Category: Historical romance
JESS WHITBY is no fragile flower. As a child, she survived on her own in the slums of East London, while her smuggler father languished in a French jail. They're rich now, but their money can't help them. JOSIAH WHITBY's been arrested for selling British Secrets to Napoleon. He'll hang unless Jess can find the real traitor – a shadowy, sinister figure known only as 'CINQ'. She's looking for a canny, ruthless man with ships to ferry secrets across the Channel – a man like Captain SEBASTIAN KENYON.
Jess shadows Sebastian along the London docks, seeking proof he's the traitor. When they're attacked by Cinq's hired killers, Sebastian carries her to his ship to tend her wounds. Jess, disoriented and unsure where she is or why, instinctively trusts the huge, grim-looking sea captain who saved her life. Sebastian is drawn to her courageous spirit and wry humor. Sexual attraction sizzles between them.
But the next morning, in Sebastian's town house, they face each other as cool adversaries. Despite a cold welcome from Sebastian's bitter, frustrated, spinster sister, Jess seizes the chance to stay in Sebastian's house. She'll sneak her way through his company records, looking for proof he is Cinq. Sebastian lets her stay. He wants to keep an eye on the daughter of the man he hates. Cinq killed his brother. It's Sebastian who gathered the iron-clad evidence against Josiah Whitby.
Sebastian and Jess fight the earthy awareness that tugs at their bodies and the instinctive understanding that links their minds. It's a complicity neither of them desires. Suspicion is almost a relief.
Cinq's hirelings lurk in the shadows, ready to strike, and Josiah Whitby edges inexorably closer to a dance on the gallows. Jess' brilliant analytic mind weaves together the information she's gathering from merchant contacts across Europe and the nuggets she's burgling from Sebastian's office. But Sebastian holds the other half of the puzzle – intelligence about Cinq's activities from Britain's chief espionage agency. He won't open those secret files to the daughter of a spy. Jess won't work with the authorities – she's hated 'the law' since she was a light-fingered brat, picking pockets. It's stalemate.
It's stalemate, too, on the bond growing between them. Sebastian can't let himself love Cinq's daughter. Jess can't love the man who's sending her father to his death.
Desperate, Jess takes a calculated risk ... or does something incredibly stupid. Seeking allies in her hunt for Cinq, she returns to the mean streets of her childhood, to her old master, the King of London's criminal underground, to oaths broken and friends deserted years back. But it's easier to walk into the King Thief's lair than out of it. Sebastian follows and comes to her rescue again. His own brand of subtle menace, tested by a decade of dockside confrontations, wins reluctant respect from the gang of thieves and murderers. He buys Jess free of them, 'buys her soul', for the standard price – a shilling. He lets Jess superstitiously buy her soul back, for a shilling. "Take better care of it, next time."
His priorities have simplified. When he came close to losing her, he knew. He'll have Jess. That means he's got to clear her father. No choice.
Jess, picking her midnight way through Sebastian's business records, doggedly looking for proof he's the traitor, discovers damning evidence. She must turn it over to the authorities and hang Sebastian ... or suppress it and see her father die. Facing that, she admits to herself she loves Sebastian.
Jess and Sebastian gamble on trusting each other. In an office at the Admiralty, Sebastian lays out every secret British intelligence holds. Jess brings her own cards to the table – the merchant intelligence she's gathered and the Whitby shipping records. Most of all, she brings her particular genius, that ability to put together a thousand, seemingly unrelated, facts and come up with a pattern.
Within hours, she has the answer. Whitby ships are carrying military secrets to France.
Numbly, Jess watches her world fall apart. Her father is a traitor, and doomed. The last thing she can do for him is obey his last orders. She'll retrieve and burn the hidden cache of company secrets and get out of England, fast.
She comes to Sebastian's bed at dawn. There's no happy ending for her anywhere, but this much she'll bargain from Fate. "Don't talk," she says, touching her fingers to his lips. "No past. No future. Just now." They both know it's their one time together. Jess, because she's leaving England within hours. Sebastian, because he's going to betray her.
Sebastian hasn't given up on Josiah Whitby. Somewhere, there's proof he's not the spy. All Sebastian needs is one critical secret Whitby held that was never passed to the French. Sebastian may find it in the cache of smuggling, skullduggery and blackmail fodder Jess is about to collect.
Within hours, still warm from the touch of Sebastian's body, Jess watches him close the trap around her, slide the box of secrets from her hands, and pass it to his friends from British Intelligence. Her old devils spring to life – The law has caught her with the goods. She'll hang. She twists free and escapes into the deadly rookery of East London, running like hell from Sebastian, still loving him, hurting more than she's ever hurt before.
Then Jess falls into the hands of the true spies and discovers matters can get considerably worse. Her father's confidential clerk and Sebastian's sister are 'Cinq'. Jess will be their next victim, one more body fished out of the Thames.
Warned by Jess' friends from the streets, Sebastian arrives in time. He can't prevent his sister's suicide, but he can make the spying, sneaky clerk wish he'd joined her. He leaves just enough for the Crown to hang.
Sebastian and Jess are reunited. This time, no secrets, no mistrust, will tear them apart.
Crisp and clean. Very good.
A sense of the snappy writing comes through, the characters are conveyed clearly and we get a good sense of the plot. Yes, the identiry of Cinq arrives out of nowhere in the synopsis, but I’d look past that knowing if the book is good, that’s fixable.