The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt
Published November 1st 2006 by Warner Forever
From Goodreads: There comes a time in a woman's life when she must do the unthinkable - and find employment. For the widowed Anna Wren, that means taking a job as female secretary for the Earl of Swartingham. Secretaries are always male - never female - as Anna well knows but the real downfall of her career is the realization that she is falling in love with Edward de Raaf - the Earl. But when she realizes that he is going to visit a brothel in London to take care of his 'manly' desires, Anna sees red - and decides to take advantage of the opportunity to also take care of her 'womanly' desires - with the Earl as her unknowing lover. But the Earl has another reason for going to London. He is formalising his betrothal and trying (with little success) to forget about a secretary that has no right being female. Unhandsome, he knows that no woman wants him. Except for the mysterious lady with whom he spent two unforgettable nights at Aphrodite's Grotto, the most scandalous brothel in London. But when Anna's plan is revealed, a bit of blackmail is thrown into the mix, a proposal is rejected and even the Earl himself will be unprepared for the intrigues that ensnare them.
First, this is another one of those romances that is on Miz Sarah MacLean's favorites list, a list you all know I see as gospel and since she hasn't steered me wrong yet, I'll keep on chugging until I finish the list.
And this is where I lose any remaining cool points (as many as a grown woman reading YA and smut can have) and emphatically proclaim: I LOVED THIS BOOK. NO, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND, I LOVED IT.
I still don't think you get it. First I loved the main character. Anna is an impoverished widow who still has to find a way to feed her household. A lady simple does not work. Selling the odd bit of stitching and lace is acceptable but pounding the pavement in search of waged employment just isn't done. She inspires an understandably fair amount of gossip when she goes to work as the Earl's secretary. In those days, secretarial jobs (like most all jobs) were reserved for men! I loved how she slapped expectations and societal norms in the face and went to work. Being a lady is all well and good, but a lady still has to eat. She's practical, sensible and I applaud her for getting the hell up and doing what she had to do to feed her family. The fact that she's a woman in a man's job was really only an issue to the gossips. Edward, the Earl of Swartingham's expectations weren't very high- have neat handwriting and finish the work on time. Plus he pretty much wanted to do her from the get go (I would have told her to use this opportunity to ask for a raise).
What was unexpected was my affection for the Earl. He's painted as a very coarse, foul tempered, unpleasant sort of man and the references to his marked ugliness are numerous. His main appeal was his treating Anna as an equal and his desperate desire to be loved. And not just loved, but wanted. Rather a reversal of roles here- usually it's our heroine seeking emotional gratification whilst all our heros are rakes. Made my heart go pitty-pat.
Now for the naughty bits- When their mutual desire for each other becomes a bit more than either can handle, the Earl takes off to London to visit his favorite brothel in hopes that the ahem, distraction, will make him stop thinking about Anna. Anna, widowed several years now, from a husband who was an ass while he was alive, has long since believed herself to be immune to desire but she can't deny that she wants Edward. So, and here's were we all squeal because it's just TOO much, she does something a lady would never do (or would never admit to) and follows Edward to London where once disguised, she presents herself as his lady of negotiable affection.
While the story is told, Anna is reading from a little book that she found in the Earl's library called The Raven Prince. It was his little sister's book and it is a fairytale about a princess that marries a raven to fulfill her father's debt to him. During the day he is a bird but at night he comes to the princess as a man but she has no idea that her lover is in fact her husband. Curious as to who her lover is, she lights a candle to reveal him and breaks the enchantment. Having been discovered, he is forced by the spell he is under to remain a raven and flies away, leaving her...
Anna is a lady, but a poor one. Edward is an Earl and as such his future wife must be able to fulfill certain social and financial obligations. But none of this matters when his Anna comes to him disguised at night but we know what happened in the fairytale....
Beautiful story, imaginative, and wonderfully written. I didn't put it down until it was finished....then I ran out and bought the sequels, The Leopard Prince and The Serpent Prince.