Michael Hayward and Ada Merrow had worked together before in the pursuit of justice for the downtrodden. During that time, they developed a passion for one another, but after the case was over, Michael disappeared without warning. Little did Ada know he'd been assigned to another case and couldn't contact her without blowing his cover. She never thought she'd see him again until Nemesis, Unlimited, the agency that had helped her before, asked her to go undercover as a maid at a house party. Having previously worked as a maid, she was the perfect agent for the case. When Michael shows up posing as a footman to act as her partner, she couldn't be more surprised. As a team, Michael and Ada search for evidence to tie an aristocratic couple to an orphanage that was using the children as slave labor, while figuring out what their feelings are for each other and whether they can have a future together.
Winter's Heat is a Christmas-themed novella that is the second story in Zoe Archer's new Nemesis, Unlimited series. It takes place at a country house party over the holiday season with an added twist: the hero and heroine are servants and all the action takes place below stairs. This alone makes the story pretty unique to the romance genre, but I have to admit it wasn't quite as romantic to me as a traditional historical romance would be. I guess it's because most readers, myself included, don't typically fantasize about being servants (although admittedly Michael and Ada are undercover and more than a mere maid and footman), but instead tend to romanticize the wealthy aristocracy. It's a little thing I like to call the Cinderella effect. Still, love and romance certainly aren't limited to the rich and famous, so it can be nice to take a break from that and read a story about ordinary people.
I liked Michael and Ada for as well as I got to know them in this short novella, but overall, I felt like their characters were a bit underdeveloped. Both of them had worked as servants in the past, which made them uniquely qualified to go undercover for Nemesis, looking for evidence to prove the involvement of an aristocratic husband and wife in a sweatshop that was masquerading as an orphanage. In their previous jobs they had both experienced unfair, unethical practices which they bravely brought to the attention of Nemesis, so the organization could exact a measure of justice for the victims. They were both so impressed by Nemesis, they didn't hesitate to go to work for them, although this is Ada's first official assignment and she believes it will be a one-time thing. These two had a previous romantic entanglement, but how that all came about was a little murky to me. Michael then left Ada without a word to take another assignment with Nemesis and wasn't able to contact her without blowing his cover. Of course, Ada didn't know any of this and thought he'd just been dallying with her when he disappeared without warning. Michael took this assignment just so he could be near Ada and try to patch things up between them. Normally, I'm a big fan of reunion romance, but in this case, I don't think the author sufficiently established Michael and Ada's previous relationship. With that being the case, it was almost like they were meeting for the first time, because I didn't sense that all important prior emotional connection between them like I typically would in this type of romance. This made their relationship feel rather mundane to me.
Winter's Heat and the first Nemesis, Unlimited book, Sweet Revenge, are thus far the only books I've read by Zoe Archer. I can't deny that she is a technically good writer. I found virtually no mistakes in the mechanics of her writing. She's also good with scenes that focus on the action and adventure. However, in my opinion, her main weakness is the romance itself. The romance aspect in neither book really sparked off the page for me. I've already mentioned one of the reasons for that. There are two other reasons I found, the first of which is that Ms. Archer simply doesn't seem to have the talent for writing deep, intensely affecting emotions. In this respect, her characters almost come off as unfeeling or emotionally stunted, when I think they're meant to be reserved. The other reason is that I felt the author was primarily telling rather than showing the majority of the romance. Aside from that, the story was pretty good, although I was somewhat disappointed that we didn't get to see the resolution (aka the exacting of revenge) to the mystery part of the plot firsthand, and the Christmas theme was more in the background.
Otherwise, Winter's Heat was a decent addition to the series. The only other Nemesis character who appeared in this novella was Marco, the mysterious agent who also works for the British government. He is set to become the hero of the third novel in the series scheduled for release in June 2014. Next up though, is the intriguing Simon who I liked very much in Sweet Revenge. Even though Nemesis, Unlimited hasn't exactly been a stellar series for me so far, I do like the overall premise and Simon has sufficiently whetted my appetite to continue with it and give his book a try soon.
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