Bow Street Runner Nick Gentry is hired for a private case where he's asked to search for a runaway bride who's been missing for two years. No one else has been able to find her, but Nick is no ordinary investigator. He spent years on the mean streets of London working both sides of the law as a thief-taker and underworld crime figure before being persuaded to lead a more respectable life. Nick easily tracks the erstwhile young lady to the country estate of a nobleman, where he poses as a bored aristocrat to gain entrance to the party. When he finally locates the woman who is working as a ladies' companion to the estate owner's mother, he thinks it will be an easy matter to simply return her to his employer, but when he actually meets her, he's mesmerized. Quickly deciding there's no harm in taking his time, Nick gets to know her and is drawn to her more deeply each day. So when he finally reveals his true purpose in being there and the lady fearfully offers to be his mistress in exchange for not returning her to her betrothed, Nick unexpectedly finds himself offering her a different proposition altogether - that of marriage.
Charlotte Howard has been betrothed since childhood to the man who hired Nick. He has meticulously run her life ever since and has also abused her, so she simply couldn't bring herself to marry him. After finishing school, she changed her name and fled. She's been content in her job as a ladies' companion, but always aware that someday she would probably be found. When she meets Nick, she's instantly drawn to him like a moth to a flame, and quickly finds that he's a seductive charmer who makes her heart and body sing. After Nick reveals the truth of his mission, Lottie knows she can't go back, and she believes that Nick is just dark and dangerous enough to protect her from her abuser. That is why she offers to be his mistress but she's shocked when he wants to marry her instead. Lottie soon discovers that it's no hardship to be his wife, and her training makes her the perfect partner when Nick is pressured into taking up the aristocratic title that he abandoned long ago but wants nothing to do with. However, her former fiancé poses a dangerous threat to their growing love when he refuses to give up his sick obsession with her and will stop at nothing to get her back.
For me, books that I rate five stars tend to fall into two categories. The first are the books that I thoroughly enjoyed and with which I found little to nothing wrong, so I couldn't justify rating it any less than 5 stars since it was basically perfect or nearly so. Then there are the books that completely blow me away with how romantic, passionate, beautiful, and just plain amazing they are. These are the books that I could read over and over and probably never get tired of them. Worth Any Price falls into the latter category. This was actually my second read of the book, but like the first two of the series that I re-read earlier this year, I wasn't yet reviewing when I first read it. Now I'm finally rectifying that. When I added this book and its two companion novels to my GoodReads bookshelf, I did so nearly a year after the fact, and ended up rating all of them 4 stars (really 4.5 since GoodReads doesn't allow half-stars), because my faulty memory didn't recall just how much I loved them. Well, now I've changed my rating on all of them to reflect my passion for the Bow Street Runners. They all ended up being five-star keepers, but Worth Any Price is my favorite of the bunch. It totally hit that sweet spot for me where everything was absolute sheer perfection, and I loved every minute I spent re-reading it.
The thing about Nick is that when he was introduced in the previous book, Lady Sophia's Lover, he came off as a mixture of charming and arrogant, but he wasn't particularly repentant for his criminal activities. Although I felt some sympathy for him, he didn't truly capture my heart until I read his story, which has now catapulted him toward the top of my all-time favorite heroes list. Nick is a tortured soul who was born John Sydney, an aristocrat, but he was orphaned as a child, and with no relatives to step up and take care of him and his sister, he fell in with the wrong crowd, turning to petty thievery and other criminal pursuits to survive. This eventually landed him on a prison hulk, where he befriended the real Nick Gentry. When his friend, who was about to be released, died, he took on his identity, and in the years after prison, he built a fortune by having a foot in two worlds, one as an underworld crime boss and the other as a semi-respectable thief-taker. But by the end of the previous book, Nick had reached the end of the road. He was faced with prison and probable hanging for his crimes. But his new brother-in-law, Ross Cannon, who was also the head magistrate of Bow Street, couldn't bear to send his wife's brother to the gallows, so he arranged for Nick to come work as a Runner. This is where we find Nick at the beginning of the story.
In the three years, he's been working at Bow Street, Nick has settled into his role and enjoys his work, but he tends to take a lot of unnecessary risks that are the result of not really caring whether he lives or dies. As the story opens, he's on a break from Bow Street, working a private commission in search of a runaway bride, and he's tracked her down at a country estate where he's posing as a bored aristocrat. He's about to tip his hand and reveal his real reason for being there, when he meets the woman in question and feels a connection to her like he's never felt with anyone before. Intrigued, he keeps his secret a little longer while romancing her, but when the truth comes out, he impulsively offers to marry her to keep her out of the hands of the man she fears. He intends for it to be a marriage of convenience only, but things don't exactly go as planned when his feelings for her only start growing deeper and deeper. Nick is a man with secrets that were bound to come out sooner or later. However, Ross is forcing it to happen sooner by making sure that Nick is reinstated to his aristocratic position, which is something that he doesn't want. It makes him feel stifled, like he's losing his independence, but since he has a wife to worry about now, he reluctantly does what's expected while not really knowing how to live that life anymore.
