Heiress in Red Silk
I suspect readers who enjoyed the first book in the Duke’s Heiress series (me!), will have mixed feelings about this second novel. I didn’t feel the same connection to the principal characters or their relationship (which isn’t very romantic), and the mystery surrounding the death of the eccentric former Duke of Hollinburgh goes nowhere. Hunter fans will still find things to like in Heiress in Red Silk, but it’s an underwhelming follow up to the terrific Heiress for Hire.
After the sudden death of the Duke of Hollinburgh, his family learns he bequeathed the majority of his wealth to three unknown women. In Heiress for Hire, Chase Radnor, the duke’s nephew, is tasked by the new duke with finding the women and investigating his uncle’s somewhat suspicious death. Chase finds the first woman, Minerva Hepplewhite, living in London, and unaware she’s received a life changing legacy from a man she never met. Chase initially suspects Minerva might have killed the duke, but by the end of the novel he’s eliminated her from his list of suspects, and they are deeply in love. Chase still isn’t certain what happened to his uncle, but he advises his cousin, Kevin Radnor – who lied about his whereabouts the night Hollinburgh died and was seen arguing with him days earlier, to be ready to leave the country if necessary.
Rosamund Jameson grew up on a tenant farm in Oxfordshire before going into service for a London family. She was dismissed without reference after her employer discovered she was involved in an affair with their eldest son, Charles. Desperate and hungry, Rosamund found work as a chambermaid at Mrs. Darling’s, an upscale brothel – a brothel, we later learn, the former Duke of Hollinburgh frequented. After two years, she left Mrs. Darling’s and apprenticed with a milliner, and she now owns her own millinery shop in Richmond. Rosamund has dreams of one day owning a shop in Mayfair and is determined to provide a better life for her younger sister Lily. She also sometimes fantasizes about finding Charles and marrying him. When Minerva Radnor enters Jameson’s Millinery and asks to speak with Rosamund Jameson, it’s been five years since Rosamund was thrown out of the Copley home. When asked by Minerva if she knew the duke, she nervously admits she once met him, but declines to elaborate on the meeting. Minerva doesn’t probe, but informs Rosamund that the duke left her a legacy of many thousands of pounds and fifty percent ownership of a business. She encourages her to come to London as soon as possible.
Kevin Radnor is an inventor and businessman, and something of a black sheep amongst his family members. He’s rudely dismissive of most of his relatives, single and content to gratify his sexual needs with prostitutes, is quick to anger, blunt in his opinions, impulsive and often distracted. After an acrimonious final meeting with his Uncle Frederick wherein the duke refused to give him additional funds for their business partnership, Kevin was further devastated to learn Hollingsworth left his stake in their fledgling manufacturing company to a complete stranger. When he finally meets Rosamund, his new partner – after a stern admonishment from Minerva to behave – he’s caught off-guard by her beauty. But much to his dismay, his attempts to intimidate her with rapid fire questions about the enterprise don’t work. Rosamund stubbornly refuses to give up her share of the partnership or cede control to him. Kevin eventually realizes he’s misjudged and underestimated her. Rosamund won’t be bullied or cajoled and insists on an active and equal partnership. So Kevin decides to try a different approach: Seduction, followed by a marriage of convenience.
The set-up to this affair doesn’t sound very appealing does it? Kevin is scheming for control of the enterprise, and Rosamund – busy establishing herself in London – spends the first half of the novel pining after someone else! Hunter attempts to show us the best and worst parts of her principal characters via their relationship to each other, but I was never invested in either of them, or their hot/cold relationship. Rosamund is smart and tough, and beautiful; Kevin is mercurial, brainy and handsome. He’s initially enthralled by her beauty, but dismissive of her ability to contribute meaningfully to their enterprise. Bitter and frustrated, he behaves like a toddler with a toy he won’t share. And he also has a terrible habit of mansplaining things to Rosamund. You can see his appeal. Ahem. Reader, I wanted to like them both! But he doesn’t improve on knowing him longer, and she makes choices at odds with her initial characterization.
I won’t spoil how or why Rosamund finally decides to embark on an affair with Kevin, but it’s an abrupt change of heart precipitated by a predictable plot development. The author attempts to convey passion and abandon in their lovemaking, but each time they’re together it mostly feels like she’s checking off a list of scandalous sex acts. When the pair agree to marry because it makes practical business sense, it’s simply another reminder that this romantic affair feels anything but. Friends, I’m not here for practical love affairs! I want the swoony, crazy in love feels! And I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s strange that Rosamund is totally fine with Kevin proving his prowess in the bedroom with tricks he’s learned from his liaisons with prostitutes. Am I?
Anyway. Once Rosamund and Kevin agree to marry, the family predictably freaks out, but the couple does it anyway, and find they rub along well enough during the day while steaming up the sheets with inventive lovemaking at night. Kevin begins to trust Rosamund’s business instincts, and Rosamund marvels at Kevin’s quick mind and willingness to do whatever hard work is required to make the enterprise a success. The novel shows us snapshots of the contented pair (and surprisingly little of the downside or negative repercussions of their union) until Rosamund meets with a potential business partner without asking Kevin for permission first. Uh oh. Trouble in conveniently married paradise.
I was intrigued by Kevin Radnor after Heiress for Hire, and I had high hopes for this second book in the series. But with the exception of how Rosamund knew the duke (which is a supremely underwhelming reveal), the blurb pretty much sums up this entire story. Unlike the clever and moving Heiress for Hire, Heiress in Red Silk is mostly a story about two attractive strangers with very little chemistry trying to make a go at a business partnership who also have a lot of sex on the side. She’s not as innocent as she looks, and he’s not nearly as unaffected as he pretends. We still don’t know anything new about the duke’s death; the extended Radnor family are still a bunch of unlikeable, bitter snobs; and the principal couple seemingly only fall in love as a side effect of spending time together! Not even entertaining cameos from Chase, Minerva, and Nicholas (the current duke who’s featured in the next book), can save this one.
Heiress In Red Silk isn’t as good as Heiress for Hire, and it’s a shame. Based on the strength of Heiress for Hire, I still have high hopes for The Heiress Bride, and I’m hopeful it will feature a more compelling story and romance, and answer our lingering questions about the death of the Duke of Hollingsworth.
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