Francesca Wyndham knew the folly of gambling. She had seen her father, Lord Wyndham, lose the family fortune, forcing her to become a plain chaperone to an empty-headed young Miss.
But now Francesca was taking a gamble even her father would have blanched at. She was falling in love with the irresistible Arden Lyons, a gentleman who was clearly anything but a gentleman when it came to winning what he wanted, whether a hand of cards, a test of strength, or a lady's favours.
She knew nothing about this man except that she wanted him from the moment she saw him...and though his past was a dark mystery, his motives for choosing her over other seductive or wealthy young beauties were even more mysterious. Still, Francesca dared to pit her innocence against Arden's expertise -- in a game where passion took all...
My favourite thing about this book was the hero - Arden Lyons. When Arden meets Francesca she is working as a companion to a rich tradesman daughter. A place her father, a notorious gamester, found for her since he lost all his fortune and couldn't support her. We soon realise that Arden decides to court the said daughter in hopes of being closer to her companion. However he believes her to be a widow and 25 when in truth she is single and 21.
With a harsh past behind him Arden believes someone older and experienced would be ideal for him and confronted with Francesca's inexperience he feels she deserves better. But he doesn't want to abandon her, as her father does to run away from debtor's prison, and offers friendship and transport back to London instead. Francesca feels more attracted to him the better she knows him and to totally ruin her good image of himself, he decides to take her on a journey of discovery of his past. From his noble biological father to the slums of London where he spent sometime doing all sorts of jobs till he became king of the underworld and decided to leave that life behind. We get to know him at the same time has Francesca and there's a lot to be said of a man who protects and loves a heroine enough to want the best for her and so wants to give her a safe future without him or the eventual threats of his past.
There's a mystery subplot about who tries to kill Arden that is at the same time a plot device to allow Francesca and the reader to see how beloved he really is by everyone in the criminal world. Although that really borders on the cliché somehow Layton pulls it off and we end up with a nice little sweet story.
Grade - 4/5