Desert Isle Keeper
A Dangerous Kind of Lady
While A Dangerous Kind of Lady is the third published book in Mia Vincy’s Longhope Abbey series, it’s actually the second in the series chronologically . If you’ve read the author’s début, A Wicked Kind of Husband, (which is chronologically book three) you’ll already have met Arabella and Guy Roth, Marquess and Marchioness of Hardbury as a happily married – even besotted – couple. But knowing that’s how they end up is, as any dedicated romance reader will know, not the point; the fun is in the getting there, in the emotional journey the characters take to find love and happiness. A Dangerous Kind of Lady is their ‘origin’ story, and tells how the fiercely independent, sharp-tongued Arabella, betrothed to Guy Roth since childhood, becomes un-betrothed, re-betrothed, un-betrothed again (sort of) and then marries him anyway. All while falling in love along the way of course.
When the book opens, Guy has recently returned to England following an eight year absence and has assumed the title – Marquess of Hardbury – he inherited on the death of his father around a year earlier. It’s widely believed that Guy left England in a sulk after the woman he was in love with spurned him (not only did she sleep with someone else, she then went on to become a much sought-after courtesan), but the truth is more complicated. The old marquess was obsessed with controlling his son’s every move, and leaving the country was the only way Guy could assert his independence. Now Guy is at last free to live his own life, one of the first things he does on his return is end his engagement to Arabella Larke.
The end of the betrothal doesn’t actually bother Arabella all that much – in fact, she’d be celebrating if it wasn’t for the fact that her father is so bent on marrying her off that he doesn’t particularly care who the groom is. Lord Sculthorpe, a handsome war hero who gives Arabella the creeps every time she so much as thinks of him, is about to propose any minute, and as Mr. Larke has threatened to cut Arabella off if she doesn’t get married, she’s desperate to find a way to avoid Sculthorpe without losing everything. To buy herself some time, she asks Guy to pretend their betrothal is back on, just for a few weeks, but Guy refuses to hear her out, certain she’s trying to manipulate him into marriage. After all, she never made a secret of her desire to be a marchioness, and her insufferable pride must have been dented when he ended their engagement. Guy’s refusal to help leaves her with only one option; to accept Sculthorpe’s offer and then jilt him as soon as she can. But she’s reckoned without her father’s determination to get her off his hands; rather than the spring wedding Arabella had intended, he insists she and Sculthorpe will be married within the month. Utterly repelled by Sculthorpe and his fixation on her virginity, Arabella decides that while she may have to become his in law, she doesn’t have to become his in spirit or give him any more of herself than necessary. And there’s one thing she doesn’t have to give him if she doesn’t want to.
Which is why Guy opens the door to his rooms one evening to be confronted by Arabella practically demanding to be seduced. He’s completely suspicious of her motives, and knows only too well the sorts of games she’s capable of playing – yet he can’t resist the challenges she keeps throwing at him or the glimpses of the woman behind the prickly, proud façade he knows she doesn’t mean to let him see. Taking Arabella to bed is a recipe for disaster and they both know it. It’s also a revelation. And marriage – to each other anyway – is not an option.
Arabella and Guy are superbly drawn, complex characters who are not always particularly likeable and who don’t always make the best choices, but whom the reader will want to root for nonetheless. When we first meet her, Arabella comes across as something of an ice-maiden; proud, aloof and calculating, she seems to be untouchable and impervious to her reputation for sharp-tongued arrogance. But it’s quickly clear that this is all a self-defence mechanism. Since the death of her twin brother, Mr. Larke has dismissed Arabella as useless and worthless, and she longs to regain something of the relationship they had before. But all he does is push her away, so she’s constructed thick walls and buried her true self deep inside, locking away the hurt of her father’s rejection and presenting herself to the world as proud, intractable and absolutely unassailable, someone who attacks before she can be attacked. But as Guy comes to know her – as difficult as she makes it – he realises that regardless of what is said about her, she never refutes it or fights back, and he begins to see an amazing woman, a woman who loved and fought, who made mistakes and fell down, then got back up to love and fight another day. Guy’s life with a controlling father has given him his own load of emotional baggage to deal with; he’s spent almost his entire life being denied choices in even the simplest things such as which tailor to go to, or when or how he could have his hair cut, and for him, his betrothal and Arabella herself became symbols of his father’s desire to crush his spirit and dominate him. Guy’s desire to have nothing to do with her is his way of proving to himself that he’s free to live as he chooses.
The main secondary storyline deals with Guy’s determination to gain custody of his two sisters from their guardian, who, he suspects, is stealing money from their trusts; Arabella is the first to clue into the fact that he is scheming to marry his son to Guy’s nineteen-year-old sister and gain control of her fortune that way. Then there’s Sculthorpe, a singularly unpleasant individual I was delighted to see get his comeuppance, but I’ll warn now that there’s one scene during which he physically attacks Arabella that is distressing to read.
Ms. Vincy’s talent for sharp and insightful dialogue is very much in evidence, and she does a wonderful job of using Arabella and Guy’s frequent sparring matches to show how perfectly matched they really are. Their chemistry is incendiary right from the moment they meet on the page, and the big seduction scene I’ve mentioned above (not a spoiler because it happens early on) really is one of the most unusual I’ve read:
“You seriously think that we should take off all our clothes and pretend to like each other long enough for me to bed you, and then you’ll merrily go one your way?”
“That sounds right. Although we needn’t take off all our clothes. Or pretend to like each other.”
It’s funny and poignant and even sad, but insanely sexy all at the same time.
A Dangerous Kind of Lady pulled me in from the very first page and didn’t let me go until the very last. The emotional journey these two characters travel leads them not only to discover how badly they’ve misjudged each other, but also to learn a lot about themselves as well. Arabella and Guy are extremely well characterised, their motivations are clearly put forward and the romance is expertly crafted. But a couple of things about the book as a whole caused me to lower the final grade a bit. Firstly, some of the things Arabella says go way beyond antagonistic verbal sparring and are downright hurtful. Guy is no angel in that department either – I thoroughly disliked the way he completely dismisses Arabella in their opening scenes together – but Arabella really is her own worst enemy and while I know why she behaves as she does, she still sets out deliberately to wound. Secondly, watching the two of them continually find new ways to say the exact opposite of what they mean, only tell each other partial truths and misunderstand each other got rather exhausting after a while.
But even with those criticisms, A Dangerous Kind of Lady still earns a strong recommendation and Mia Vincy continues to live up to the promise she showed in her début.