Charlotte, known to everyone as Lottie, is someone who knows first-hand what it's like to lose one's independence. Her parents betrothed her to a wealthy older aristocrat when she was just a child, all for the price of keeping them financially solvent. The man paid for her education, but everything from what she wore, to what she was allowed to eat, to what subjects she studied were dictated by him, all for the purpose of making her into the "perfect" wife. He even molested her and her parents turned a blind eye, simply saying that it didn't matter, because she was going to be his wife someday anyway. So it's no wonder that after graduating, she changed her name and ran away, and has been hiding on a country estate where she works as a ladies' companion. She's been there for two years and is mostly content until Nick comes along. He stirs feelings in her that she's never felt before, but when she finds out his real reason for being there, she's understandably hurt. However, when faced with going back, she offers to be his mistress instead, knowing that Nick has a hardened past, which would make him well-suited to protect her against her abuser. She couldn't be more surprised when he counter-offers marriage instead. I loved Lottie. She's a sweet, down-to-earth heroine who's been through as much as Nick has in her short life, so she understands him in a way that others don't. She's also very accepting of everything about him, including his checkered past, and isn't bothered by the idea of being a commoner's wife before she discovers that he's really a viscount. Even then, she wants him to be happy far more than she wants a title.
Nick and Lottie are the perfect couple. They intuitively understand each other, and they are both very loving, giving, and selfless people, even though Nick would never think of himself in those terms. Their passion and sensuality are a perfect match for one another. Nick is a dream lover, and that's something that he's practiced over time, but not quite in the way that the cover blurb implies. His experiences on the prison hulk and the death of his friend left him emotionally scarred. He has nightmares, and when the story opens, he also has an aversion to being touched. Because of this, he didn't seek out a woman for sexual fulfillment until he was twenty-four years old, and couldn't bear it anymore. At that point, he went to Gemma, the madam of an elite brothel, who ended up tutoring him in the sexual arts. I loved the prologue, which shows just how frightened and vulnerable he was, but at the same time, he has a natural instinct for passion and sensuality, which is why Gemma took him on as her protégé. I also loved the fact that she is the only woman he's with for the next three years, and after Gemma breaks off their arrangement, he's celibate until meeting Lottie. By the time he does meet Lottie, he's certainly an accomplished lover, but there's nothing more appealing to me than a hero who reserves his passion either primarily or exclusively for the heroine. IMHO, it makes their connection that much stronger. Another thing that helped that connection is that while Nick was with Gemma, one of her rules was that their time together was strictly for sex play and there was no emotional intimacy involved, so that was something that only Lottie received from him. It doesn't happen all at once, but when it does it's perfect. I also love how he pledges fidelity to Lottie even before he realizes he's in love with her. Not to mention, their love scenes are hot and sexy, while still being sweet and tender. I just loved every minute they shared the page together and could have kept reading about them forever.
Worth Any Price has some notable secondary characters. Ross and Sophia (Lady Sophia's Lover) support Nick and Lottie in their marriage and nudge Nick toward accepting his birthright. Grant (Someone to Watch Over Me) is now the chief magistrate of Bow Street and Nick's boss. Lottie has been hiding out at the estate of Marcus, Lord Westcliff, who fans of Ms. Kleypas' Wallflowers will know as the the hero of the second book of that series, It Happened One Autumn. He was one of my favorite heroes of that series, and in this book, he's every bit as kind and gentlemanly. He's very protective of Lottie, offering to marry her when he learns the truth of her situation. Gemma, the madam of the brothel Nick went to, is only seen in the prologue, but she kind of made an impression on me. A lot of times, I feel jealous of any woman who gets first dibs on the hero before the heroine, but Gemma didn't really rub me the wrong way like most do. She treats Nick with kindness and respect and teaches him everything she knows, but at the end of the day, it's still a business arrangement, which I think is what made it more palatable to me. Then there's Lottie's abuser and the villain of the story, Lord Radnor, who is evil incarnate. He's totally obsessed with Lottie and as mad as a hatter. Her parents aren't much better, selling off their daughter to a madman and allowing him to do as he pleases all for the sake of money, while Nick's money isn't good enough for them. They all made me sick and I'm so glad Lottie got away from them. A part of me wishes we'd learned what happened to Lottie's siblings, but I trust that Lottie and Nick wouldn't allow anything bad to happen to them.
Overall, Worth Any Price was sheer perfection. I loved Nick for his complexities, his tortured soul, and his loving heart. I like how he wears his heart on his sleeve even though he doesn't realize it, and it was so cute when he starts falling for Lottie and doesn't understand what's happening to him. I loved Lottie for her spunkiness in the face of adversity and for daring to step outside her comfort zone to protect herself. It's not without guilt on her part for abandoning her family, but it was the right thing to do and I loved her for it, as well as for her ready acceptance of Nick's past and his passionate nature. These two together fill the pages of this story with tenderness, true love, and swoon-worthy romance that I won't soon forget. I've loved getting reacquainted with all the Bow Street Runners. As a whole they are my favorite of Lisa Kleypas' books I've read to date, and I will gladly re-read all these stories again in the future.
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