1297 in Paris was a bleak and dangerous time to fall in love. Not only for the poor scraping a near living on the streets, but also for those with enormous financial resources as well as sworn enemies. This romance novel introduces Aliette, a homeless young woman long abandoned by her family, and continues the family tale of the mysterious Reynold. The man is a dark and incredibly secretive man; he sees secrecy as his only defence against enemies he has had for his entire lifetime. He is a danger to anyone he perceives as liable or guilty of betraying him. Aliette is a poor, near starving woman who has a great secret responsibility. Their meeting and subsequent close proximity makes them realise that what they have long believed about themselves is questionable; that affection may be possible. This well paced novel is a dark romance and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
The book shows Reynold in his study, a well furnished room which is at odds with his well practiced skills in dealing out death to those who threaten him in any way. His well established secrecy is currently at risk as an old woman has brought a small child, a baby, who she claims is his daughter. He is torn as he is strictly self controlled, but he fears that there is enough truth in her story that he escorts her to a squalid room and tragedy. Meanwhile, Aliette is more than usually worried about her survival and that of her adopted family. She has discovered a couple, Vernon and Helenwise, scavenging as street beggars, more than usually disadvantaged by their physical difficulties. Gabriel is a traumatised boy whose parents are dead, and he has been scarred for life as part of the events he has experienced. Aliette has been attempting to provide for the three desperate people, buoyed by their affection and company. Her series of small jobs does not provide much, and it is to attempt to rectify Gabriel’s theft of bread that brings her to Reynold’s attention. He dispatches some of his mercenaries to bring her into his deceptively large fortified house, and once there puts a propropsition to her which surprises them both. As they discover more about each other and the fact that draws them together, they begin to also find out the very real dangers of life of being in France with a family at war.
This is a strong romance which has common roots in other books, but is more than readable as a standalone novel. The romance between the two main characters is well expressed as a gradual discovery on both sides, when the real risks of their attraction become evident. I found this a well crafted book with a well expressed sense of apprehension throughout. Aliette is an attractive character for her loyalty and determination, her instinctive understanding of others and her sense of responsibility. There is a darkness in this book, but Locke is an experienced author who handles the theme well, and this is a successfully gripping and enthralling novel.