Review number: 62
Genre: Historical Romance
Stand Alone/ Series: Stand Alone
Summary: James Cordier is all blue blood and entirely dangerous. He’s a master of disguise, a brilliant thief, a first-class lover—all for King and Country—and, by gad, he’s so weary of it. His last mission is to “acquire” a packet of incriminating letters from one notorious woman. Then he can return to London and meet sweet-natured heiresses—not adventuresses and fallen women.
Francesca Bonnard has weathered heartbreak, scorn, and scandal. She’s independent, happy, and definitely fallen; and she’s learned that “gentlemen” are more trouble than they’re worth. She can also see that her wildly attractive new neighbor is bad news.
But as bad as James is, there are others far worse also searching for Francesca’s letters. And suddenly nothing is simple—especially the nearly incendiary chemistry between the two most jaded, sinful souls in Europe. And just as suddenly, risking everything may be worth the prize.
Why did I read the book: Because it says “Loretta Chase” right there in the cover. I need no other incentive.
To me, she is one of them: along with Julia Quinn, Neil Gaiman and more recently, Meljean Brook, they form the group of writers whose books I look forward to, delve into as soon as I get them- and truth be told, I would probably read their groceries lists if they were ever published. It borders on obsession but let’s not go there.
So yes, to open a new Loretta Chase is as close a sensation to going on a date with the guy you have been dreaming about for a long time. I prepare myself, I clear my schedule from any interruptions; I put on nice comfy clothes and sit down with a glass of wine. Because it doesn’t matter what she is writing about or who the couple du jour are, I know I am in for a treat.
And it is purely as a reader that I now write my thoughts on Your Scandalous Ways. As a reviewer I feel the need to talk about what I like and what I don’t like but on this occasion, be warned the dislikes will not be mentioned. They are too few and too unimportant (to me) to be granted room in what will most likely be, an Ode to Loretta Chase rather than a proper review.
Where to, next?
Allora, where to start? Oh yes, with the setting. Loretta Chase has taken me to Paris, Albania, London, Egypt, so I wonder what the next destination is. Ah! Ma che delizia, it is Venice, one of my favourite cities in the world.
First player is James Cordier, the prologue belongs to him. James is a spy. He too is a whore, but not merely for money or for survival: for King and Country. James does as he is told and now he is told to get some jewels from a known thief, one Marta Fazi. He seduces her, steals the emeralds, and we see how he is sick and tired of the proceedings. He has a cynical and very realistic view of who he is:
“He was a soldier, after all, though the army he belonged to was unacknowledged. Nobody pinned any medals on men like him, or mentioned him in dispatches. And if he got caught, no one would rescue him.”
James is now weary and ready to quit. He is ready to go back to England, to settle down and marry an English rose, perfect and protected from the world. One who can give him peace and quiet and whose eyes will carry all the innocence he does not have in himself.
“Why is it the aristocrats never look like that?” said Giuletta.
“Because the aristocrats don’t exercise their muscles with hard work” , Francesca said.
“I would let him exercise his muscles on me” said Giuletta. “To keep them from going soft, you know. “
Francesca’s mind produced an image of naked masculine limbs tangled with hers. Heat swarmed over her skin. “You are the soul of kindness” , she said fanning herself. “Your heart is so charitable, you should have been a nun”
“I should have been a nun”, said Giuletta, “but the habit is so unbecoming. And all the praying is bad for the knees. No, no it would not suit me. I was born to be a slut.”
“As was I”.
There will be another meeting with James in disguise (this time as Spaniard Don Carlo) before they get to meet for real: but the third time (the one where James is James) is also a time of peril, where Francesca is endangered and James saves her. It is this gallant gesture that sets Francesca off balance in relation to James from the start: no one has ever stood up to her. No MAN has ever defended her. “WHO is he? WHAT is he”, she asks.
The attack has been engineered by players 3 and 4: Francesca’s ex husband, Lord Elphick, who is sitting in his lair back in England plotting to become a powerful man in England and to whom Francesca has become a problem with the letters that she holds; and Marta Fazi, one of his lovers and the one with orders to get the letters from Francesca.
And so the board is set and the game begins.
So here we have James and Francesca. Two people who are powerful, manipulative, smart. Also, they are very jaded and masters in playing games. James is ready to play his game of deceit, Francesca is to be a means to an end as usual. After the two encounters he has with her in disguise, he stipulates that he must play hard to get so as to draw her attention and use it to gain access to the letters he needs.
Francesca is also ready to play her games of seduction with James, whom she is instantly attracted to. It is a game of lust to start with but of course, the Gods of Romance have decreed that lust is to turn into love.
They are both caught unawares by the feelings that surface along with the lust. It is ever more endearing to read about them because they could not be more distant from what they perceive as perfect. For James, Francesca is as far as it can be from the English rose he dreams about whereas for Francesca, James is a younger son who could never ever afford her.
But how could they fight if every time he sees her he hears the call of the Siren and his inner dialogue keeps repeating “tie me to the mast” and do whatever you want to do.
