Anna Randol has quickly moved onto my favorite author list. Not only does she write strong alpha males, but she puts them in a story with equally strong, competent, females. Then she turns the heat up and lets the sexual tension build to a slow boil while her readers keep turning the pages.
Madeline Valdan has been a sexual spy for her country for the past ten years. But with the war over she and her spy team are let go with a pittance of money. Having whored herself for her country she sees no reason why she can't whore herself one last time - for herself. To solve her money problems she tells the world that she's selling her virginity to the highest bidder. To do that she needs to have a daring plan and a man at her side to make her seem like the most expensive jewel awaiting purchase. What she doesn't plan for is needing the Bow Street Runner she hired to actually protect her from a killer. And she never planned for him to steal her heart.
Gabriel has his own reasons for protecting the most beautiful and manipulative woman in London: murder. While he investigates Madeline's bidders to make sure they have enough blunt to pay, he can investigate the seven year old murder of his sister. But, as searching for the killer gets in the way of protecting Madeline, Gabriel has to decide what is more important - justice for his sister or keeping the woman he has confusing feelings for safe.
I freaking LOVE a strong female heroine. And not just some, "I'm pretending to be strong, but when a strong man enters my life I let him take over while I whine and am incompetent," kind of heroine either. No, I like the ones who are brave, smart, and know their strengths and weaknesses. I especially like them when they have a man just as strong as they are who loves them FOR that strength and respects that they are equals. HOT HOT HOT! Anyway, that's what Madeline and Gabriel are. Equally strong and competent people who can't help but fall in love with one another as they are thrown together.
It's not often that I find myself so engrossed in a mystery plot. As most Rakehell fans know, I'm not fond of mystery - especially in romance. Often the whodunnit takes over and the romance is second, but Radnol has proven that she knows how to use a good mystery to bring her hero and heroine together. The twists and turns put the characters into situations that allow us and them to unwrap their layers.
And boy do they have layers. Even the secondary characters are fully developed, layered people. Madeline has two other spys she's worked with (I hope they get books of their own!). Gabriel's mother, a dandified butler, a Duke...There is so much back story packed into this book, but it's done so artfully that you don't notice it until the end. An offhand remark here, a small thought there, and next thing you know you feel like you're standing in a dark alley trying to keep quiet with them so the plan goes well.
Did I mention that this book is hot? Few authors can crank up the sexual tension the way Randol does in this one. Gabriel and Madeline light up the page, and for someone like Madeline, who's seen and done it all (well almost all...maybe...), it's quite a feat to make their relationship new and exciting. I found myself humming, "Like a Virgin" one too many times while reading and thinking of Tarantino's famous monologue about what that song really means. Gabriel's ability to make Madeline feel fresh and virginal should be cheesy, but Randol had me nearly in tears when the two finally cement their relationship.
Bottom Line: Randol may be a new author, but she writes like a seasoned one. Buy this book, read it in one night, and add it to your Keeper shelf.