I am gonna stick with my gut feeling: 3 stars.
I am really struggling with this review because something about this book makes me want to rate it better than 3 stars. Gabriel, the Bow Street runner reminds me of Grant Morgan in [b: Someone to Watch over Me|353938|Someone to Watch Over Me|Judith McNaught|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1387713534s/353938.jpg|620768]. In fact, the entire book reminds me of Lisa Kleypas's [b: Someone to Watch over Me|353938|Someone to Watch Over Me|Judith McNaught|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1387713534s/353938.jpg|620768]: A protective runner somehow ended up in the position to protect a fallen woman who he "despised" and then fell in love with. The fallen woman is a "courtesan" who somehow seemed too innocent to be who she claimed to be/should be. The similarities are too right in your face to be ignored. But just like all the dukes and plain Janes, all the rakes and slips of a girl, all the beauties and the beasts, a bow street runner and a "virgin courtesan" appear to be another favorite pairing type. I still question the necessity of pairing a bow street runner with a fallen woman who has not really fallen. I mean, courtesans are paired with nobility and alike, and now obviously, bow street runners too. Why must bow street runners always be paired with a "virgin courtesan"? I know, I know, I am talking in circles. But I digress.
The book itself has a strong mystery element. There were very few hints about who was trying to hurt the heroine, but once you start looking carefully, it is not hard to identify the villain. Gabriel and Madeline spent the entire book together with each other. I would have expected more romance between them but somehow that was not the case. They did have their moments but I cannot say that I am impressed. These "encounters" are kind of shallow in the sense that they didn't really serve the purpose of building a strong connection between Gabriel and Madeline. The "pull" between the couple, exists mostly because Gabriel was the epitome of the strong and handsome runner who would gallantly save the damsel in distress. I know Madeline was supposed to be wonderful and worthy of his love, but well, I am not convinced.
It is impossible not to like Gabriel, except for his initial aversion to marriage, which I did not understand. Why would he be averse to marriage? He was born without a ligitimate father. It just does not fit with his characterization. But all in all, a protective steady hero, what is not to like?
Madeline is a tricky character for me. She was capable of protecting herself in every way. Most commendable. Her idea of auction her virginity was ingenius (even I have to agree). She had a lot of feminine wiles and used them to her advantage. But I found it hard to warm up to her. Maybe I just don't like a scheming woman. I respect their wiles and struggles, but I find little to identify with them.
The story itself is exactly what the blurb says: Madeline was auctioning off her virginity. She was a courtesan, so how could she be a virgin? If you want to know, you better have a deep pocket and make sure that you bid. She got herself a bow street runner, to create the illusion of "having something precious to protect". But that does not answer the question of her virginty. I will not say more than what I have said. Quite hoenstly, I would not know what I would say if I had to. The "romance" is about how Gabriel saw through Madeline's courtesan persona, with the potential threat on Madeline's life overshadowing them.
I found myself debating whether I loved the story. Well, yes and no. It is an enticing story, but I could not bring myself to say: oh my God this is great. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the mystery element, the writing and characterization are done well (therefore enticing). But the romance is not to my liking (therefore, not loving it). It was a bit too much of a "I love you even if you have had a questionable past" thing, with Gabriel being the understanding prince on the white horse and Madeline being the sexually skilled snow white.
I thought long and hard about it. I think if I had liked the romance better I would be willing to give it a better rating and keep the book. But I skim-read too much of it to want to keep the book so I decided to return the book for a refund.