Mills & Boon, £5.99, ISBN 978-0-263-26898-0
Historical Romance, 2019
The Disgraceful Lord Gray is part of Virginia Heath’s The King’s Elite series, but for the most part, it stands on its own quite well. In fact, I’d argue that this is probably an easy book for new readers to get into, as for an entry into a series about spies, this one is the least spy-oriented story to date.
Lord Graham Chadwick – but you can call him Gray, as “Chad” these days has a rather unsavory connotation to it and I suppose “Graham” isn’t as sexy – is an accidental spy. He was a good boy following the rules for his first twenty years of life, but a forced broken love affair, thanks to his father, had since led him down the road of making whoopee and being happy. Recruited into the King’s Elite more by circumstance than anything else, he finds that he is actually good at being one. So who would’ve thought?
Unfortunately, his boss and cousin, the much older Lord Fennimore, still treats him like an unreliable greenhorn despite two successes in Gray’s track record, so this time, Gray is determined to bowl over that man with his awesomeness. His newest mission is simple: go to Suffolk, befriend Viscount Gilsingham, and find evidence whether he is indeed the boss of a smuggling ring that is helping the cause of a certain midget dictator in France. Unfortunately, his dog makes a muck of things during his Suffolk debut, culminating in him being naked and covering his wee-wee with one hand while trying to say hi to Gilsingham’s niece and ward, Theodora Cranford, and Thea’s friend Harriet.
Okay, the fact that he can successfully hide the goods with just one hand reduces his sex factor by 75%. I know, maybe the water is cold, but still.
The sex factor goes back up by 50% when Gray soon demonstrates that he is a refreshingly different kind of gentleman spy. He doesn’t try very hard to wallow in angst, instead preferring to exude so much charm that he can probably talk Nancy Pelosi into endorsing Donald Trump for the 2020 election. Sure, he has his vulnerabilities, but a guy who smiles freely stands out very nicely in a sea of boring, brooding mommy-doesn’t-love-me-enough crybaby heroes in the genre.
Thea starts out a pretty interesting heroine. She has a vivacious spirit in her, which she tries to tamper down hard after her few efforts at teenage rebellion ended up hurting the people she loves. Now at twenty-three, she is trying her best to be all prim and proper, although there is always a part of her that wishes to let her hair down once in a while. She is also clearly afraid of commitment: every prospective suitor gets the “He wants my money, so nope!” rating by default, even if that fellow is perfect in most other ways. Will this story be about her coming to terms with commitment and letting loose once in a while?
Alas, no. She’s here mostly to react to Gray. She has no motivations or ambitions – she’s just here, in the story, to get horny or exasperated depending on which page we are talking about here. Worse, her character arc goes straight into the dumper: predictably enough, she learns of his motivations only late in the story, and it doesn’t matter that his lies are for the greater good and he never meant to deliberately hurt him. She immediately goes into “He lied to me! I will hate him forever even if I still will always love him too, so I’m going to start spinning like I’m the star of some The Exorcist sequel now, eeeeeee!” mode. Given that she immediately runs to blab to the perpetrators and gets held as a hostage as a result, I can’t blame Gray for keeping the spy stuff away from Thea. There is a huge divide when it comes to his maturity versus hers, and how nice that I only realize this hardcore in the last few chapters of this story. The whole thing rushes to a happily ever after straight after the rushed reconciliation, and I can only wonder how Thea is going to deal with her man’s spy career without throwing herself melodramatically off a cliff before the week is out.
So yes, The Disgraceful Lord Gray has its moments, thanks to the hero. Only, it’s a big damned disgrace that the heroine exists in this story solely to be the ball and chain around the hero’s ankle in an attempt to drag him down to her level.