Can love and chemistry transcend lies and class? That’s the question a straight-laced aristocrat and a con woman must answer when fate puts them in each other’s path a second time in the first of Leigh's (Temptations of a Wallflower, 2016, etc.) London Underground series.
Cassandra Blake has been a grifter since being orphaned on the streets of London. Her one regret is fleecing Alexander Lewis, Duke of Greyland, but she’s told herself it was just business and no one was hurt. When a legal enterprise brings her back within his radius, he inadvertently learns he was duped—right before he’s about to give up a lifetime of caution and declare his love for her. Refusing to grovel before his righteous anger, Cassandra tries to bluff her way out but must beg for his help when her swan-song scheme goes horribly wrong. In the manner of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Leigh puts a flawed, proud heroine at the mercy of an angry hero and a community baying for retribution, but she doesn’t sustain the tension. Alex quickly turns protector as the two venture into the unsavory parts of 19th-century London to find Cassandra’s missing partner. Visiting a sex club triggers their old attraction, but they tell themselves that it's a short-term affair. Interspersed with these scenes are a kidnapping, foot chases, and fisticuffs. The heroine’s back story gives her some three-dimensionality, but despite the deep point-of-view narration provided to Alex, he still seems like a one-note character. The resolution feels unconvincing, with a potential Jane Eyre–like exile never being a real threat.
Leigh riffs on Pretty Woman to present a sympathetic portrait of a poor woman surviving through sheer will, but her novel doesn’t have the charm of Julie Anne Long’s To Love a Thief or the poignancy of Susanne Lord’s Discovery of Desire.