During the Napoleonic War, Briton needed spies that were a bit unusual. To fill this need, Lord Lynsley set up a school for girls to learn the skills they would need to accomplish their goals. Lord Lynsley hand picked each girl from the slums based on skills he observed. The girls would progress to their own skill level and then be sent out on their missions. Some girls didn’t progress very high and would work as maids or in another trade while they watched for events, rumors or other information that may be important. The most skilled became a Merlin. Merlins could pass as members of the ton. They were highly trained in martial arts as well as social skills.
Sofia is a Merlin. She pushes herself for perfection and holds herself to higher standards than is required. She finally has been given an assignment. She is to pose as a member of society to expose a ring of corruption operating within the highest level of the government and spreading throughout the British Empire. Closely tied in with this corruption is opium and supplies for the troops. To pull this off, Sofia will be a widowed Italian contessa. Lord Lynsley asks society darling, Lord Deverill Osborne to introduce Sofia to the ton.
Deverill is known as the Lord Sunshine. His fair coloring is part of the reason but the other is his sunny nature and disposition. He’s known as a womanizer but also as someone who stays strictly by society’s rules. Deverill has done his duty on the peninsula and considers himself well able to take care of himself in tight situations. He has no problems taking Lady Sofia around to social events, especially after seeing how beautiful the lady is! Still, for some reason, she seems to be putting him off and when he tries to redirect her attention from those who are a bit more daring and naughty than society accepts, she is more determined to make their acquaintance.
As Sofia starts her investigation, she only knows that the group she is suppose to investigate has red waistcoats and keys to something shaped like a poppy. Working her way into this group will not be easy but then no one said it was going to be. It doesn’t help that Deverill insists on being with her all of the time even though she really would like to know him better but is he going to be in her way or is he going to help?
This is the third book in this series but it can be read and enjoyed without having read the previous two. The other two Merlins are mentioned in passing in this book but they aren’t even secondary characters.
The characters are very well done. As Sofia and Deverill form their relationship, their characters are more developed. Sofia gives the illusion of being a proper Lady but when Deverill finds her riding her stallion similar to a circus performer, he has to wonder what else isn’t as it seems to be. His idea of what a woman is capable of changes as he discovers that Sophia has more skills than just a pretty face and can hold her own no matter what the circumstance. Lord Lynsley gives a more paternal view of things as he watches Sofia take flight in her first mission.
Figuring out who is really behind this group of conspirators was interesting. There were lots of suspects but none that stood out as he’s the one. When the ring leader is finally exposed, it’s not someone that stood out. Perhaps that is how they were able to move about unnoticed for so long. So, even though some of the players were easily identified early on, the entire plot is not revealed until just about the end.
I found this to be a great historical romance. The characters were well done. The society was described so you felt as if you were there. Even the slums were given a life of their own so that you knew they were not a place you wanted to hang around in. The vices available to those with money were accurate given the reader an insight to the life of the truly naughty over 200 years ago. I found myself enjoying the intrigue of a world that I will never see and wanting to know more about this unique girls who come alive due to the author’s vivid imagination.
THE SCARLET SPY
The most ladylike of "Merlin's Maidens," Sofia possesses a natural grace and grandeur to go along with her deadly arsenal of martial skills—which makes her the perfect choice for undertaking a dangerous dance of deception through the highest circles of London Society. Assigned to investigate rumors of government corruption, she must spin through the glittering ballrooms of the Mayfair and the sinister slums of the city in search of the truth. One misstep on her part could prove fatal. Sofia knows she can't afford any distractions as she works to unravel the tangled web of deceit and lies . . . but keeping the sinfully sext Deverill Osborne at arm's length is a real test of her mettle.
Handsome, witty, charming, Osborne—dubbed Lord Sunshine by his peers—is the darling of the ton. So when he is asked by the Marquess of Lynsley to introduce a lovely young Italian contessa into Society, he is only too happy to oblige. A little harmless flirtation is all part of the game. However, he soon suspects that "Lady" Sofia is playing with fire. She seems drawn to the dark, dissipated side of city life, and when he catches her stealing valuables from a gentleman's study, he torn between what to think. Should he believe the worst? Or should he trust the tantalizing murmur of her words . . . and the sultry, sensuous whispers of her body?
Light and dark, truth and lies. To unmask the clever conspirators, Sofia and Osborne must overcome a number of hidden dangers, including their own growing passion . . . which may prove the most dangerous force of all.