The Paid Companion
When I began reading romance seriously (almost 11 years ago), Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz was among my first discoveries. My husband was in grad school and money was tight, so I would check out all her books from the library. I had an in with the librarian, who would automatically put my name first on the hold list, and I would wait impatiently for each new release. I’m not sure exactly when things changed. I went from reading each book to buying each book for my insurmountable to-be-read pile, to just ignoring each book. Quick just wasn’t even on my radar anymore. But when her latest paperback came in, suddenly it sounded appealing again. I checked my records and found that I hadn’t read one of her books in over five years, so I decided that perhaps it was time to revisit her work. The verdict? The Paid Companion is fun, but Quick is still more or less writing the same book over and over.
Elenora was responsible for her family’s prosperous farm for years until her foolish step-father risked the property on a faulty business scheme, lost everything, and put a gun to his head. She was forced to leave the property and make her own way in the world. Unceremoniously dumped by her fiancé, she decides to become a paid companion.
Arthur Lancaster, Earl of St. Merryn, is legendary in the ton for his cold behavior. When his fiancé eloped with another man, he refused to give chase and instead remained at his club playing cards all night long. Now St. Merryn’s great-uncle has died under suspicious circumstances, and he wants to investigate his murder. However, doing so will mean going about in the ton, and he doesn’t want to be pestered by marriageable females or their pushy chaperones. He sets upon an ideal solution: He’ll hire a paid companion to pose as his fiancée.
Arthur finds that the task is easier said than done. He is just about to give up when an insistent woman (Elenora) barges into his meeting with the agency’s owners and demands that they do more to help her find a new position. Arthur likes her immediately, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse – three times her regular rate. The situation is just barely respectable; Arthur’s widowed cousin is living in the home as a chaperone. Elenora takes the job anyway, and quickly becomes involved in Arthur’s search for his great-uncle’s killer. All signs indicate that he was killed for his unusual snuffbox, which was set with a red stone containing mysterious properties. In his youth, the great-uncle was part of a group of scientists fascinated with alchemy and plans for an ancient Roman device called “Jove’s Thunderbolt.” Apparently, someone is now trying to resurrect the plans and build the device as a weapon.
As Elenora and Arthur follow the trail of the killer, they become quite attached to each other, and it’s clear to each of them that there relationship has progressed far beyond the employer/employee stage. Elenora realizes that she loves Arthur, but she doesn’t think she can hope for any long term relationship; he is clearly out of her class. She continues her plans to collect the money she’s earned so that she can start her own bookshop. Naturally, Arthur has other ideas.
If you’ve already read Amanda Quick, then you’ve already read books very similar to this one. There’s just no denying it; Quick has two basic characters, and she writes stories about them over and over. They may have different names, and different hobbies. Some like to collect ancient artifacts, others like to study ghosts or solve mysteries. But when you get right down to it you always have a stuffy intellectual hero and a heroine who is a bona fide Original. They even speak the same way to each other; the heroines all call the hero “Sir,” at least initially, and they love to say “I vow!” and “What a clever notion!” I quite like their way of speaking, actually – it has a quaint and romantic vibe. The sameness of Quick’s books is both a strength and a weakness. How many times have we all complained about authors who’ve drastically changed their style or sub-genre? Certainly, no one can accuse Quick of that. On the other hand, a steady diet of the same old same old can get pretty tiring, which is why I went so long without picking up anything JAK.
That said, this book is nearly as fun as any she’s written. I may have met these people before, but I liked them anyway. Elenora is an Original, but she’s not annoyingly spunky or pig-headed (and thankfully, she doesn’t belong to the “I’ll-sleep-with-you-but-not-marry-you” school). I quite liked Arthur as well. He’s clearly charmed by Elenora early on, and he’s man enough to admit it and give in to his feelings, which is always a plus. The plot is engaging, and the scientific mystery is more probable than some of the far-fetched ones she’s written in the past.
One of the best things about the books is its humor, much of which emerges in the dialogue. Quick has always had a good ear for romantic banter. There’s also a very funny revelation about Arthur’s first fiancée. It’s clever, and different from anything I’ve seen before.
So should you buy this one? Well, that depends where you are in your personal Amanda Quick journey. I imagine someone, somewhere, has actually never tried her before. In that case, this isn’t a bad place to start. If you tired of Quick long ago, well, I can certainly see why. But if you’re a former fan looking for a quick comfort read, The Paid Companion might just suit you nicely.