What better disguise for a secret agent than that of a courtesan?
Lily Dawson, dubbed the Countess of Charm, is a spy working for the Crown to uncover a traitor.
Andrew Booth-Payne, Earl of Darlington, wants to hate Lily for taking up with his father, but something about Lily intrigues him.
When he discovers there is more to her flirtation than greed, he knows he must help her uncover a traitor. Even if that traitor is his own father…
Lily Dawson is a secret spy for the Crown, though the rest of society thinks she is a famous courtesan. She’s sent to investigate the Duke of Ravensford, suspected of being a traitor trying to sell the names of Britain’s most valuable spies. Lily has to do whatever it takes to find the proof she needs, even if it means seducing the Duke. Unfortunately for her, the Duke’s son, Andrew, is the man Lily’s been secretly in love with for years. He is furious with his father for taking up with a courtesan so soon after his mother’s death, and he’s determined to make sure Lily does not get her claws in his father, as he sees it. So Lily has to not only charm the Duke while secretly snooping around, but now she has to dodge Andrew’s attempts to derail her while fighting her powerful attraction to him.
This is the third book in the series, and since I haven’t read the others I did have a little trouble keeping up with all the other characters and with the overarching spy/courtesan plot. I did glean that Lily was part of a trio of “courtesans”, nicknamed The Three Diamonds. They were actually down-on-their-luck women taken in by an Earl, who allows society to think he keeps them as a sort of harem. Because apparently that’s a good cover? It didn’t make a ton of sense to me, but then again I haven’t read those books so perhaps my imagination is not doing them justice! The other two women have recently found love and gotten married, so Lily is the last one left at the Earl’s home. She’s never considered herself the beautiful or alluring one of the trio–you get the sense that she was always a bit in the shadow of her two friends. In fact, Andrew was in love with one of her friends (until she gets married in a previous book), and it’s a source of pain for Lily that while she’s loved him forever, he never even noticed her.
Lily has a pretty complicated past, full of heartbreak and some truly horrible stuff. (And trigger alert for some of you–she experienced a sexual assault in the past, though there are no graphic details given.) Andrew starts off the book with a straightforward opinion of her, based on the public story, but he quickly realizes that there is a lot more going on with her than anyone else realizes. The way she slowly reveals her layers to him was sweet and showed their building trust. Andrew spends much of the book acting a bit like a snotty child. Not that he didn’t have good reason to mistrust Lily, but he acts kind of petty and immature sometimes. Still, I appreciated that he does start to grow up throughout the course of the book, without even realizing it himself. And through it all, you can tell he is fundamentally a good man, one who treats people with respect and does the right thing no matter the cost, in contrast to the villains in the story. The romance between Lily and Andrew drew me in with its sweetness. The two have to get to know each other and develop trust, and it’s slow going, but once they get there it’s just lovely.
But it’s hard to ignore that so much of this story is unbelievable. Probably the biggest head scratcher for me is how Lily (and her friends, for that matter) could pass as courtesans for years. Beyond acting a bit brazen, they don’t seem to engage in courtesan-y behavior. Plus their protectors the elderly Earl of Sinclair and Lady Sinclair are both in on the deception and have no problems letting the world think they are a depraved pervert and a despicable wife. Wouldn’t those reputations completely destroy them? There are so many holes in the spy plot, too, though I can’t really go into those without spoiling anything. I will say that it was hard to understand the villains and their motivations, and it didn’t seem to entirely fit with the previous characterizations of those people. It’s also a little odd and disturbing that Andrew would keep putting his hands all over the woman he thinks is fooling around with his dad–I get that there’s supposed to be an irresistible attraction between Andrew and Lily, but…ew. Of course, as with any courtesan story, you also have to accept that a courtesan could marry a titled nobleman with no consequences. This book doesn’t really do much to explain how that could work, beyond the sort of implication that “Well shit already hit the fan in a huge way, so who’s going to care if the gentleman ends up with a courtesan.”
As long as I was focusing on the romance and not the plot holes, I was engrossed in this book. It is at least a tiny bit different from your average historical romance, and the relationship between Lily and Andrew kept me turning pages. I don’t know yet if I want to backtrack and read the rest of the series, but this book was fun while it lasted.
Grade: 3.5 out of 5