No Mistress of Mine
I’m a fan of Laura Lee Guhrke, though I’ve noticed a trend in her writing that had me worried about this latest novel in the An American Heiress in London series. It seems like there’s always one book that’s a standout DIK, one that’s a disappointment, and other books that can vary widely between better, average and good. Since I already picked a DIK, and decided the last book (Catch a Falling Heiress) had to be the disappointment – where was No Mistress of Mine going to fall on the spectrum? Good news Guhrke fans – though When the Marquess Met His Match remains my favorite, the love story between Lord Denys Somerton and actress Lola Valentine more than redeems the disappointment of the last book. This one is passionate, romantic, and a nice tease for the final book in this charming series. Though you could read it as a standalone, it’s helpful to have read the previous three books to familiarize yourself with recurring characters.
All the books in the series nominally feature American heroines , but the true link is a deep and abiding friendship between five school friends, now British peers, whom the American women eventually wed. Though No Mistress of Mine is the fourth story told, Lord Denys Somerton was the first to fall in love. Six years ago, on a night out carousing in Paris with his friends, Denys spotted cabaret dancer Lola Valentine and couldn’t resist her. He pursued her relentlessly, they became lovers and eventually he convinced her to return to London with him where he leased her a home in St. John’s Wood. To the dismay of friends and family, he was mad for her.
He’d been ready to sacrifice everything dear to him, to turn his back on everyone else he loved, in order to keep her.
The relationship came to an abrupt and shocking end shortly after Denys financed a production of Ibsen’s Quicksand at the Imperial Theatre (where his father was co-owner) showcasing Lola in her first dramatic role. The production, and Lola, bombed, and afterwards, without so much as a goodbye, she fled to her old theatre and friends in Paris. Desperate, Denys tracked her down, but surprised her in her dressing room, discovering her in déshabille with Henry Latham – his father’s business partner and friend.
Heartbroken and furious over her presumed infidelity, he believes Lola when she tells him Henry made her a better offer. After emerging from days of drunken excess, Denys vows put the past behind him, redeem his reputation and fulfill his duties.
Fast forward six years, and Denys has succeeded in putting the past behind him and is contemplating marriage to a longtime family friend. One morning, when his worried father informs him he’s received a letter and that his Imperial Theatre partner, Henry Latham, is dead, Denys confidently assures him that the change in ownership is no cause for concern. Though he’s never been able to forget her, Denys believes he’s put his feeling for Lola behind him.
When he walks into his office that same morning and discovers Lola Valentine waiting for him, he’s shocked – and frustrated by how deeply he’s affected by her reappearance. Though it’s a struggle, he manages to maintain his composure when she greets him. Lola quickly gets to the point of the visit and informs him she inherited Henry’s share in the Imperial and is the new co-owner. Denys is livid – he nearly ruined his life over her once before and has no intention of sharing the Imperial with her in any capacity. Lola, surprised and thrilled by the inheritance, has no intention of letting him bully her out of managing or acting at the Imperial. Denys leaves the meeting determined to find a way to force her out or convince her to sell her share. Lola leaves knowing she has to prove herself as both a partner and a dramatic actress – and she’s determined to do so.
When Lola decides she’s going to be involved in running the Imperial, Denys is forced to spend time working alongside her. When she auditions for a role in Othello and impresses the director, he’s forced to accept she’s talented. But he doesn’t like it. Or so he tells himself. The shockingly abrupt end of their relationship never made sense to him – and when he discovers things might not have been as they appeared in Paris, he’s forced to admit he never got over Lola. Lola, who never stopped loving Denys or doubting the possibility of a relationship beyond one as his mistress, is conflicted and wonders whether a future between them is even possible.
The sexual tension and chemistry between Denys and Lola is intense. The random memories of their time together in St. John’s Wood are bittersweet, and those brief moments when they give in to the irresistible attraction between them burn with their mutual thwarted desire. When Denys and Lola first met, they each sacrificed individual happiness for the sake of their relationship; when they meet again six years later they’re both stronger. The years apart allowed each to mature personally and professionally, and to trust their inner voices. But it’s clear other things haven’t changed at all – the intensity of their feelings for each other, their disparate positions in society, and the Somerton family’s unwillingness to accept Lola. Eventually, after Denys comes to understand what drove Lola away, he makes a public declaration of his love and affection for her (with some help from his friends). The final reconciliation – which readers predict the moment Denys walks into his office and discovers Lola waiting for him – is tender, sexy and emotionally satisfying.
No Mistress of Mine is a sexy and romantic addition to Ms. Guhrke’s catalog. If, like me, you were tempted to give up on the An American Heiress in London series after Catch a Falling Heiress, come back. Ms. Guhrke redeems herself with this one – you won’t regret it.