RETRO REVIEW: Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt

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Can a pirate learn that the only true treasure lies in a woman’s heart?

Widowed Silence Hollingbrook is impoverished, lovely, and kind—and nine months ago she made a horrible mistake. She went to a river pirate for help in saving her husband and in the process made a bargain that cost her her marriage. That night wounded her so terribly that she hides in the foundling home she helps run with her brother. Except now that same river pirate is back . . . and he’s asking for her help.

“Charming” Mickey O’Connor is the most ruthless river pirate in London. Devastatingly handsome and fearsomely intelligent, he clawed his way up through London’s criminal underworld. Mickey has no use for tender emotions like compassion and love, and he sees people as pawns to be manipulated. And yet he’s never been able to forget the naive captain’s wife who came to him for help—and spent one memorable night in his bed . . . talking.

When his bastard baby girl was dumped in his lap—her mother having died—Mickey couldn’t resist the Machiavellian urge to leave the baby on Silence’s doorstep. The baby would be hidden from his enemies and he’d also bind Silence to him by her love for his daughter.

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Publisher and Release Date: Grand Central Publishing, October 2011

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1738
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Georgian era Maiden Lane series is written in an almost fairy tale style. But it’s not light as Eloisa James’ Fairy Tales series. It is serious, rather dark, and very romantic.

Indeed, a short passage from an original fairy tale, Clever John, precedes each chapter of this book, perfectly mirroring the events of this romance. I would say it’s more of a morality tale where true love conquers all struggles.

Several months earlier, Silence Hollingbrook was publicly humiliated after spending one night in river pirate Charming Mickey O’Connor’s decadent palace of vice and sin. She was there to plead mercy for her beloved husband, William, who was accused of stealing cargo from one of Mickey’s ships. To spare him, Silence agreed to Mickey’s terms that she stay one night with him and risk her honor…but nothing happened. He merely fed her a delicious and extravagant meal and then let her be. After that fateful night, no one believed her version of the truth, William never looked at her the same way again, and her pristine reputation was shattered forever.

Since then, William has died at sea leaving Silence a lonely and heartbroken widow until an infant was abandoned on her doorstep. She began helping her older siblings more with their charitable endeavor, The Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children, managing the Home in the dangerous London St. Giles neighborhood and, in doing so, found some meaning, purpose, and peace in her life once again.

The child, christened Mary Darling, was cared for by Silence for almost a year until she was kidnapped. During this time, Silence had also received mysterious gifts, including a lock of black hair that matched Mary Darling’s…and Mickey O’Connor’s. At the beginning of Scandalous Desires, Silence bravely marches back to Mickey’s palace, suspicious that he has the child and demands her back.

Mickey O’Connor is a ruthless and dangerous man who has many enemies. An Irishman raised in St. Giles in poverty, he has known hunger and abuse. But he’s also handsome and charming and Silence agrees to move into his palace to care for his daughter because he promises she may keep the child once he ensures their safety.

Of course, Silence’s family is shocked and outraged because not only will this harm their beloved sister’s reputation even more, it will also reflect on the Home and impair its ability to get rich and aristocratic donors to contribute in order to ensure its continued operation and success.

Soon after she moves in, Silence charms Mickey’s loyal servants, a loveable ragtag group who dine together at one massive table. They smuggle food to her when she refuses to bow to Mickey’s command to join them and are kind to her. This creates some wonderfully funny and almost sweet moments as Silence upends Mickey’s tightly controlled and rigid life. We especially get to know Bert and Harry, Mickey’s most loyal guards.

“Silence disliked him, disobeyed him, argued with him, and was all but starting a rebellion amongst his people, and still he indulged her.” (p.131)

Silence is a strong woman who stands up for justice and she defends those she loves with her life. She represents all that is good, pure, and beautiful in the world to Mickey. It is something he desperately wants in his life but is also something he fears is just too good to be true. As she weaves her way into his life, he slowly lets his guard down and allows her to come to know him, sharing in his darkest secrets and his innermost fears. He is also drawn to her fierce maternal instincts in her love for his daughter, Mary Darling, a child he is ambivalent about until Silence’s goodness helps him realize what Mary means to him. Silence’s beauty and compassion remind him of his beloved mother, with whom he had a complicated and ambivalent relationship.

Silence sees and empathizes with Mickey’s painful and horrific childhood, much as Verity Ashton does with Justin Kinmurrie in Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan. As she gets to know him, she falls in love with the man she sees inside the cunning pirate facade.

This is a Georgian era romance, set in 1738 and the gritty and perilous streets of St. Giles are a stark contrast to the elegant and inviting atmosphere of Windward House, Mickey’s safe haven in the country where he is merely Michael Rivers, a shipbuilder. The descriptions of this house are some of the best parts of the book; it’s comforting, it’s home, and it’s where Michael gathers all the beautiful things in his life and keeps them safe, including eventually, Silence and Mary.

The ending is a tension-filled and on-edge experience with excitement and danger counting down the pages. There are also some hints of a future love story for Silence’s serious brother, Winter, and a rich, beautiful, and playful patroness, Lady Isabel Beckinall.

And who is the infamous and mysterious Ghost of St. Giles? It’s a mysterious minor subplot that runs through the entire Maiden Lane series and we have hints to his identity in this story. Or do we? He is a sort of Batman figure, dressed as a harlequin, that appears throughout the book, rescuing the poor people of St. Giles from danger and injustice.

Scandalous Desires is a passionate and romantic story told with wonderful pacing and emotion. This is a strong and wonderfully written series, but it is best read in order for character development and time and plot progression.

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