Her insides cramped with fear, but she did not let her discomfort show on her face. At any sign of weakness, the pack would race in for the kill. They did not deserve the satisfaction of watching her crumble. She would outface all the malicious gossip from those old spinsters who had always envied her, and all the false condolences from pretend friends who had come to crow over her misfortune. Heaven help her, but tonight she could even bear the unfeigned sympathy of the handful of people who genuinely loved her. She cast her eyes over the sea of color in front of her, looking for the red and gold jacket of Captain Bellamy.
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With their house and all their possessions up for auction to cover his debts, Caroline has few choices. She had kept faith in her suitor, Captain Bellamy, that he would still marry her and thus save her and her siblings - Emily, Louisa, Beatrice, Dorothea and Teddy - but his new proposal makes her feelings for him sour.
Her hopes of saving her family dashed, Caroline knows she must take them all to the workhouse, a place that might just kill them, or put an end to things herself. With this plan in mind, there is only one regret: she would have liked to have known what it feels like to be with a man.
Dominic Savage is a man used to pursuing his pleasures. Recently arrived in England from India, Caroline Clemens has caught his eye. Caroline, after failing to follow through with her plan to save her siblings and herself from a life of destitution or worse, has taken them, on foot across country, to the workhouse.
They are allowed in for the week, at the end of which time the board of governors will meet and decide whether they can stay. Grateful for somewhere to sleep and something to eat, the Clemens children are split up and put to work. One week is all it takes to diminish their spirits considerably. With her sisters and brother taken care of, Caroline puts all her willing energy into pleasing Dominic - and learning about the arts of pleasure for her own sake.
But she knows her place: she is only a mistress, and he will soon grow tired of her - or, as an investor, he may lose all his money just like her father did and be unable to keep her.
She must protect her heart against him, be a professional, and learn all she can from him. If only it were that simple. As such, it works very well. I tend to be one of those readers who loves detail and taking the time to really flesh things out, so while a zippy story is fun and you get your "instant gratification" from a book read so fast, I was left with the feeling of having held something insubstantial in my hands.
I liked the main characters, Caroline and Dominic, a lot. Caroline is strong and independent and never annoying or foolish or dramatic.
She was a woman I felt like I could be friends with, so it was easy to care for her. She takes her future in her own hands and never suffers from guilt or shame at her new occupation or the pleasure she derives from it.
Dominic was a bit messier. I had to scramble to adjust my mental image of him and my understanding of his personality, his character. But he remains a tad thin as a character. This was a well-written, well-researched story set in Victorian England, about a young woman who takes life into her own hands and lives it on her own terms - and enjoys doing it.
For fans of authors like Jess Michaels, this is well worth reading.
The Price of Desire
Avon Red: The Price of Desire by Leda Swann (2007, Paperback)