With The Luckiest Lady in London, Sherry Thomas has created two characters who disguise their true natures and objectives while manipulating others into doing what they wish. And makes us care for them.
Louisa Cantwell knew at a young age that she would have to be the one to marry well and save her family from the penury that awaits her and her many sisters when their mother—and her annuity—passes on. She spends years transforming her outward appearance and manners in order to woo London Society.
But all her extra years of practice had paid off and London was quite taken with her. Or rather, with the Miss Cantwell she presented to Society. She was warm but not overfamiliar, sweet but not cloying, and appreciative of her moment in the sun without the least whiff of graspiness or, worse, desperation.
. . .
All this linguistic extravagance sometimes made Louisa laugh at night, under her blanket. And it sometimes made her quake—for surely the illusion couldn't last the entire Season. Soon people would realize that her hair was glossy only because of all the mayonnaise she'd put in it over the years, that her trademark closedmouthed smile was to hide several crooked teeth, and that, of course, the bodices of her dresses would look awfully concave if it weren't for the artful and stalwart bust improvers in her wardrobe.
Felix Rivendale, the Marquess of Wrenworth, has cultivated his disguise as a response to his horrid childhood where he was used as a pawn in the war between his parents. With both parents dead by the time he was 17 years of age, he set about to be sure he never felt powerless again by ruthlessly manipulating people and events to his will while maintaining his façade as The Ideal Gentleman, admired and envied by all.
It didn't take him long to decide that, of course, he was his mother's son, The late Marchioness of Wrenworth, despite her insidious domestic tyranny, had maintained an unblemished reputation as a perfect lady, a shining example of all that was good and pure in a woman.
He planned to eclipse her in both acclaim and influence—a fitting tribute from the son for whom she had so little regard.
As for his father, Felix's tribute to him would be to never repeat the man's great mistake of loving with all his heart and soul. Friendship he would permit, and perhaps some mild affection. Love, however was out of the question. Love made one powerless. And he had had enough powerlessness to last ten lifetimes. In this new life of his, he would always hold all the power.
Felix and Louisa meet at a ball and Louisa is horrified to discover that her practical, unromantic heart is completely captured by Felix's gorgeous looks.
It was difficult to draw breath. Her heart palpitated in both pleasure and panic. And she flushed furiously, too much heat pulsing through her veins for her to control or disguise.
A heartbeat later, however, she was cold. She could not say how she knew it, Lord Wrenworth having been nothing but flawlessly courteous. All the same, she was suddenly dead certain that on the inside, he found her patently ridiculous, perhaps even laughable.
Felix's reaction to Louisa startles him. Of course she is playing a role; what young woman of no wealth or consequence doesn't have an ulterior motive for being in London during the Season?
She wasn't so good an actor that he couldn't see through her pretense at fifty paces. She was, however, good enough that he'd been slightly surprised at the transparency of her infatuation. When their gaze had met for the first time, he had almost heard the wedding bells ringing in her ears.
Then it dissipated into thin air - not just the look, but the infatuation itself. And that had firmly caught his attention. He enjoyed being The Ideal Gentleman . . . but there were times when he found himself restless and vaguely dissatisfied. Was it really so easy to fool the entire world? Could no one see the cynicism and amorality underneath? And would anyone ever have the audacity to tell him that he was hardly a gentleman, let alone an example to which others should aspire?
Miss Cantwell would probably prove to be a mirage, just another young lady who couldn't see an inch beneath his surface. But he would give her a few chances to prove otherwise.
Both are equal parts horrified and delighted to realize that the other sees through their façade and they commence an intricate dance, where they slowly reveal their true selves to each other.
You, sir, are a scoundrel.
As if he heard her thought, he glanced her way. Their gazes held, a pair of miscreants recognizing each other in a roomful of upstanding people.
It lasted only a moment, but the sweetness of that secret communion lingered: a joy that was also an ache in her heart. They were two of a kind - she wished she wouldn't need to always guard herself from him.
They marry, and then the real trouble begins.
“So. . . I don't trust you and you don't understand me.”
He laughed despite himself. “No wonder we get along so well.”
A beat of silence passed. She turned her face slightly to the side and glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes. “So what should we do now that we've established that our marriage is based on ignorance and general misgiving?”
What indeed? All those layers of disguise inevitably fall in the course of the intimacy of marriage, and what is underneath is not very pretty.
Sherry Thomas has written two not-particularly-nice people, whose inherent selfishness and defense mechanisms must be shattered before love can redeem them. It is a bumpy, and intriguing, ride.
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.