My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was only my third book by Amanda Quick, but I knew what to expect from her: a funny and charming story with a bright but quirky heroine who defies society's conventions, a brooding hero who's in need of an emotional makeover and a somewhat convoluted mystery to be solved while the H/h fall in love with each other. Mistress had all that, but it was by no means predictable. In fact, the mystery plot had some very unexpected twists, and I'm still a little dizzy.
Iphiginia (ugh, what a name!) Bright is a 27-year-old financially independent country spinster who's just returned to England after a year touring the ruins of Italy, when she learns that her dear aunt Zoe is being blackmailed. Determined to find out who the blackmailer is so she can put a stop to his/her unsavory threats, Iphiginia decides to pose as the unsuspecting Earl of Masters's latest mistress in order to gain access to his inner circle of acquaintances/friends. See, she's sure she'll find the blackmailer among them and she believes Masters is dead, so her plan is quite brilliant, isn't it? Unfortunately (for her), her alleged lover is very much alive and more than curious to meet his "newest mistress"...
Marcus Valerius Cloud, Earl of Masters, is a bit suspicious of Iphiginia's charade and doesn't buy her explanation, especially after he finds out that one of his friends is being blackmailed. But even though he thinks that Iphiginia is the blackmailer, he doesn't put a stop on her charade and plays along with her, decided to see how far she'll go. The fact that he's more than enchanted by her and wouldn't mind making her his newest mistress for real isn't relevant, because he lives his life by a set of simple and straightforward rules he formulated several years ago and never deviates from them:
#1 - Never remarry.
#2 - Never discuss the past.
#3 - Never explain his actions to others.
#4 - Never retreat from an objective or alter a decision.
#5 - Never get involved with virgins or other men's wives.
Little does Marcus know, but Iphiginia is going to make him break all his rules one by one in a short time. And he won't regret it. ;)
This was another great book by Ms. Quick, and I really liked Marcus, Iphigina and the whole cast of secondary characters. Marcus's sarcastic comments and Iphiginia's smart replies were so funny to read, I couldn't get enough of their witty banter. There were some serious moments between them too, especially when he finally broke Rule #2, but the lighter scenes were the ones that sparkled.
Marcus was a bit inconsistent at first: he was known to gather all facts before reaching a conclusion and making a decision - remember Rule #4, which made him a very judicious man - but he quickly assumed that Iphiginia was the blackmailer without any evidence to support that. Granted, he didn't stick to that misconception too long and he learned to trust her beyond doubt, but his initial behavior was frustrating. Overall, he was a well-drawn hero and it was very nice to see him breaking all his rules and becoming a better person in the end.
Based on the premise, I thought I would have a problem with Iphiginia because, let's face it, her plan to unmask the blackmailer was just "crazy". As I read the book, it started to make sense - I mean, the ton didn't know her and she could "retire" quietly after the charade was over, with no damage to her or anyone's reputation - so I was happy to go along with it. Plus, Iphiginia was a blast of fun and I can forgive a lot of nonsense when I connect with the characters in a book. That said, I wasn't fully happy with the way things ended for her...
As for the mystery part of this book, it was okay but some of the blackmailer's actions didn't make sense to me. At one point, I was so confused that I had to pause and wonder what the heck was going on. I got an explanation for that in the end, but it only made me think that the blackmailer wasn't the brightest person in the world. All in all, that wasn't a big deal because the main focus of this book was always Marcus and Iphiginia's relationship, and that was nicely written.
Final verdict: not my favorite book by Ms. Quick, but a very good read anyway.
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