Sinful in Satin is the third book in Madeline Hunter's "Rarest Blooms" series and has, for its leads, two illegitimate people striving to make a place for themselves.
Celia Pennifold is the daughter of Alessandra, a famous beauty and courtesan. At the age of 16, she was brought to live with her mother and groomed to be her successor. Once Celia fully grasped her mother's intent for her life, she ran away and found refuge with the ladies of The Rarest Blooms, who run a floral and nursery business, and has basically hidden there. When her mother dies five year later, Celia is forced from her retreat and, after the debts are paid, is left with a modest home her mother rarely used in London where Celia hopes to gain some independence and make a quiet life for herself. Unbeknownst to her, she inherited a tenant along with the house.
Jonathan Albrighton was a frequent guest at Alessandra's salons, though he was never a lover, and she leased him a room in her little-occupied home during his infrequent stays in London. Jonathan is the illegitimate son of an earl and is trying, through his uncle, to gain acknowledgement of his parentage from his cousin, the current earl. Such acknowledgement would help with his acceptance in society and his career at the Home Office, as well as be a personal vindication for him. During the war, Jonathan did some spying and continues to do pesky little jobs for the government. His latest is to investigate Celia's mother, who may have passed information from her well-placed lovers to the French. Jonathan is looking for concrete evidence of the names of possible traitors. Living in Alessandra's house affords him proximity to any papers that may have been left behind - if only he wasn't so darned attracted to Celia.
I liked Celia a lot and sympathized with her in her wish to be a normal, anonymous person going about her life and business. Unfortunately, she is recognized and her mother's reputation follows her along with wild speculation about her own activities. Indeed, she is beset with a particularly ardent admirer who sought to buy Celia's services from her mother all those years ago and is now manipulating things so that Celia may have no choice but to live the life she's tried so hard to avoid.
Jonathan is a stand-up guy who has his hands full trying to protect Celia and learn the truth about her mother, while trying to figure out who wants him dead. The answers to all these questions take a circuitous route with some surprises at the end. And along the way is a moving, heated and tender romance.
"The Rarest Blooms" series continues to impress, and I'm looking forward to the next installment.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, October 7, 2010