There are countless romance novels that are either set in the rookeries of the East End or feature a main character who fought their way free of the poverty that marked their beginnings. And just as many more that explore the gambling dens and bordellos where the wealthy and privileged go to experience the pleasurable vices not afforded them in their glittering ballrooms. Choosing favorites amongst these exciting stories of love, desire, transformation, and determination is not an easy task, but there are a few I’ve read over the years that stand out.
Dreaming of You – Lisa Kleypas
Now that I’ve done a few “favorites lists”, I’ve realized this title by Kleypas somehow always manages to find itself included. That’s because it’s a fantastic story! The hero, Derek Craven, is one of my all-time favorite romance novel heroes. He is dark and dangerous and so, so sexy. Born and raised in the London rookeries, he worked his way up to become a king of his own little empire. As the owner of the most exclusive gambling hell in town, he is ruthless, heartless, and so totally in trouble when the novelist, Sarah Fielding, comes to his club to do research.
Sarah is young, idealistic, and open-hearted. A complete contrast to Derek. But when they get near each other the sparks that fly burn super-hot. Though he tries to resist the draw he feels toward the innocent young woman, Derek—for all his intensity and proven fortitude—is helpless against his attraction. This book is one that I re-read over and over. It never gets old and always manages to pull a few tears at the end. (But I’ll admit I’m a bit of a sap!) Still, an iconic romance of two people from totally different worlds who are perfect for each other.
A Rogue by Any Other Name – Sarah MacLean
I could probably have chosen any of the books in The Rules of Scoundrels series by MacLean which explore the risks and rewards of to be found in a world of pleasure and vice. But there is something special about the one that kicks off the series and introduces us to the four partners who own an exclusive gambling hell which caters to society’s elite. Years ago, our hero, the Marquess of Bourne, put it all on the table—his fortune, his family legacy, and his self-respect—in a game of cards. Going from a man who had everything to one who lost it all, Bourne vowed revenge against the man who took it from him.
He prowled the streets of London, a broken man, until a hand up gave him the means to start planning his revenge. Now, wealthy and powerful as part-owner of a successful club, his only remaining goal is to get back the land that should be his and get his revenge on the man he holds responsible for his dishonor. Only one woman stands in his way. Lady Penelope Marbury was once a childhood friend, but is now nothing but a pawn in his scheme…until she becomes so much more.
Wicked Intentions– Elizabeth Hoyt
This is the first book in the extensive and very popular Maiden Lane series by Hoyt. With the exception of a few scenes that take place in the more glittering world of high society, this book is otherwise almost completely set in the dangerous and poverty-stricken neighborhood of St. Giles, one of the worst slums in London. I loved the gritty tone and dark danger that threads through this story of a woman who, along with her brother, runs a foundling home. She puts herself at grave and repeated risk to save helpless children and to help a mysterious lord track down a murderer.
Temperance was raised within a pious family and is devoted to helping the unfortunate children who have no one to care for them and no other place to call home. She also harbors a dark and guilt-ridden secret from her past which continues to motivate her every day. While she assists the enigmatic Lord Caire in hunting down a murderer, we see just how courageous and selfless she is, and we discover that her temperate nature hides deep passion. As she and Caire start to explore the intense attraction they feel for each other, Temperance’s guilt over actions taken long ago threaten to ruin her chances at finding happiness with the one man who sees her for who she truly is.
Earls Just Want to Have Fun – Shana Galen
Where we often see heroes who have had to work their way up from wretched beginnings on the dangerous streets of London’s underworld, this story is very different in that it is our heroine who is a product of the streets. Abducted as a child and raised by a Covent Garden street gang, Marlowe has learned to be tough in order to protect herself from the dangers of daily life in the den of thieves she calls home. She tells herself that the flashing memories she has of a very different sort of life are products of her imagination even though she often finds herself longing for more.
When an investigator charges into her life, declaring her to be the lost daughter of his clients, Marlowe is thrust into a world of privilege and wealth and into the arms of the investigator’s brother, the Earl of Dane. While Marlowe tries to learn how to be a proper lady, Dane must work through his personal prejudices against the lower classes as his attraction and admiration grow. In the end, Marlowe runs one last scam—with Dane’s help—to free herself from the past and claim the life she should have had.
The Lady Hellion – Joanna Shupe
In this story, we have a privileged heroine, Lady Sophia Barnes, who has dedicated herself to helping people less fortunate. Understanding the limited resources available to women of the lower classes and the lack of concern authority figures seem to have in providing justice for these women, she has decided to do something about it. Dressing as a man, she traverses London’s underworld in search of missing prostitutes. When women start washing ashore the Thames, having been murdered and mutilated, her work becomes that much more dangerous.
There is also the pervading risk of scandal should her work be discovered, not to mention the many other difficulties she faces as a lady pretending to be a man. When she seeks assistance from an old friend who rouses feelings and desires she’d rather not acknowledge, she discovers he needs her help as much as she needs his. In this story, we have something unique in that it is our heroine who goes off into danger, putting her life on the line to find the killer, while our hero remains home; tortured by demons and fears that keep him from claiming the only women he ever loved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
USA Today Bestselling author Amy Sandas’s love of romance began one summer when she stumbled across one of her mother’s Barbara Cartland books. Her affinity for writing began with sappy preteen poems and led to a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She lives with her husband and children near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
“You do strange things to me, Dell Turner. Tell me I am not alone in what I feel.”
His voice was low and rough. His eyes burned. “You are not alone,” he said.
Portia Chadwick longs for a life of adventure. When a dangerous moneylender kidnaps her sister, she dares to seek help from a man known only as Nightshade. Soon she finds herself charging headfirst into his world of intrigue and danger—and unexpected passion.
Dell Turner grew up in London’s back alleys and gin lanes. Vowing to escape his low beginnings, he hires himself out to society’s elite. When he accepts a job from a beautiful debutante, he doesn’t anticipate her relentless determination to join his mad occupation…or her unnerving ability to inspire emotions he thought long buried. She’s as dangerous to him as his world is to her, and yet Dell can’t bring himself to turn Portia away—even if it means risking her life.