Carrie Lofty has been able to excel at this, in particular with her last several books which have all been set during the 19th century. With Flawless, the first book in the Christie series, the author mixes a delicious cocktail of emotional payback, colonial South Africa, the grit of the diamond trade, and a marriage in trouble like no other.
Lady Vivienne Bancroft is the adopted daughter of Sir William Christie, a tycoon who has finally met his maker. She and her three siblings have gathered for the reading of their father's will, only to get a very rude surprise. Seems the old man had one final trick up his sleeve, leaving a failing business to each of his children. The task? They have one year to turn the business around. If they do? A million dollars is their reward. If they do not? They get nothing. Vivienne inherits a failing diamond brokerage house in South Africa. She needs the reward, not only for security reasons, but to fix up her lovely brownstone in New York City. She did not plan on her useless excuse of a husband to muck up the works.
Miles Durham, Viscount Bancroft, married Vivienne for a reason that's as old as time. He's got a title but is broke. Her family has buckets of money and wants a title. However, neither Viv nor Miles planned on the attraction that sizzled between them. But Viv ultimately could not deal with his reprobate ways, and left him. They're literally separated by the expanse of the Atlantic ocean. Miles' pride takes a serious hit, but when he hears the terms of the old man's will? Yeah, all bets are off.
There's really no way to sugar-coat this, so I'll just come out and say it: Miles is an asshole. Having been born into a life of privilege, he finds the confines stifling. His answer? Be as useless as humanly possible. Gamble, drink, debauch etc. His marriage to Vivienne doesn't change his behavior. Oh sure, he loves seducing his wife. Getting her to throw aside all her proper decorum and give into the passion, but he's still going to gamble, drink, debauch etc. It's only after she leaves that he realizes he must have her again, to teach her a lesson. The lesson being that while she might want to hide behind proper, there's no denying what her true nature is - that of a passionate woman.
For her part, Viv craves respectability. She demands it. It means security. It means safety. She's tackles London society like a military operation. However being with Miles, with his reprobate ways, scares the hell out of her. With one glance, with one twitch of his finger, he can undo it all. Everything that she craves. Everything she yearns for. Safety. And safety is something that she desires so much, that she'll run away to another continent. Staying with Miles would mean going down with a ship destined to sink.
What I adore about Lofty's historicals is that she works with the history, not against it. Her heroines have worries and concerns that feel legitimate to what women may have wanted, in real life, during these time periods. She also takes the restrictions women faced and weaves it into the story. Once Miles and Viv strike up their bargain, they know that to turn the brokerage house around they'll have to work together. As a mere woman, she needs Miles. He can go places, say things, she cannot. And Miles needs Viv, because frankly, she's smart. She's a head for business.
For a good chunk of this book, I found the act of reading it exhausting. Naturally, given the back-story, our couple does have a bit of an adversarial relationship in the early going. Couple that with a heavy dose of mental lusting, and it takes readers for quite the roller coaster ride. What ultimately worked for me was watching these two people come to terms with each other. Miles, for lack of a better expression, finds a purpose. A reason for being. Honestly, he grows up. And Vivienne learns that she can trust her husband. That he is capable of being the man that she needs him to be. In the end, these two deserve each other, and in a good way.
When talking personal opinion, I think Lofty has written better stories - but that's me splitting hairs. She does so much right with her historicals. It's like she has a portal that will take her back to whatever time and space she wants to spin stories from. Certainly the history of South Africa isn't entirely romantic (some would argue not at all) - but here she strikes the right balance. She gives us the grim, but infuses it with the possibilities that any good romance should have. It's a very good start to what promises to be a very intriguing series.
Final Grade = B+