Lottie, Charlotte Howard, had no choice but to run. Her parents, desperate for money and comfort so they could live in style, had signed her life away years before, promising Lord Radnor that Lottie would marry him. He had supported the family and paid for an exclusive boarding school education for her, but had required Lottie’s absolute obedience to his sometimes bizarre commands about what she was allowed to do, eat and say. There was nothing for her to do but disappear. So she did, choosing to go into service with the Earl of Westcliffe’s household as his mother’s companion.
Lottie has remained hidden on his Hampshire country estate for two years. None of the men Radnor had sent after her had been able to find her. But those men hadn’t the skill or the determination of Nick Gentry. He poses as Lord John Sydney, and arranges to join a weekend party given by the earl, certain that he will be able to find Lottie and earn the very large fee that Radnor will pay him for her return.
Nick Gentry has been a Bow Street runner for three years, but he grew up as a pickpocket and a thief, becoming a thief-taker and a crime lord as an adult. Three years ago he made his own bargain with the devil, Sir Ross Cannon, a Bow Street magistrate who was not only his bitterest enemy but also his brother-in-law, married to his older sister. Sir Ross suppressed information about his criminal activities after Nick agreed to work for him for an unspecified length of time as a runner, catching his former criminal associates. Nick’s success soon caught the attention of others who needed people found, and he frequently accepted outside contracts, most recently from Lord Radnor.
But while Nick has a miniature of Lottie to help him identify her, and has interviewed her family, he knows next to nothing about the desperation Lottie felt when she deserted her family, nor about the years of horror she had endured at the hands of her husband-to-be that had fueled that desperation. He does know, however, that he is sexually attracted to her like he has never been before. While Lottie is an innocent, she also feels the overpowering attraction between them. But her dreams of happiness are shattered when Westcliffe forces Nick to reveal that he’s been hired to take her back to Radnor.
When the men see how frantic she is to escape Radnor, they both offer to marry her, and she accepts Nick, based on the sexual connection between them. They return to London immediately and are married, only to discover that Sir Ross has made decisions in Nick’s absence that have changed his life and his plans forever. Lottie also realizes that her new husband has secrets in his past that have forced him to become the man he is and that control their relationship as husband and wife.
This is one of Kleypas’ best novels to date, with fully-realized and complex characters and a maze of storylines that make a plot summary fiendishly difficult. However, all this also makes it a fascinating read, all but impossible to put down. Both Nick and Lottie are flawed, damaged by the events of their pasts, although Lottie has been able to overcome hers far more than Nick has. Unfortunately, the one flaw in the book is that when the reader finally discovers the secret that Nick has hidden since he was a teenager, which has been built upon since the first pages of the novel, the incident does not seem to be of sufficient strength to trigger the trauma he has suffered since then. However, this may be deliberate, as the author may be showing how Nick took what happened and created something much more horrific from it. He could have perhaps recovered from the actual trauma, but not from what he made of it, sentencing himself to years of isolation, guilt, and loneliness. Because of that, he was a virgin until he was twenty-four and a very knowledgeable and understanding madam relieved him of that burden and then tutored him for years in a wide variety of sexual techniques. Therefore, he knows exactly what to do to bring Lottie’s passionate side to life. The sexual scenes are fiery, detailed and arousing, especially Lottie’s introduction to the pleasures of Tantric sex.
While the sexual tension between Lottie and Nick is instantaneous, their relationship out of bed builds slowly and realistically, as they gradually become friends as well as lovers. Sir Ross and Sophia, who readers may have met previously in Lady Sophia’s Lover, are an integral part of this book, and readers have a chance to see how their happily ever ending really worked out. The author’s descriptions of London, especially Fleet Ditch and the other slums Nick lived and worked in, are fascinating and revolting at once, as she reveals the squalor of extreme poverty in that time period. They stand in stark contrast to the equally detailed descriptions of the homes and lives of the London elite, who live in incredible luxury. Carefully described settings, three-dimensional characters who behave in realistic, yet frequently unexpected ways help create an intriguing world that the reader can step into with complete confidence that no suspension of disbelief will be necessary.
Worth Any Price does indeed bear out the promise of its title and its cover.
--Joni Richards Bodart