Your Scandalous Ways is a bit of a departure for Loretta Chase, with its strong Romantic Suspense elements and courtesan heroine. But Chase's ready wit, superb storytelling ability and a half-Italian, half-English hero (we know she has a way with those guys, don't we?) are vintage Chase.
Francesca Bonnard thought she had the perfect marriage until she discovered that the husband she loved had had numerous affairs. In retaliation, she had one as well, whereupon Lord Elphick sued her for divorce. After a nasty and prolonged trial where everyone she knew turned their backs on her, she was left almost penniless, but refused to simply go away and die in obscurity. She became a much sought-after courtesan in Europe and keeps a steady correspondence with her ex-husband, wherein she details who her latest lover is, the jewelry and riches she has amassed and leaves him in a perpetual state of anxiety as to when she will lower the boom on him. She has in her possession letters he wrote which prove him to have been working for the French during the late war. Her reputation was so shattered at the time of the divorce proceedings, that no one would have believed her allegations, no matter the evidence. Now, however…
Lord Elphick isn't the only one who wants those letters. The English government does as well, and has sent their best man, James Cordier to get them from her. As attempts are made on Francesca's life and James tries to keep her safe, the two fall in love, but can that love survive Francesca's mistrust, James's cynicism and the lies between them?
Francesca is a fascinating character. She has been abandoned by all whom she loved and has fought to make a life where she is in control and dependent on no one - especially a man. She is very good at her chosen profession and enslaves all men in her orbit, while being very choosey about whom she lets into her bed, and always with an eye toward rubbing it in her ex-husband's face. But she has a vulnerability beneath her practical and practiced ways, which takes James by surprise and fuels his fascination.
James is a younger son of an earl with many, many siblings ahead of him in the line of succession. He was a troublemaker as a youth and saved from an eventual hangman's noose by being recruited into the spy business. Now in his thirties, James is ready to retire, having been through the wringer both physically and emotionally and Francesca is his last job. The twists and turns of the case - and in Francesca's personality - keep him on his toes and he finds himself looking forward to living life again - if he can live it with Francesca.
It's always tricky having a courtesan as a heroine and still have her be sympathetic. Many authors would come up with torturous explanations as to why their courtesan is really an innocent woman. Not so Chase. Francesca is what she is and that is quite good enough. James is also very good at what he does and his many disguises are a hoot. He has no problem with Francesca's profession, freely admitting that he has been a whore himself many times over in his line of work. In fact, the opening scene of the book shows James's previous job, where he bedded a woman in order to steal some jewels to return to the rightful owner. This is a very clever scene on Chase's part, showing us that neither character has the high moral ground, and that the similarities in their pasts make them quite suited for each other. Venice itself, where all the action takes place, is as much a character as Frencesca and James and Chase's meticulous research fits seamlessly into the narrative.
Your Scandalous Ways is a different kind of book, with an unusual setting, heroine and conflict, but it is the same Loretta Chase: magical.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, April 24, 2008