|Confessions of a Little Black Gown is the story of two conniving spies matching wits while falling in love. Thalia Langley is supposed to be a simple Mayfair miss with a matchmaking, meddling twin sister and a heartbroken cousin she is trying to cheer up. While Tally is anything but simple - she can pick locks, entice a man with a practiced look, and curse up a storm in Russian - the rest is true. Her twin sister Felicity is truly a meddling matchmaker, and she is also the duchess of Hollindrake, having recently married Thatcher, who adores her. Unfortunately, Tally’s cousin Pippin is heartbroken because she has fallen in love with a pirate who is also a wanted man, and he’s been imprisoned. So, Tally and Pippin have executed a crazy plan to free Captain Dashwell, but he is not free yet and there is a problem with the plan.
Enter Geoff Larken, a master spy in his majesty’s service, dressed up as the duke’s graceless vicar cousin to ferret out his former friend, Dashwell - and kill him. He has secured an invitation to Hollindrake’s country house party but must find Dashwell discreetly. He doesn’t think anyone will see past his bumbling, dull façade, but Tally immediately sees his grace and stealth. Tally was raised by her globe-trotting father, who educated her in every aspect of life that he saw fit, including his career in the service. So, she spots Larken as a spy but then is immediately confused as he disappears into the façade of the tripping, stammering, righteous vicar. Until they tumble into one another in the garden, and he kisses her, giving into the fascination that has plagued them both since they met. Larken kisses like a rake, and Tally is overwhelmed by the thought that she may have finally found the mysterious spy of her dreams. She also realizes that his presence at the house party can only mean one thing - that he has come to arrest Pippin’s beloved Dash.
Tally employs her every weapon to distract Larken from his mission, and her innocent seduction combined with her seemingly ladylike demeanor makes him wonder if he’s in the right place for spying. Tally’s staunch belief in fairness has also started to penetrate Larken’s tough shell and he finds his straightforward mission becoming tangled as he fights his conscience and his overwhelming lust.
There are other problems cropping up: a shady lady from Larken’s past and Felicity’s determined matchmaking of everyone in sight turns this turbulent situation into an outright emotional squall.
Confessions of a Little Black Gown has a promising love story that falls short of its lure. Tally is funny, cunning and determined to have Larken as the spy he is, and she will do everything she can think of to uncover him. Larken is a hardened man, after having spent years spying on terrible men in awful places. Tally unwittingly shines light into the bleak places inside him. Tally’s Larken is sexy, wicked, and ruthless. Through her eyes, he is a true hero. The reader only gets glimpses of this through her perception, for the Larken on the page is a cardboard cutout of such a man, with no emotional depth or deep thought.
The story starts very slowly, layering storyline upon storyline until it’s easy to forget all about the love story. It can be confusing at times to keep the cast of background characters, and their purposes, straight. I was also frustrated by the neat tie-up of loose ends, some of which make little sense to me, which I suppose will be explained in a subsequent novel.
The most enjoyable parts of the novel come when Tally and Larken breathlessly match wits while trying to out one another’s hidden identities. Their conversations are lively, entertaining and smart. I also really enjoyed Felicity’s high-handed intervention throughout the novel, especially her surprising involvement in the dramatic conclusion.
This story could have been a beautifully realized love story, complete with an unconventional heroine and a sexy maybe-bad, maybe-not hero, and it comes close and then falls flat. I appreciated the sparring courtship between Larken and Tally and not much else. There were no devilishly interesting confessions to devour in Confessions of a Little Black Gown.