With This Kiss by Victoria Lynne
Published by Dell, 1999
Beauty and the beast--they were the scandal of the ton....
All eyes feasted on the beautiful flame-haired gambler in London's most infamous club. But Julia Prentisse was interested only in the rake-turned-recluse whom they now called "The Beast." She lured him out of the crowded club to a deserted warehouse, where she made her scandalous offer: If he married her and protected her from her uncle, she would help him find the arsonist who had ruined his life.
An act of heroism had left Morgan burned, scarred for life. But Julia's bold gaze lit other fires he had long suppressed. And now this glorious stranger was his bride. But when he tried to claim his husbandly rights, she demanded a three months grace--three months to know a stranger's mind, to touch a stranger's soul, to go where no woman had ever gone before. Into his lonely heart...With This Kiss. (Summary from Goodreads.com)
I downloaded this book for free from Amazon in July of 2012. I read it this past weekend and shook my head at yet another fabulous read that has been sitting on my Kindle, unread, for so long. See, I have a small (okay, large) problem. I am addicted to downloading free books from Kindle (so many of them turn out to be so good!) which means that my reading queue on the Kindle is sitting at a couple thousand books (and/or short stories and samples). That in turn means that while I might be really excited about a story line when I download the book, it quickly gets lost in the masses. I literally sat down this past weekend and started from the last book (alphabetically by title) on my Kindle and began working my way towards the front. I didn't get very far in terms of numbers but I did finally read some great books including this one.
The blurb on this book is excellent and does a great job setting up the story so I will simply fill in a bit...Beatrice needs out from under her Uncle's thumb as he is getting ready to marry her off to one of three very poor choices in men. He has two daughters of his own that we wants to find good matches for and Beatrice is in the way (plus, she has some scandal attached to her name due to smuggling on her father's part). Beatrice has also been receiving letters from Lazarus, the arsonist who terrorized London a few years ago killing some and injuring others, including Morgan. Beatrice knows that he has a vested interest in seeing Lazarus stopped and so offers him a proposal so outrageous that she is surprised when he actually accepts.
Morgan has retreated from life since the fire that left him scarred both physically and mentally. Beatrice engages his interest in a way that not many things have in a long time. He agrees to her plan and they are married. He wants an heir and to make sure Lazarus is dead and Beatrice can help him with both...but first she will turn his world inside out (for the better). Beatrice writes a very popular column, The Tattler, that blends in the need for societal reforms in with gossip of the ton. One of the first times Morgan really gets to spend some time with his new wife is when she goes "undercover" to get information for her column. She insists he dress as a chimney sweep and they go off to the stews. Morgan's eyes are opened a little bit to the true depths of his wife that day (although he is also shown first hand some of the dangers that she has courted as well).
Morgan and Julia's relationship grows slowly but steadily as they both want to work at their marriage--Julia wants love and Morgan wants a child to love with a mother that he can respect and enjoy being married to. Watching them both let go of some of their protections and open up to each other was beautiful and I felt the author did a spectacular job of showing, not telling this growth. The identity of Lazarus, who begins increasingly frequent attacks, was a surprise to me as I had fallen for some red herrings. The conclusion of the book was satisfying and there was an epilogue which some might find to be "too sweet" but which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I rate this book a 4.5/5.