No Mistress of Mine
No Mistress of Mine is the fourth book in Ms. Guhrke’s An American Heiress in London series and is a solid tale by a more than solid author who keeps us coming back for more. I have not read any of the previous books in this series, so this novel can easily be read as a standalone.
Lola Valentine has been running away for most of her life. From her humble beginnings and a past cloaked in violence to her disastrous first attempt at serious theater, her early years were a series of reactions rather than long thought out strategies. Now that her benefactor, Henry Latham, has died and left Lola a half share in a London theater company, Lola’s return to England presents a chance for her to finally run toward something that will make her proud rather than merely put food on the table. The one wrench in the works is her partner, Lord Denys Somerton.
Denys Somerton is the heir to the Earl of Conyers and for the past six years he has been proving to his father that his rakehell days are over and he is worthy of the responsibilities his position entails. Tasked with seeing to the financial stability of the earldom, one of its more lucrative investments happens to be the Imperial Theater that Denys co-owned with Henry Latham. Now that Henry is dead, his half of the theater is now owned by none other than Lola Valentine, the woman Denys met and fell in love with in Paris six years earlier. Unfortunately, she also happens to be the one woman Denys would just as soon never see again. He fell madly in love with her, even going so far as to ask her to marry him, but Lola turned him down in a rather humiliating way by choosing Henry and her career over Denys. So when he discovers that Lola will be re-entering his life, Denys is determined to keep his heart hardened against her.
When Lola first met Denys, she was a cabaret dancer in France with dreams of becoming a serious actress. When she finally gets her chance through Denys’ financing of a play, the reviews are so scathing that Lola is devastated. She pretty much stinks as an actress. After that debacle, Denys decides to take her away from all that by marrying her. But Lola has secrets to keep and Denys’ family is not on board with his matrimonial plans; so Lola brings Henry in on a scheme to protect Denys and at the same time give her the tools to become the serious actress she longs to be. For six years, Lola and Henry have presented a very successful cabaret program in New York with her as the star of the show. When not flinging men’s’ hats into the audience with her toes, Lola has been seriously studying and honing her craft as an actress. Now that she is half owner in a London theater, she is ready to take to the stage in a drama once more. The question is whether she can convince Denys to let her try to succeed or fail on her own merits.
I love that Ms. Guhrke sets this story in the Gay 90s, or as it’s known in the UK, the Naughty Nineties. It is refreshing to read about an era that is not Regency or close to it. A few reviews on other sites take the author to task about the anachronistic trope of cabaret girl and the earl’s heir, but because the story is set in a time of precipitous change, I did not question the union. The burgeoning suffragette movement, along with the last throes of the old school aristocratic lifestyle provides a wonderful backdrop for a union that spans the classes. The hero and heroine are also fully fleshed-out as characters in their own right and not as purely the one half of a couple.
However, the actual relationship between Lola and Denys is something of a weakness in the book as a whole. One would think that previous lovers meeting again would have some of the same spark that initially drew them together – after all, it would have had to have been a pretty intense and tempestuous love affair for Denys to throw convention to the wind and offer to marry a cabaret girl (one step up from prostitute) – but that isn’t really the case. While the mutual attraction is there upon their reunion, it has dulled significantly from the love of six years before. Part of that can obviously be attributed to maturity and skepticism after a deep hurt. However, I would have liked to have felt just a little more ‘oomph’ in the romance. Things are good between them, but more like putting on a comfortable old sweater versus a slinky black dress.
Still, there is nothing wrong with comfort and that is what No Mistress of Mine is – a comfort read. Now to go back to the previous books in the series.