Series: Duke's Men (Book 2)
Victor Cale never imagined that his sweet, shy bride, Isabella, would use her talent for creating exquisite imitation jewels in a criminal way. But there’s no denying that Isa’s handiwork was used in the brazen heist of the Dutch royal family’s diamonds -- after she disappeared into the night.
Ten years later, still reeling from her betrayal and enraged that her duplicitous side was so undetectable, Victor is sent to Edinburgh to investigate a wealthy baron’s mysterious bride-to-be. Simple enough -- until the “fiancée” proves to be Isa, masquerading as an alluring young widow.
No longer the meek and mild girl he once knew, the bold woman vehemently asserts that it was Victor who abandoned her after he helped steal the royal diamonds! Piecing together the truth of the past reawakens their volatile passion, which burns hotter than ever. But with a decade of secrets between them, Victor and Isa must trust each other in order to bring the real thieves to justice -- without getting burned themselves.
Very good second chance/reunion story. Ten years ago Victor and Isa were very much in love and newly married. Victor was working as a guard for a jeweler and Isa was working for the same jeweler. She has a talent for making beautiful imitation jewels. Isa's sister and brother-in-law have forced her to make a fake set of Dutch royal jewels and are planning to switch them for the real thing. Isa has thought of a way to stop them, but is drugged by her sister, and her relatives pull off the switch anyway. The next day, Isa is told by her sister that Victor helped them, then left to throw authorities off the trail, but would join them later. Meanwhile, Victor finds a note from his wife telling him she has left him because he isn't good enough for her, leaving him to take the blame for the theft.
Ten years later, both have moved on. Victor has discovered that he is the cousin of a Duke (What the Duke Desires). He's living in London, but society life isn't for him, he's worked for his living his whole life. So he goes to the Manton Agency and asks if he can work for them. They send him to Edinburgh to investigate a woman who may be trying to dupe a wealthy young baron into marrying her. The description of the woman sounds a lot like his wife, so he's eager to check her out. He's been searching for her the whole time. Meanwhile, after Victor abandoned her, Isa found herself pregnant and desperate to get away from her family, She created a new identity for herself and apprenticed to a jeweler moving to Edinburgh. She now has a successful career and a nine year old daughter she loves dearly.
Isa is stunned to see Victor in Edinburgh. She is certain that he's only there to ask her to make more fakes for him to use to steal more jewels. At the same time, Victor thinks that Isa is after a way to steal the baron's family gems. After several days where Victor tries to get Isa alone, he finally succeeds, and makes his accusations. Isa is stunned by what he says, and has her own accusations to make. When they actually take the time to compare stories, they realize that they were set up by her relatives and have spent ten years hating each other for no reason. Of the two, Victor has the harder time letting go of his anger and seeing that he has blamed Isa for something that she didn't do. Now they have to decide if their marriage is able to be saved.
Isa and Victor had been very young when they married and both had had their own insecurities. Victor's childhood hadn't been good, with a father who had kidnapped another man's son, and later died a syphilitic madman. Victor had become a soldier fighting the French until the war ended. He had been afraid to share his past with Isa, certain she would leave him if she knew about his past. When he was questioned about the jewels' disappearance, the authorities accused him of working with Isa, using his own past against him. He didn't want to believe that she had used him, but her disappearance had him doubting himself, though he still wouldn't confirm their accusations. Isa had been young and innocent and believed in Victor's love. She hadn't told him what her relatives were doing because she thought that she could stop them without him having to know. She had a hard time believing such a brave soldier would be interested in her, and her sister used that against her. When Victor never came after her, she believed her sister had been right. Now that they are older and wiser, they realize that they were both used.
I liked the fact that the truth about what happened didn't take too long to come out, and that they actually did believe each other as they worked it out. But both of them are still reluctant to trust the other, sensing that there are unrevealed secrets. Victor still wants Isa's relatives brought to justice, but Isa is afraid that exposing the truth could put both her and Victor in danger, and ruin their daughter's life too. Now that their anger with each other is gone, their old feelings are coming back to the surface. I loved seeing them get to know each other again and try to rebuild their marriage.
I loved the way that Isa has matured over the last ten years. She is no longer the quiet girl, content to let others tell her what to do. She has become strong and independent and has no trouble telling Victor when she doesn't like something that he is doing. However, she still has moments when she isn't sure of his motives for doing something. Victor has also gotten more confident in himself and who he is, but like Isa, still has lapses in his belief in her innocence. He wants his revenge, or justice, on Isa's relatives and has to rethink things when she points out the hazards. I liked seeing them realize that they are stronger together, as long as they can maintain their belief in each other. When Isa's relatives make a reappearance after ten years of leaving Isa alone, Isa's daughter is put into danger. They must find a way to put their trust issues behind them for good if they are going to save Amalie and make a go of their marriage.
I really enjoyed the secondary characters also, and the layers they brought to the story. Baron Rupert was one of the best. He is young and rather awkward socially. He is the Regency version of a nerd, and Isa is one of his few friends. He has a crush on her and is pretty sweet because of it. But he is also a very good friend to her and plays a very big part in Amalie's rescue. He also ends up with a pretty sweet romance of his own. I also loved seeing Max and Tristan and Dom from the first book and seeing how they support Victor. They show up just in time to help Victor and Isa. I loved the ingenuity of their plan and how it all came together. I enjoyed the scene with Tristan and Lady Zoe, and what appears to be the set up for the next book in the series.
*copy received in exchange for honest review.