Mistress by Midnight is the third in Nicola Cornick's Scandalous Women of the Ton series. I thoroughly enjoyed the previous Brides of Fortune series, and was excited for the new series. I read the first, Whisper of Scandal, last month, and while I enjoyed the story, I wasn't fascinated by it or overly taken with the main characters. I never did connect with Joanna and Alex, the hero and heroine of Whisper. However, I did really like what I read about some of the other assorted characters and wanted to continue on with the series.
I skipped over book two for the moment and was excited for Mistress by Midnight. This is the story of Lady Merryn Fenner (sister to Joanna, heroine of book one) and Garrick, Duke of Farne. There is a long and sordid history between these families. Merryn's brother, Stephen, was killed in a Duel with Garrick, after seducing Garrick's wife of a month or so. Or so Merryn (and the majority of England) believes.
We meet Garrick as he is first assuming the title of Duke upon his father's death. In arriving at the Ducal house in London, he is shocked to find a mystery woman hiding under his bed. The mystery woman is Merryn, who manages to escape. The Duke is intrigued though, and tracks Merryn down. Despite himself, Garrick is fascinated with Merryn, despite the fact that it is clear that she despises him.
In fact, Merryn has been leading a secret life. While making everyone think she is nothing more than a bluestocking, bookish young lady, she actually works, secretly, for an investigator. Her employer has tantalized Merryn with enough facts for her to determine that all was not as it seemed with her brother's death, and she is determined that Garrick pay for what she believes was murder. Little does she know that her employer has his own reasons for bringing Garrick down.
I found myself much more enticed by Merryn and Garrick. Both have their faults, both are imperfect, but both are likeable characters stuck in difficult situations. After a disaster strands them alone together in a life-threatening situation, their mutual attraction is impossible to deny. Unfortunately, that leads to a whole other host of issues when they are discovered.
Despite blind stubbornness on the part of Merryn and (perhaps) misplaced loyalty on the part of Garrick, it's lovely to see how they come together and with some help, manage to put things to right and break down the walls of mistrust and hidden facts that are between them. I wish that the side story with Tom Bradshaw, the inquiry agent that Merryn worked for, had been developed a bit more. I was left feeling like there should have just been more there, but it wasn't a huge distraction overall.
I liked this tale much more than the first, and I will definitely go back and read Lottie and Ethan's story. There are more in the series to be released as well, and I suspect (hope) that one of them is Teresa's story, the third Fenner sister.