party. After the ladies' late night meeting, Sarah looks out her window and spies the Marquess returning from his garden in the rain with a shovel, making her fancifully wonder if he could be up to something sinister like Dr. Frankenstein. Sarah's job is to pilfer a shirt from the Marquess, which she attempts to do the next night only to be nearly caught by the man himself. She hides behind his curtains where she gets an eyeful of her handsome host bathing, which sparks her imagination in an entirely different way.
Matthew Devenport has more important things to worry about than a houseful of guests. He inherited a mountain of debt from his profligate father and is about to go bankrupt. He only invited the guests to his home to find an heiress to marry, so why is it that the only woman in attendance who stirs Matthew's interest is a plain Jane spinster with no dowry? When he catches Sarah hiding in his room, watching him bathe, her presence fans his desire into a burning flame, until he can think of no one else but her. Matthew's last hope of getting out of his predicament without marrying a wealthy woman is to find something his dying father told him about, but with little more than cryptic clues to go on, he's had no luck and his time is running out. With her extensive knowledge of horticulture, Sarah may be able to help decipher the clues, but if they prove unsuccessful in their search, can he really set aside this woman who has stolen his heart to marry another?
Sleepless at Midnight is another delightful Regency romance from Jacquie D'Alessandro and the first in her Mayhem in Mayfair series. It pairs a handsome Marquess who is facing the prospect of being an impoverished peer with a plain Jane spinster who has no money. She is also used to being overlooked and has given up on the idea of ever getting married. They are joined by a houseful of their friends and family as well as one mischievous but loyal dog. Add in a tender romance, passion, murder, a reading of Frankenstein, and a touch of mystery as our intrepid hero tries to solve the cryptic clues left to him by his dying father that will supposedly lead him to a fortune that will solve his money problems, and you have the makings of an extremely enjoyable read.
Sarah is an awesome heroine who embodies many of my favorite traits. She's adorably geeky with her love of books, extensive knowledge of horticulture, and spectacles that keep falling down her nose. She loves animals and plants and is an extremely talented artist. She prefers digging in the garden, playing with her dog (or in this case her host's dog), reading, and drawing, to more typical feminine pursuits like needlework and attending balls. However, Sarah has started attending more social events with the sole purpose of lifting the spirits of her widowed sister who still misses her beloved husband terribly even three years after his death. All her life Sarah has been overshadowed by her beautiful older sister, but she didn't allow that to affect their relationship. Her mother constantly put her down for her plain looks and unconventional ways, and she was always the wallflower. No men ever asked her to dance or paid her any attention whatsoever until she attended Matthew's house party. Because of the way others treated her in the past, she automatically believes that's how everyone is and completely misinterprets the looks and gestures when Matthew and another young man at the party start paying some attention to her. Sadly, Sarah has been treated badly for so long, she honesty can't fathom why a handsome, titled gentleman like Matthew would ever have an interest in someone like her. She initially thinks he's playing some kind of cruel game with her, but the romantic in her can't help hoping that it's real. There were times when I wished Sarah would believe Matthew when he expressed his sincerest compliments toward her, but given her background, and the fact that I know what it's like to be the 'wallflower,' I completely understood where she was coming from.
Matthew was an amazing hero. As far as family goes, he's all alone in the world, but he does have at least one good friend and many acquaintances. He's keeping a big secret and skulking around his garden in the middle of the night, digging holes under the pretense of having a passion for horticulture. Of course, since Sarah is a legitimate horticultural expert, she realizes immediately that he's not being truthful. His quest is partially fueled by guilt over things that happened in the past and partially by deathbed promises he made to his father. Matthew was an incredibly honorable man who refused to break his word even though it was given to a dying father who had never been there for him and who ran the estate into financial ruin with his gambling habit. Given the circumstances, a part of me felt like Matthew shouldn't have held himself responsible for keeping that promise, but another part of me respected him all the more for doing it. Matthew and Sarah had a lot in common, but she got the wrong first impression of him when he smiled in amusement at her glasses fogging from the steam coming off her soup. In reality, it was because of that little detail that she was the only female at the party who stood out to him, and she wasn't even one of the women he was supposed to be considering as a potential wife. It's cute how Matthew's attraction for Sarah confuses him at first and how he becomes jealous of other men paying any attention to her. He knows that all the other ladies at the party are much more physically attractive and would typically be his type, but he can't help feeling that they're boring. In contrast, Sarah challenges him and makes him feel alive. He completely respects her intelligence and treats her as his intellectual equal. That friendship quickly blossoms into love and passion as he realizes how truly beautiful she is, both inside and out. I love how Matthew kept patiently telling Sarah that she was beautiful even though it was almost impossible for her to believe it, and how he coaxes her to simply say, "Thank you" to his compliments instead of arguing against them.
As a couple, Matthew and Sarah experience all the different stages of love. They share a deep friendship in which they both understand each other, quite possibly better than anyone else. I loved the time they spent together just talking and working to figure out the answer to the puzzle Matthew's father left him. Sarah 'accidentally' spying on Matthew while he was bathing was a scene full of both humor and desire. When Matthew turned the tables on her and did the same, it was scrumptiously decadent. These sensual scenes were full of both passion and deeply conflicted emotions. When they finally did make love, they lit the pages on fire. It was utterly beautiful, with each of them giving freely of themselves to one another. I loved how Sarah was so curious and wanted to experience everything.
Of course, being the book lover that I am, I was crazy about Sarah's book club, The Ladies Literary Society of London. They gave themselves a very respectable name to cover up their reading of scandalous books, the first of which was Frankenstein. Them reading this story leads to a very fun sub-plot of the ladies in the club creating the 'perfect man.' The other three women in the group become the heroines of the remaining three books in the series. Sarah's sister, Carolyn, is still grieving for her dead husband, but with Sarah's help has slowly been venturing back out in society. Still, Carolyn is so heartbroken, she has convinced herself that she'll never marry again, but will be paired with Matthew's best friend, Daniel in the next book, Confessions at Midnight. Daniel appears to be attracted to Carolyn, as evidenced by him being rather uncomfortable with the notion of other men paying attention to her, but he also seems to be on the cynical side when it comes to love. Julianne (Seduced at Midnight) is a shy beauty who is pretty much the object of every man's affection at the house party, while Emily is both vivacious and lovely. In her book, Tempted at Midnight, she captures the attention of the mysterious American businessman, Logan Jennsen, who also had an interest in Sarah. Last but not least, I absolutely have to mention Matthew's dog, Danforth. This canine was quite the character. He is very intelligent with a great personality that really sparked my imagination.
Overall, Sleepless at Midnight had everything I look for in a romance: wonderful, relatable characters, truly romantic moments, palpable emotion, intense passion, a touch of mystery, and great friendships. I'm very much looking forward to continuing with the series, and with three winners in a row, Jacquie D'Alessandro has definitely earned a spot on my favorite authors list.
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