|Gail Ranstrom likes to write about the fringe of the ton, involving the spy world and often pulling in the often seedier side of London. She does them all in this tale and even though there are a few bumps along the way, Unlacing Lilly is an enjoyable book.
Lilly O’Rourke comes from family that is genteel but on the edge of society. Her sister Bella married well, and that helped. Another sister, Cora, was killed and Gina, her younger sister was kidnapped and rescued at the last minute. The villains are a group known as the Brotherhood and while many were captured, there are still a few on the loose. The belief is that they are members of the ton.
Lilly has decided to “sacrifice” herself on the marriage mart in order to gain security for her mother and in hopes that Gina will recover and find a husband. Her intended is the son of the Duke of Rutherford, Lord Olney. While he is nice and seems to want her, he also makes her uneasy at times. But despite his mother’s objections, they are betrothed and the wedding is set.
Devlin Farrell is seen as a hero in Whitechapel and has risen from the slums to owning a pub. He is rich, but keeps it to himself. He grew up poor and is determined to help those in need. He works for the Home Office at times and was instrumental in breaking the Brotherhood, as they preyed on young innocent women. But his primary goal in life is to seek revenge on the Duke of Rutherford and his heir. Devlin is the Duke’s bastard son, the result of the rape of his governess mother. Rutherford and Olney not only refused aid but laughed at their predicament when Devlin’s mother asked for help as she was dying. Devlin is determined to make them pay.
His scheme is to steal Lilly from the altar, keep her a few days and then send her back, humiliating Olney and thus the Duke. He means her no harm and actually finds her charming. Despite the fact that her brother-in-law is a friend and Devlin knows he is ruining Lilly’s life, he carries out the action.
Ranstrom throws in all kinds of interesting interludes. There are gypsies, misplaced “stolen” jewels, the search for the rest of the brotherhood and the attraction Lilly and Devlin face. It is the attraction that keeps the story interesting. When these two share a scene, the subtle humor is delightful, the banter is fun and there is often heat. The love scenes are minimal but worth it and as you might guess, the “unlacing” is part of these scenes. But the title also refers to Devlin’s ability to get Lilly to see things differently and open her eyes to a new world. The story about Devlin unfolds slowly and there are some twists that keep the reader guessing.
The bumps are really from both Lilly and Devlin when they are confronted with information about the other. Lilly is quick to assume Devlin is a scoundrel and Devlin assumes Lilly played him false. Luckily they learned quickly and these lapses are minor compared to the development of their feelings.
My recommendation is to pick up Unlacing Lilly and enjoy as the story unfolds.