Lady Jacinda Knight ran away from home to avoid a loveless marriage to an old family friend. While waiting for a carriage at the posting inn, she offers a few coins to a ragged street urchin who manages to abscond with her entire purse. Having no other money to pay for passage to her destination, Jacinda boldly chases the little thief into the dark back alleyways of London where she become lost. Hearing male voices coming, she dives into a pile of garbage to hide and ends up witnessing a brutal fight between two rival gangs. Once the dust settles, Jacinda recognizes the leader of the victorious gang as none other than Billy Blade, a ne'er-do-well who had once visited her brother with vital underworld information. The men are just about to leave when a rat runs over Jacinda's foot, causing her to let out a startled squeak, which alerts them to her presence.
Billy Blade may be a notorious thief lord, but he still has a bit of a gentlemanly side. He does not recognize Jacinda, but he does know that she is a lady of quality. Not wanting her to roam the dangerous streets at night, Billy takes Jacinda back to his gang headquarters where he tries to get her to tell him who she is. She stubbornly refuses, but they spend a little time getting to know each other and give into their mutual attraction just enough for Jacinda to discover her passionate side. With Jacinda distracted, Billy riffles through her bag looking for identification. When he finds out her true identity, Billy knows that he has a responsibility to return Jacinda to her family even though it means incurring the headstrong beauty's wrath and quite possibly never seeing her again.
What no one except Jacinda's brother, Lucien, knows though, is that Billy is the long lost son of a nobleman, who ran away from his sadistic father's abuse at the tender age of thirteen. When the Bow Street thief-takers finally catch up with Billy, locking him and his cohorts up in Newgate, the only thing Billy can do to save them all from being hanged is to contact his powerful father. With Billy now being the sole heir to the title, his father reluctantly accepts him back into the fold with certain strict stipulations, most important of which being that he find a wife immediately to carry on the family name. Billy hates being back under his cruel father's thumb, but he decides to make the best of it and take the opportunity to pursue the one woman he can't stop thinking about, the lovely Lady Jacinda. The problem, though, is that Jacinda desires her freedom above all else and in an attempt to gain it has hatched a scheme to earn the attentions of an elderly gentleman in hopes that he will marry her and then quickly leave her a widow. Also, in spite of his promise to stay away from the gang lifestyle, there are certain old scores that Billy just can't leave unsettled, not to mention being back in his father's house has brought back old memories of the past leaving him feeling completely unworthy of a fine lady like Jacinda.
With Lady of Desire, Gaelen Foley has racked up another solid story in the Knight Miscellany series. From what I can tell so far, Ms. Foley seems to be an author who is consistently good. Her attention to history and details really help to bring her stories vividly to life. I really enjoy her exploration of topics outside the social aspects of the ton, which deftly bring to life the more realistic side of life in that era. Her descriptions of life in the rookery and some of the social and political issues of the time give voice to a different segment of the population, as well as a stark reminder that unfortunately some things never really change. However, in spite of my appreciation for the author's strong writing style, I found the storytelling in Lady of Desire was not quite as much to my liking as its predecessors in the series. The story got off to an explosive start, but then seemed to loose some steam especially through the middle, and while the ending satisfactorily wrapped everything up, I felt that it was a little too simplistic. I realize that when a person believes that death is imminent, they can do some rather unusual and extraordinary things, but ultimately, Billy's ready forgiveness of his father for a lifetime of hurt and abuse, just didn't quite ring true to me. Billy had felt thoroughly unloved and unlovable all his life, and to have just a few words be able to erase all that, was a bit too easy in my opinion. I did like Billy's realization that even the bad things in life can bring about good if we let them, but again, I felt like his revelation came about a bit too quickly with no real introspection to show how he came to that conclusion. I was also a little disappointed that Lady of Desire, like it's predecessor, Lord of Ice, was somewhat light on the actual romance. There were just so many things going on in the story that I thought the plot itself in many ways overshadowed the relationship development. At times it felt like a historical novel with romance in it rather than just a romance, but readers who have a preference for that sort of thing should really enjoy this book.
