My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Tessa Dare is definitely on my authors-to-watch list now. I loved her debut novel, Goddess of the Hunt, and even though this sequel wasn't as amazing as the previous book, it was still a great read.
Sophia Hathaway has just abandoned her fiancé Sir Toby Aldridge at the altar, and she's decided to finally live her life as she wants and not as her parents and society expect. She seeks passion, adventure and excitement, and she knows she isn't likely to get that by marrying a man she doesn't love. So she packs her art supplies and four dresses, withdraws five hundred pounds from her bank account - oh, just imagine the look on the face of the bank clerk! -, wins another hundred pounds at a card party, leaves a letter to her family saying that she's eloping with Gervais, her fictitious painting master and lover, and buys a passage on the Aphrodite, the next ship leaving to Tortola. Sophia's plan is simple: pretending to be a penniless governess, Miss "Jane Turner", on the journey to her next employment, she'll be able to leave England - and thus escape her parents' pursuit - and buy the time she needs (not much, only a few months) until she turns twenty-one, when she'll assume control of her inheritance and her life.
Benedict "Gray" Grayson is, in his own words, "a liar, a thief, a libertine, and worse". He's no gentleman either, but he's the owner of the Aphrodite so Sophia has no choice but to convince him to accept her as a passanger on his ship. Gray is a former privateer, which is basically a pirate sanctioned by the Crown, but now that the war is over, he's starting a new life and this will be the first time the Aphrodite will sail the sea as a respectable merchant ship. Gray knows from the start that Sophia is going to be a threat to his decision to leave his womanizing days behind, but he's also a practical man and the Aphrodite can't afford the luxury of refusing passengers if he wants to make a success of his new business. So he takes the vexing woman to his ship, and this is how their journey begins.
Obviously, spending time together in close proximity for weeks and weeks makes it hard to control the growing attraction between them, and they end up falling in love with each other. Gray opens his heart to Sophia, and tells her things that he's never shared with anyone. On her part, she isn't that open, afraid that revealing her identity to him will turn him away. But the deception will have to end eventually. What will happen when Gray finally learns the truth? Will he be able to trust her then? More important, will he be able to trust his feelings for her? If she's lied to him all the time, does he really know her at all?
Kudos to Ms. Dare's writing to make this story work for me, because I'm not a fan of pirate/privateer heroes or deceitful heroines. Gray wasn't a privateer anymore, but this book took place mostly at sea so it was as if he still was. As for Sophia, she was almost a pathological liar and couldn't tell the truth to save her life. Strangely enough, I liked both Gray and Sophia despite all that. Sure, I wanted to shake them - well, mainly Sophia - a couple of times, but I found myself rooting for them all the same.
Gray was a true scoundrel trying to reform, and I love that kind of hero. He had lied, cheated, stolen his brother Joss's inheritance - not only once, but twice - and let his sister Bel down. He made no excuses for that and he would have done all of it again if given another chance, as he believed it was all a means to an end:
Sophia, Sophia, where do I start? She was spoiled and selfish, but I couldn't help being charmed by her "vivid imagination" at first. Her plan to escape an unwanted marriage was, well, idiotic, but I was willing to go along with it because it was "in character". It made sense considering how her mind worked: Sophia wasn't one to go from Point A to Point B in a straight line. She needed a wake-up call, and Gray didn't mince words to give it to her after she almost died in one of her foolish antics:
"You—" He shook a finger at her. "You are so bloody stupid. You have no idea how damned lucky you are. Do you know what could happen to you, crossing the ocean alone with no money and no chaperone? Do you have any notion what a dangerous game you play, going addled with rum and then prancing before the crew like a common harlot?"
Ouch! I cheered Gray for trying to shake some sense into her, but I also felt kind of sorry for her. Yes, like the Aphrodite's sailors, I was still engaged by her "brainless" charm. But when she chose to drag her deception instead of coming clean when presented with the oportunity to do so, I had to take one star off from my rating.
As a minor complaint, the ending felt a bit rushed to me, even with the epilogue. Considering how Sophia based her postponing telling the truth on Gray's reaction to it, I was expecting a "bigger" showdown that what I was given. I wasn't disappointed, just surprised.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable read, with a wonderful hero, a likable but flawed heroine, an unusual (to me) setting - a ship! - and a story that had enough romance and action to keep me turning the pages almost nonstop. This was only my second book by Ms. Dare - well, it was only her seconnd book too, LOL - but she's already become one of my favorite authors. Her writing really talks to me.
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