From the Back Cover:
Eva Leigh’s deliciously sexy Wicked Quills of London series continues as a Lady’s secret career writing erotic fiction is jeopardized by real-life romance . . .
In society circles she’s known as the Watching Wallflower—shy, quiet, and certainly never scandalous. Yet beneath Lady Sarah Frampton’s demure façade hides the mind of The Lady of Dubious Quality, author of the most titillating erotic fiction the ton has ever seen. Sarah knows discovery would lead to her ruin, but marriage—to a vicar, no less—could help protect her from slander. An especially tempting option when the clergyman in question is the handsome, intriguing Jeremy Cleland.
Tasked with unmasking London’s most scandalous author by his powerful family, Jeremy has no idea that his beautiful, innocent bride is the very woman he seeks to destroy. His mission must remain a secret, even from the new wife who stirs his deepest longings. Yet when the truth comes to light, Sarah and Jeremy’s newfound love will be tested. Will Sarah’s secret identity tear them apart or will the temptations of his wallflower wife prove too wicked to resist?
We were briefly introduced to vicar Jeremy Cleland and the "Watching Wallflower," Sarah Frampton, in Scandal Takes the Stage, and I couldn't wait to see how Eva Leigh would bring these characters together and the Wicked Quills of London series to a close. As the third son of England's most moral and upstanding earl, Jeremy was destined for a life in the church from a young age, though it would not have been his chosen profession. But he's fairly happy helping his parishioners, though he is a tad lonely and an awful lot of--ahem--randy. When his libertine cousin gives him a copy of The Highway Man's Seduction by the infamous Lady of Dubious Quality, he becomes hooked, seeking out all of her books and keeping them stashed under his bed. So when his father calls him to London with a mission of utmost importance, to find out who the Lady of Dubious Quality is so he can cease the publication of her books and publicly shame the woman he thinks is ruining the country's moral fiber, Jeremy is conflicted. But with the threat of disinheritance hanging over him, he agrees to the job.
Sarah Frampton, daughter of the Duke of Wakefield, is firmly on the shelf, and she likes it that way. While the rest of the ton pokes fun at her by calling her the Watching Wallflower, little do they know how closely she's really watching, and all in the name of inspiration and fodder for her popular erotic novels, written anonymously as the Lady of Dubious Quality. Her clandestine occupation gives her a sense of purpose and more than a little thrill, knowing that she's keeping such a scandalous secret, even though her life could come crashing down around her if her identity is ever revealed. Though she longs to experience the sensuality she writes about for herself, she knows she will not be content to marry for anything other than love. So she is stunned when she meets Jeremy and not only do sparks fly, but she finds her heart responding to the genuine kindness and interest he shows her and imagines what life might be like if only a duke's daughter could marry a vicar. But as her relationship with Jeremy deepens, disaster looms. She learns someone is determined to uncover the Lady of Dubious Quality, and despite all of her careful precautions, they are getting too close to the truth. She decides marriage could be the only way to soften the scandal if the hammer does fall, and who better for a husband than the man she is falling in love with? But can these two people from such different backgrounds really make a marriage work? And what will happen when they each learn the other's devastating secret?
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Forever Your Earl, but the second book was much less fun. Based on the initial setup of this third and final book, I was really hoping the series would end on a sizzling high note. But for me, this book started off pretty slowly, picked up for a while in the middle, and then fizzled again toward the end. I had higher expectations for a romance between a country vicar and a highborn erotic writer. So much potential there with such opposites in the leads. While the story is definitely sexy, the romance is much sweeter, and there is absolutely none of the wit and contentiousness that marked the relationships in the other books. And I missed that.
A couple of other aspects that kept me from rating the book higher: We don't learn how Sarah became the Lady of Dubious Quality until the end of the book. What inspired her and emboldened her to pick up her quill and write a racy story? Then what emboldened her to submit it to a publisher? How did she feel when she first started out? How did she feel when her books became popular? If it is so dangerous for her, if the mere thought that someone might find out who she is sends her into a panic, if she's so sure her life and her family will be ruined, why does she do it? I asked those questions early on, and if I'd had the answers then, I think I would have found her situation more believable. And if you're thinking the premise of an earl asking his third son, the only one who is a vicar, to be the one to traipse all over the seedier side of London to ferret out the Lady of Dubious Quality doesn't make a lot of sense, I agree. And I found the earl's subsequent behavior to be rather irrational and over-the-top.
I really liked Jeremy's character, and I found his struggle to reconcile his innate sexuality with his religious position and societal expectations to be very realistic. And he is super sweet to Sarah. The way he defends her and encourages her, praises her and reveres her, had my heart smiling on more than one occasion. But I just couldn't help but feel like I needed more from this story, especially once they discover each other's secret. Many other reviewers are singing its praises, so it may just be me. If you've read the other books in the series, of course you've got to read this one to see how it all ends, but the first book, Forever Your Earl, will remain my favorite.
My Rating: 3 Stars out of 5
*This review was originally posted to Romantic Historical Reviews.