The Lady Who Broke The Rules by Marguerite Kaye, which is paired in the Ladies of Disrepute volume with Ann Lethbridge's Lady of Shame (which I will also review, uh just as soon as I read it). While Kaye's story is the third book in the continuity, I had no problem keeping up.
Kate Montague is well and truly ruined. A broken engagement, mere days before the wedding, without any explanation whatsoever from her, pretty well insured that....especially since the jilted groom was more than willing to talk trash. Her father, a Duke, could have quashed the talk, as could her aunt, who raised Kate after her mother passed away. But given that they are so fed up with her, they've pretty much left her reputation in tatters, and like to constantly remind her of what an epic disappointment she is.
Into Kate's world enters Mr. Virgil Jackson, not only an American, but a freed slave who has pulled himself up by his boot-straps. In the pottery business back in the States, he's in England to talk business with Josiah Wedgwood. It's at a dinner party that he meets Kate and they become fascinated with each other. Not only is she unlike the other English ladies he's met, she has started a school on her family's land. Given that Virgil is very interested in establishing similar schools back home, he agrees to visit Castonbury Park.
All historical romance readers have opinions on what makes a good historical romance. Some say it's the characters, some say it's the storyline, others say it's the author getting the history "right." For me it's a bit more simplistic than all of that. The author has to make me believe. Yes, it may sound fantastical. Yes, it may even strain at the seams. But if the author has me believing not only that it could happen, but hell.....maybe it did happen? I'm sold. And while the idea of a disgraced English lady falling in love with a freed slave does sound amazing, Kaye sells the whole thing really, really well. In part because she lays groundwork for how Virgil, just a slave 10 years earlier getting the crap kicked out of him over a failed insurrection, could wind up in Boston running a profitable business.
The story itself is an intriguing mix of light Regency banter and heavy, introspective angst. In particular, Virgil's past is very brutal. The prologue in this story is not for the faint of heart. Virgil's actions have very dire consequences that continue to haunt him 10 years later. Likewise, Kate is also lugging around baggage. Granted she has never been a slave, but what befalls her was sadly common for women throughout history (and hell, even to this day, in some cases). Keep the girls ignorant, tell them to do their duty, hell honey - just lie back in that marriage bed and think of England. 'Twill all be over soon enough and after all, you're just a silly women. Like you could possibly have wants, desires, ambition and intelligence? Stand up straight, look pretty and for the love of Christ, keep your opinions to yourself.
The romance itself is a very slow build, and naturally being a romance we do get a happy ending. I liked that the author doesn't morph the secondary players into pod people. Oh sure, Kate and Virgil end up together, but even if she is ruined it's not like everybody is going to welcome their union with open arms. I will admit that I wonder how they will fair, an interracial couple in the early 19th century, but as naive as this makes me sound - they love each other. I think they'll find their way.
Final Grade = B
Side note: The author has some interesting historical tidbits in the Behind The Scenes section of her web site. Well worth checking out.