Lady Edwina and her husband Declan Frobisher are very newly married when the novel opens. They are in love and clearly happy in their marriage and with each other as they mingle and present the picture they want society to have of them. Lady Edwina is the daughter of a duke and so has a large amount of social cachet. Declan is a ship's captain and the son of an old and long established shipping family which often assists the Crown in its more delicate endeavors. They are devoting their honeymoon to creating their newly combined image when Declan is unexpectedly called into service on a secret mission. He is disappointed to leave his delectable new wife behind but he dismisses her appeal to accompany him. Lady Edwina, not as delicate and conventional as she appears, is unwilling to stay home so despite her husband's wishes, she stows away on his ship, determined to play a part in all aspects of his life and forging a marriage of equals. Once discovered, her presence will not only provide Declan with a better cover story for his unexpected presence in Freetown, Sierra Leone but her social savvy will help him discover more than he ever imagined.
With their ostensibly straightforward courtship behind the main characters, this novel is more a settling into marriage than a spark filled coming together. They are still negotiating what their marriage will look like and how it will be balanced and their working together to uncover whatever is rotten in Freetown signals Declan that the beautiful Edwina intends to be always by his side no matter what danger or hardship they might face. As they look into the disturbing disappearances of several soldiers, sailors, and a government spy, they discover that there are women and children missing from the colony as well, turning the novel from a romance into more of a mystery suspense novel. The romantic bits are conveyed in flowery prose while the mystery is rife with intrigue and covert investigation. In the end, the latter definitely takes precedence, and the reader's interest, over the former. As this is the first in a series of four novels, the ending is unresolved and the reader will have to read subsequent novels to unravel the carefully plotted answer to all of the questions raised by the mysterious disappearances raised here in this first book. Laurens generally writes well but this is a little light on the romance for some romance readers, myself included.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.