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The benefits of being the youngest and having one of the last story in a series is that Leonie's character has been developing gradually through her sisters's stories and she always fascinated me with her efficiency and her effectivity.
Leonie is all about business. Everything is about the shop, especially now that she is the only one left. Like her sisters, Leonie has a keen eye for fashion and a keener eye for business -- and she believes that Lady Gladys Fairfax, a woman said to have terrible manners and equally terrible fashion sense is a golden opportunity for Maison Noirot. Leonie believes that her shop can help Lady Gladys and helping Lady Gladys would greatly help secure the reputation of her shop.
Simon Blair, Marquess of Lisburne, has returned to London with his cousin, Viscount Swanton, the poet -- his return was supposed to be strictly business, family business, but, upon meeting Leonie Noirot, he realises the greater potential of his trip.
They meet at a poetry reading by Viscount Swanton, which neither one bothered to attend -- Leonie was captivated by a Boticelli painting and Simon was captivated by Leonie -- a conversation ensues, in which our hero makes this insight into the difference between men and women: "There's one difference between men and women, he said. "He's sleeping and she's thinking." - loc 150
And so begins one of the most delightful, most enjoyable love stories that I have had the pleasure of reading.
I love Leonie ... super love her! She's logical, practical, organised and so certain of who she is and is clear in her pursuit of success: business before pleasure, but, instead of flattening her character (one-track mind = business), this single-mindedness actually adds dimension and depth to her.
"I run a shop, my lord," she said. "I lack the romantic sensibility."
- loc 330
* * *
"It's business!" she said. She waved her hands. "That's who I am and what I am. It's always been business. Lady Gladys and you and -- and everybody. And I love my business. We all do. Nobody understands, especially not the men -- and now ..."
- loc 5397
She's so young, but so capable, and, with her sisters busy with their married lives, she is single-handedly managing Maison Noirot and the charity, Milliners' Society for the Education of Indigent Females, she and her sisters founded. It's very interesting to be able to get into Leonie's head and how she often refers to Simon in mythological terms, thinking of him as a Roman god. On one hand, it captures perfectly the childlike innocence in which she views the nobility: how they seem greater than mere mortals. On the other hand, it reminds Leonie of the distance in their stations: Simon is a marquess and she is a dressmaker -- not just any dressmaker, but a Noirot and a DeLucey dressmaker.
One of the first rules Leonie had ever learned was, Men only want one thing. Cousin Emma had taught her young charges as much about defending themselves against encroaching men as she had about dressmaking. She had not, however taught her girls anything about dealing with Roman gods. It was trickier than one would think to maintain a businesslike attitude, even though Leonie was the most businesslike of the three sisters. That wasn't saying much, when you came down to it. Marcelline and Sophy had always had their heads in the clouds: dreamers and schemers and typical Noirots, typical DeLuceys.
He smelled so clean, like the air after the rain. How did he do that? Was it scent? A miraculous new soap?
- loc 306
A casual diversion becomes a deeper commitment when Simon gets to know Leonie and her world better. They have very different ideas about the world and disagree about a lot of things (Lady Gladys is one of them), but, instead of explosive clashes, there's just conversation between the two of them.
"It would seem that your friend's poetry has infected you with excessive tenderness," she said.
"That may be so, madame, yet I wonder how any man could withstand this." He waved his hand at the contents of the display case. "Look at them. Little hearts and flowers and curlicues and lilies of the valley and lace. Made by girls who've known mainly deprivation and squalor and violence."
She considered the pincushions and watch guards and mittens and handkerchiefs. "They don't have Botticelli paintings to look at," she said. "If they want beauty in their lives, they have to make it."
- loc 1175
From conversation comes conversion. Their encounters slowly change both Simon and Leonie and they step out of their comfort zones and confront a different version of themselves. Is it a better version of themselves? A worse version? It's part of the struggle that our hero and heroine have to overcome -- both of them are so fixed and firm in who they are -- but, now, they have come slightly undone by the other.