And how could she not fall in love when he tastes:
“like every sin she’d ever been warned against and committed, every rule she learned and broke.”
The Campanile Scene
This is, my opinion the best scene in the book, possibly one of the best scenes I read this year. It has all of the usual brilliantly written loretachasess.
They are at St Mark’s Square inside Café Florian and it’s 3am in the morning. James is there, pretending not to pay attention to Francesca, still bent on his “hard to get” strategy. Francesca is having a good time with her friend Giulietta and with Prince Lurenze – one of Francesca’s pursuers and the guy Giulietta would like to have as her lover. They leave the café and Giulietta seizes the moment to trick Lurenze into pursuing her leaving Francesca and James, who had followed them (ha, so much for hard to get) alone. They have some fantastic banter and he invites her to climb the Campanile tower.
“Probably not”, she said. “ I plan to forget about you by tomorrow”
To which he replies “in that case, I’d better make the most of today” and it is the perfect introduction to a most romantic moment in the lives of two most unromantic people.
They get to the top and Francesca tells him he is infatuated with her. He denies. She asks him to stop talking and drink in the view:
“The sky was showing the first signs of lightening but stars still hung in the heavens. Below, the city was a dark fairyland dotted with faintly twinkling lights. She moved along the balustrade, enchanted, as she gazed at the world below her and beyond. The lagoon twinkled, too, reflecting the fading starlight and the lights of the boats, and perhaps the sun as well, still lurking below the horizon. “This is the way deities see the world,” she said softly. “we’re merely specks to them”.
Taken with the moment, with her emotions, she starts to cry. She, who never cries. But she knows, she knows this is more than lust. They exchange some funny lines trying to light up the mood and she tries for one of her dramatic exits where she throws a hand in the air and walks away.
“You’re a man. You don’t know anything. Not a damned thing.”
But James won’t let her escape and starts to sing Figaro’s lines from the Barber of Seville: “women , women, eternal gods/ who can fathom their minds,” to which she replies without hesitation. James feels his heart skip a bit because don’t they have a lot in common? But Francesca says that half the world knows these things, Rossini, Byron – no, he is infatuated, she repeats. No, it’s lust “you stupid female”, he tenderly tells her. And they proceed with their exchange that leads to a much heated sex scene, right there at the belfry of the Campanile of St Mark that culminates with them climaxing at the same time that the bells start to ring and the sun is rising in the horizon. How is that for romantic?
But it’s way too romantic for both of them: and they are scared and James says:
“everything about you is splendid. But I am not infatuated”
“If that’s what you want believe, mio caro, I haven’t the heart to disillusion you. Especially not now. It really was quite wonderful, inexpressibly romantic, and dreadfully naughty. A perfect combination – and an experience I shall not soon forget. Grazie tante, amore mio. But it’s long past I said Good-bye.” (…)“Don’t follow me . The sun is up, and you don’t want all of Venice to see you looking like a love-sick puppy” . (…)“It was great fun but it’s done,” she said, never turning her head. She flung her hand in that aggravating gesture of dismissal. “Adio”.
We are almost there.
Oh Francesca, I heart thee. What is it with Loretta Chase and her great heroines? How can she write a jaded, cynical unrepentant whore who is believable whilst at the same time granting her a past and a heart that resurfaces when she least needs? Because after that scene when they meet again and they let the feelings flow, her heart is right there in her eyes. And when she looks at James like that, he can see the woman that she was, and he can see the ghost of the girl still in her. And that dooms him.
“She looked up at him in that way she’d done before, with the ghost full in her exotic green eyes, so that all he saw was a girl, a beautiful girl, gazing at him adoringly.
It was what he’d always wanted – for one girl to look at him so, with all her heart in her eyes – but he’d imagined it so differently.”
She drives him nuts, because even though she is vulnerable in some points, she is still strong and independent and nearly impossible.
He tries to keep his Italian side (did I mention he is half Italian? no? My bad) in control but he just can’t. The more he spends time with Francesca, the more she makes him crazy and he just can’t keep his English coolness, he goes completely Italian at some points, and these moments make for the light and funny scenes in the book.
But the moment that cements it for them and for me, the moment I realize that they are so very right for each other is one small, simple moment that made me believe they were in love and that they were truly, soul mates. It is one after they have dinner at his house:
“after they’d eaten, she lay with head upon some cushions while he lay on his side, leaning on his elbow, the two of them facing each other, in a strange sort of intimacy, like….friends, while they….talked.”
And that is it folks. Unbelievably romantic this book is. Sometimes, it is so obvious and yet one forgets what romance novels should be in their core: just romantic.
Of course, there is still much to happen in the story. James must yet tell her that he has deceived her and she must deal with it a la Francesca and they still need to earn their HEA.
And who is the winner of the game you may ask? What is the score in the end once players number 3 and 4 are out of the game? Well. Elementary my dear friends, it’s a tie.
Verdict: Need I say more?
Rating: 9 damn near perfection.
And with this we hereby declare open our Long Weekend with Loretta Chase event. Come back tomorrow to learn about our favourite Loretta Chase books – we have asked other reviewers and bloggers which is theirs too!