To Love A Thief
The Weddings By DeWilde series was one of Harlequin’s better continuities. The story of the DeWilde clan, who own a number of world-renowned bridal salons, it’s a globetrotting family saga with stops in London, Paris, New York, San Francisco and Sydney. Besides the exotic locales, it delivered a level of continuity and consistent quality most of Harlequin’s subsequent continuities struggled to match. One reason may be that there were fewer authors involved in writing it. Instead of every book being written by a different author, most of the authors involved contributed two books to the series, which likely made it easier to maintain consistency. The whole series is good, but Margaret St. George’s To Love a Thief is my favorite entry, combining the breezy fun of a light caper plot with a good redemption story for its imperfect heroine.
The series began with family matriarch Grace DeWilde leaving her husband Jeffrey following his affair with a younger woman. This book, the sixth in the series, tells the story of the other woman. The setting is glamorous Monte Carlo, where Allison Ames works as a high-class security consultant, testing the security systems of her wealthy clients. One night she infiltrates a masquerade ball at a private estate to show just how easy it would be to steal the owners’ prized Rubens painting. But when she gets there, she catches a real thief in the act.
The man is none other than Paul Courtwald, a notorious cat burglar known as The Ghost. He is immediately intrigued by the woman he finds intruding on his latest job. He hadn’t heard about another thief working in the area and wants to learn more about her. The two of them agree to meet the next day, a tricky arrangement for two people who instinctively don’t trust each other. These early sections are clever and quite fun, as Paul and Allison go through an uneasy dance where they feel each other out in various ways.
Feelings soon develop between them, feelings that catch Allison off guard. She wasn’t looking to get involved with anyone so soon after her affair with Jeffrey DeWilde. When she’d heard his wife left him, she had waited for his call and for him to come back to her. He never did. Now all she feels is anger at the way he used and discarded her. She wants to make him suffer the way she has, but her plan for revenge might cost her a chance for a future with Paul.
This is essentially a story built on a misunderstanding, but not the stupid kind. Paul believes Allison is a thief, which is reasonable given the circumstances when they first meet. She can’t tell him she’s not, because he’d want nothing to do with her (and the author does a good job justifying why she doesn’t turn him in either). So she lets his mistake stand, something that will inevitably lead to trouble when he finds out the truth. Meanwhile, Allison and Jeffrey’s affair was based on each having very different understandings of what the other person was expecting. All of this seemed realistic to me. In real life, people do misunderstand each other and make mistakes like this. The reasons misunderstandings usually don’t work for me in romances is that they’re often just contrivances for the sake of the plot. Here they feel completely organic to the story. I understood why the characters felt and believed what they did, I didn’t blame them for doing so, and even with the inevitable revelations looming on the horizon, none of this left me wanting to scream.
The author manages to strike just the right tone for this story. The more dramatic character moments are never too heavy, and the caper elements are never too light. If it went too far in either way, the book could come across as disjointed, but St. George finds the right balance to make it work.
Paul and Allison are very fun characters, two clever, sophisticated people who are well matched for each other. The chemistry between them is quite believable and effective. The caper elements are highly entertaining, as the reader gets to see these two smart people at work and accompany them on their adventures. There’s not a huge amount of detail about Monaco, but the author still delivers a good sense of place, capturing the spirit and atmosphere of the setting.
What gives the story its extra dimension and makes it more than just a fun romp is Allison, a flawed yet sympathetic heroine. She’s the kind of character Margaret St. George (a.k.a. Maggie Osborne) often does so well. She’s not perfect by any means, sometimes making frustrating choices and doing the wrong thing. In turning her into a heroine, the author doesn’t shy away from Allison’s past actions in pursuing a married man. Actually, at times I thought Allison was trying to take on too much of the blame (after all, it’s not like she held a gun to his head), but maybe that’s what redemption is about. Most of all, the author helps the reader understand this woman and why she has done the things she has. This is very much a redemption tale, as Allison faces her actions and the reasons for them. The story follows her as she seeks to confront the past and make amends to those she’s wronged. This is a situation without an easy resolution, and the author doesn’t provide one. Instead, she deals with the situation realistically. By the time Allison receives her happy ending, it feels like she’s earned it.
Despite being part of a series, To Love a Thief does stand alone and works very well as a self-contained story. (It’s actually a good example of how a continuity book should work, offering a story that readers should have no trouble understanding or enjoying it as an individual volume, while continuing and deepening the overall plot for those following it.) Most of all, it’s a good choice for anyone who enjoys an exotic locale, a smart and engaging couple, and an entertaining plot, as well as believably flawed characters. In this case, all those elements combine into a very good read.