From the Journals of Sophia Noirot: A dress is a weapon. It must dazzle his eye, raise his temperature . . . and empty his purse.
A blue-eyed innocent on the outside and a shark on the inside, dressmaker Sophy Noirot could sell sand to Bedouins. Selling Maison Noirot’s beautiful designs to aristocratic ladies is a little harder, especially since a recent family scandal has made an enemy of one of society’s fashion leaders. Turning scandal to the shop’s advantage requires every iota of Sophy’s skills, leaving her little patience for a big, reckless rake like the Earl of Longmore. The gorgeous lummox can’t keep more than one idea in his head at a time, and his idea is taking off all of Sophy’s clothes.
But when Longmore’s sister, Noirot’s wealthiest, favorite customer, runs away, Sophy can’t let him bumble after her on his own. In hot pursuit with the one man who tempts her beyond reason, she finds desire has never slipped on so smoothly . . .
I haven’t ever read anything by Loretta Chase before, mainly because her genre is historical and that’s not my go-to (…which is paranormal. Now, if she wrote about werewolves at balls wearing the latest fashions from London, I might jump right on that!). But once I read the description and saw the gorgeous cover, I wanted to check it out. I follow several discussion boards about romance books and Loretta’s have come up time and again, so when I had an opportunity to get an ARC of one of her books, it was no contest.
Sophy Noirot is adorable. I absolutely loved her character. She was a clever mix of innocent maiden and sultry temptress. She was used to seeing skin as a dressmaker, and her sister Marcelline is married and has shared secrets of the bedroom with her, but other than kissing, she’s still an untried woman. In a time when women fainted frequently and spectacularly, Sophy is a breath of fresh air. She dons costumes and crashes high class affairs to spy for a gossip rag, she only faints when she needs to create a distraction, and she is fiercely protective and loyal to her sisters and their business. When Clara, the sweet, extremely innocent younger sister of Harry Longmore finds herself in an incredibly compromising position, Sophy shows herself to be witty, selfless, and willing to do anything to see all their problems solved.
Harry Longmore is a rake. I love that word when it describes a man in a historical novel. It brings to mind all sorts of seedy, naughty things. But the truth is that I really didn’t know what the term meant so I had to look it up. I was positive that Longmore was a rake, but I had to make sure. Turns out…it’s a perfect word for him. A rake, which I’m sure you historically-reading folks know, is a man that’s wanton, loose, corrupt and many other fun things. Basically, a male whore. Good times! But underneath the gorgeous visage, the tailored clothing, and the unashamed way he plays with women, is a man who loves his family and will do anything for them. And he’s completely entranced by Sophy from the start. When the book shifts to his point of view, we’re treated to his hilarious inner monologue as he argues with himself about his self control where Sophy is concerned, and his growing feelings for her. Charming and protective with a wry sense of humor, he’s a great leading man.
The most innocent of the women in the story is Longmore’s sister Clara. So innocent! I loved her, I felt sorry for her, I wanted to stand up to the rogue who put his hands on her myself! When she runs away, I admired her courage even as I cringed knowing just how unprepared she would be for the real world. But the very act of running away spoke volumes about one woman who had enough of polite society telling her what she could and couldn’t do with her body, and who she could do those things with.
Sophy’s sisters are background players but important to Sophy, not only as her business partners but as her family. Marcelline and the youngest, Leonie, help Sophy as she and Longmore set out to find Clara and bring her home and fix the awful mess she found herself in. And little Fenwick, the pocket-picking orphan that Sophy takes under her wings is charming and endearing. I loved his cockneyed accent, the way he used an “f” in place of “th”, so he would say “fings” instead of “things”. Longmore spends a good bit of time correcting the poor boy. Sophy uses him to spy around town in exchange for giving him a place to stay and food to eat. His addition to the adults in the story was funny and added another layer to an already colorful cast of characters.
Sophy, as a dressmaker, is privy to the highest fashion and the descriptions of her outfits were vividly painted. I could picture the lace and bows, the billowy sleeves and the outrageous hats. I’m really glad I didn’t live in a time when I had to have so many layers on! What an ordeal to get dressed and undressed.
While I often say that I won’t read historical novels, I do actually have a few good reasons for it. One, I don’t like to read stories where the heroine is a virgin. They squick me out and I find them (often) hilariously overrated. We should all be so lucky (but I digress). And I really don’t like reading about the time in history when double standards were so ridiculous. I loved that Loretta broached this very subject during a conversation between Sophy and Longmore, when she suggested that he took advantage of her by being such a good kisser and she was overwhelmed. How easy it would be for him to do something to her to “ruin” her in public, when she was dizzy from being kissed so well. This double standard is what bothers me about historical novels, that a man can feel up a woman and walk away unscathed with only the “rake” moniker as a warning to future women, but the woman herself is sometimes forced to marry said rake to save her good name and that of her family. I know that this is historically accurate, but it’s part of why I don’t (usually) read novels from this time period. I’ll take books after women’s lib for $500, Alex.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. Once I opened the book, I found myself completely entranced with the world that Loretta spun and thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters were well developed, the descriptions of the people, clothing, and journey were amazing, and the plight of not only Sophy but her sisters and Clara were engaging. I am looking forward to reading more from this author.