The Disgraceful Lord Gray
Virginia Heath’s The Disgraceful Lord Gray is a pleasant read with some awesome moments, all of them courtesy of the hero. It doesn’t offer anything new plot-wise, but the energy of the dialogue and the excellent writing stand out.
Lord Graham Chadwick (aka Gray) and his superior, Lord Fennimore, are on the track of the Boss, the leader of a smuggling ring linked to Napoleon. They suspect the Boss is Viscount Gilsingham, who lives a supposedly quiet life in the country, so they rent a house near his and set out to become acquainted. Unfortunately for Gray, the new neighbor’s ward and niece, Thea Cranford, stumbles across him first. Even worse, or better, depending on your perspective, he’s succumbed to both the July heat and the exuberance of his dog, so he’s shed his clothes and is splashing around in a lake. Thea is bowled over by both his handsomeness and by the dog, which promptly pushes her into the water as well.
I liked Gray from the start, as he makes gracious introductions while standing there naked, one hand providing as much modesty as possible. It sets the tone for his unflappable, irreverent approach to everything, though of course this hides a dark secret from his past. That said, the secret made him all the more sympathetic. It’s great to see a hero who stepped into a notorious gaming hell and lost his fortune, as opposed to him doing the expected and owning the place in one way or another.
So Gray was fun to read about. He’s an inveterate flirt, but he doesn’t push the limits once they’re in place, and he flirts with intelligence and warmth. When Thea tells him she has no interest at all in him, he says there are certain clues that give away how she really feels, then names one or two indications, which she dismisses.
‘And…’ The word came out in a sultry whisper as his head leaned closer still before he paused and failed to finish his sentence.
‘That was a test and, I’m sorry to tell you, you failed.’
‘Indeed. Because you leaned closer, too, obviously eager to hear what I had to say despite my intimate, wholly inappropriate conversation.’
That was delightful.
Thea, on the other hand, was… adequate, at best. She’s extremely rich, because her uncle settled a fortune on her, but this has made her wary of men who only want her money. As a result, she avoids the Season and is cynical about male interest. She vegetates in her uncle’s house and hangs out with a widowed neighbor who keeps pushing her in Gray’s direction.
A heroine twiddling her thumbs until the hero comes along is dull, though Ms. Heath shows why Thea is doing so little with her life. Blaming the impulsive side of her nature for a tragedy affecting her family, Thea has shut what she calls “Impetuous Thea” into a box and does not want that part of herself to have the upper hand again. Of course, Gray lets Impetuous Thea out to play, but other than her struggle for primness when she’s actually passionate, she didn’t have much going for her.
And because Thea has no purpose of her own, the plot tended to be predictable and sometimes repetitive. Lord Fennimore tells Gray not to seduce Thea. Thea and Gray meet thanks to social occasions or their paths crossing outdoors, and he flirts with her. Lord Fennimore, the grump, scolds him. Thea lusts after Gray, but tells herself he’s a penniless wastrel. It all proceeds along familiar lines.
Still, readers looking for a solid historical romance need look no further, and I enjoyed Ms. Heath’s fresh, often witty writing. If you’ve been following The King’s Elite series, don’t miss this, and if you haven’t read Heath before, this is as good a place as any to start. It’s clear a lot has been happening outside the pages, but the former heroes don’t shoulder their way into the story. Gray was sexy and endearing enough to hold the stage on his own.