"I wish I could tell you to get out of my life, but that would be impractical, and I'm nothing if not practical and hardheaded and orderly. You've made anarchy of my work, my responsibilities, my life --"
- loc 3156
There are three central issues that Chase resolves in the end:
1. Lady Gladys Fairfax. Leonie believes she can help Gladys and Simon believes that Gladys is beyond help. They make a friendly wager where Simon stakes his Botticelli painting for two weeks in Leonie's company. It's an interesting wager because there is no clear sense of win/lose. (Simon genuinely wants Leonie to be happy, but, if she loses the wager, she won't be: her shop's reputation would be ruined. If she wins the wager, she would get his Botticelli, but he won't be able to spend time with her.)
It was also quite gratifying to see Gladys's transformation -- and Leonie constantly reminds Simon (and the readers) that all she did was change Gladys's clothes and the real change came from within Gladys. I thought Leonie met her match in Gladys -- she was not like the meek misses of society, but a woman like herself.
Lady Gladys liften her head. "You only pretend to be my friend. You only want me to order more clothes."
"I haven't got to pretending to be your friend yet," Leonie said. "But I do want you to order more clothes. Why else be in business?"
"It hasn't occurred to you that I might put you out of business? All of London knows you've taken me in hand. They're already betting on the outcome."
"Some people are either so ignorant, self-centred, or deeply unhappy that hurting others makes them feel good," Leonie said. "It's perverse, but there it is. The best way to fight back is to find a reason to laugh or to feel pleased. It will confuse and upset them. A good revenge, I think."
- loc 1340 - 1357
* * *
"I've dressed her," she said. "The rest she's done for herself."
- loc 5105
2. Viscount Swanton and the woman claiming she gave birth to their daughter. I thought this one was more a cautionary tale of what happens to young gentlemen who drink too much to the point of not remembering. Swanton went through a dark time when his uncle (Simon's father died) and that part of his life is a blur. Now there's a woman who claims she has his daughter and Swanton's reputation is ruined -- unfortunately, the confrontation happens during a charity event for Leonie's girls and Maison Noirot's reputation suffers as well. It becomes imperative for both Simon and Leonie to discover the truth behind the woman's claims.
I thought this was an interesting sub-story and showcases Loretta Chase's skill in writing a mystery. It also shows how well Simon and Leonie work together.
One would say that there's a lot of things happening in this story, which threaten to take the focus off Simon and Leonie -- but they are at the heart of every event, and it's nice to see (and read) about the world beyond the courtship of the hero and heroine.
3. Being a Noirot and a DeLucey. This is a subtler, more in inward struggle for Leonie -- who cannot forget the folly of being who she is. She cannot shake the terrible reputation of her forebears and it's the invisible wall that stops her from being closer to Simon.
Not that, being half DeLucey and half Noirot, she was at all certain she owned a soul.
- loc 2408
It is, perhaps, a good thing, then that Simon undoes Leonie -- she's been deconstructed and now she has to reconstruct Leonie Noirot, sifting through the pieces of herself, choosing the bits that really and truly define her. In Chapter 18, she comes to a wondrous realisation, and it's both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
Truly, this is an amazing story and I enjoyed every aspect of it. ^_^
I'll end with my favourite line, and, of course, it's Leonie who says it: "I may be inexperienced but I learn very quickly, and whatever I learn to do, I am determined to do extremely well. You think you can distract me from my mission with your masculine wiles, but I have wiles you'v never dreamed of. ..." - loc 2099
Vixen in Velvet is book 3 in Loretta Chase's The Dressmakers series. It will be released on June 24, 2014. From Loretta Chase's website, it seems that the next book will feature Clara Fairfax, Sophy's sister-in-law. (Yay!) To find out more about Loretta Chase and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC through Edelweiss. Thank you to Avon and Loretta Chase for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.