I had been extremely intrigued by Billy when he made his first appearance in Lord of Ice. For a thief lord, he was very charming with an air of danger about him that was very appealing. I was immediately certain that he would play a significant role in a future book(s) and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that he would be the hero of this story. I loved Billy's early scenes with Jacinda in the rookery. I was instantly mesmerized by his scrumptious bad boy looks and persona as well as his Robin Hood style of robbing the rich to give to the poor, but when he took up his rightful title as Lord Rackford, I felt like he changed a little too much, loosing that aura of mystery and danger. At one point, Jacinda muses about how she has truly made a gentleman out of Billy, but it was a pity because she "rather liked him as a heathen," which is exactly how I felt. I did enjoy the scenes where he sneaks back to the rookery though. His sly, cunning scheme to exact revenge on his former gang rivals had me grinning from ear to ear. Typically I would feel a great deal of sympathy for a hero with a past as tortured as Billy's, and although I did to some degree, it wasn't as strong as with some other characters of this type that I've read. I think this was because Billy was an extremely intense alpha who rarely allowed himself to be vulnerable. Even in those infrequent moments when he let his guard down a little, I couldn't help but feel that he was still holding something back. I suppose this was understandable given his past abuse and harsh life in the rookery, but in the end, not wholly satisfying to me. All in all, Billy was a very interesting hero, just not my favorite kind, but again readers who enjoy this type of character should really like Billy.
Jacinda was a strong heroine who was a cross between a sweetheart and a spitfire, but many times I felt like her character was rather uneven. I really liked the gentleness and intuitiveness that she exhibited with Billy in various ways throughout the book, and I was also impressed that, unlike her brothers, she never seemed to be overly bothered by her mother's scandalous exploits in life. In fact, although Jacinda was determined not to cheat on her future husband, she otherwise embraced her mother's legacy, but often her own desire for love and passion made her afraid of becoming like her mother. Being the youngest and only daughter in the Knight clan, with all of society including her brothers watching her every move and expecting her to make the same mistakes that her mother did, I could understand Jacinda feeling trapped and wanting her freedom. What bothered me though, was the way she tried to go about getting it. She had blown off a potential marriage to Ian Prescott, a very nice family friend, because she knew there would be no real affection between them besides brotherly love. Yet she was eager to gain a marriage proposal from another man she didn't love and who was more than three times her age. This was all in the hopes that he would die quickly, giving her the freedom she craved, which all seemed a little callous and a bit contradictory to other parts of her personality, especially when she continued this reckless pursuit even after her feelings for Billy had become readily apparent. Luckily she came to her senses before it was too late, but all the pulling away that was going on from both character's perspectives made it a little difficult for me to get a good grasp on their relationship and feelings for one another.
One thing that I have really enjoyed about Gaelen Foley's writing so far is that she pulls together a full complement of secondary characters with heroes and heroines from both previous and future books in the series appearing in nearly every one, and oftentimes their role is more significant than a simple cameo. Robert and Bel, Lucien and Alice, and Damien and Miranda from the first three books all played a part in Lady of Desire, with Lucien in particular being fairly important since Billy had been one of his underworld contacts. Also Lizzie and Alec had pretty substantial roles, and although I was a bit saddened to see their affections for one another dashed, I already knew they were not going to be a couple since each has their own future story. In fact, the bookish Lizzie becomes the heroine of the next book in the series, Devil Takes a Bride. The only Knight sibling who doesn't show up is Jack, who is still "missing in action." Lady of Desire is preceded in the Knight Miscellany series by The Duke, Lord of Fire, and Lord of Ice and is followed by Devil Takes a Bride, One Night of Sin and His Wicked Kiss. Even though I had a few issues with Lady of Desire, it will not stop me from continuing the series. Gaelen Foley just seems to be one of those authors that even when her work isn't quite spot-on for me, it is still infinitely readable and better than some other authors on their very best days.
Update: While working on a re-read of the Knight Miscellany series, I considered skipping Lady of Desire since it hadn't been one of my favorites the first time around. Boy, am I glad I didn't, because this is one of those rare occasions when I completed a re-read and ended up with a completely different opinion of the story and characters. I totally fell for Billy this time around, because I saw all the vulnerabilites in him, not to mention just how loving and giving he is toward Jacinda. For some reason, he didn't come off seeming nearly as intensely alpha as he did the first time. While Jacinda does hatch her scheme to catch the elderly Lord Drummond, I found myself understanding her reasons better and it was abundantly clear that she was still very much invested in Billy and simply afraid of becoming her mother. I also liked how sweet, kind, and supportive she was toward him. I loved these two together and didn't notice any slow parts this time. I maybe would have liked to see Billy's father pay for abusing him, but realistically an aristocrat of that era would likely have never been taken to task for what he did. Having Billy make peace with his father on his death bed was an equally valid way to have the story play out, because it gave Billy some much-needed closure on the past. I honestly don't know why I viewed this story so differently the first time I read it (maybe I was having a bad week:-)), but I very much enjoyed re-reading it and saw so much more in it this time around. With that being the case, I'm raising the rating to five stars, because I now genuinely feel that it is indeed on par with the first three books of the series.
You May Also Enjoy
Worth Any Price by Lisa Kleypas
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook