Oh, Ms. Dahl, thank you so much for writing a sexually aggressive heroine.
We meet Marissa York in the process of losing her virginity and finding it...not quite all she'd hoped. In fact, she'd be perfectly content to pretend it never happened were it not for two things: first, the lover in question, Peter White, apparently deflowered her with an eye towards marriage rather than amusement; and second, her brother Edward walks in on them, making what she'd hoped would be a pleasurable encounter into a family crisis. She must marry immediately, Edward declares, in case she's pregnant. But she flat-out refuses to marry Peter: he "failed to meet even the lowest expectations of performance."
Into the breach steps her brother Aidan's friend Jude Bertrand. Natural son of a duke (his mother a French courtesan), he hovers on the edge of noble society, not enough part of it to worry overmuch about scandal, but with just enough respectability to be a proper match for Marissa. Especially since she's caught his eye every time he's visited the Yorks; he's attracted to her wild streak, the wanton liveliness he can glimpse beneath her polite exterior.
Marissa, on the other hand, remembers him not at all. And he's hardly her type, muscular and coarse-featured, where she prefers pretty boys in tight breeches. She's a leg woman through and through: "Men's legs were just so lovely. Slim and strong and exposed in a way that ladies' legs never were. How could they expect that girls should not be affected by the sight? Gentlemen obviously intended to be admired, the way they flashed their thighs about, hardly covered at all in the tight cloth of their trousers." AUGH I LOVE HER SO MUCH.
I don't recall having read a romance heroine who's this outright horny, and it makes for a very different narrative arc: while Marissa quickly realizes Jude's got the goods when it comes to pleasing a lady, it takes her quite a while to see Jude as more than a piece of meat (strong thighs, talented hands, delicious mouth), and he suffers for it. It's a rare treat to read a gal with such a strong libido, and have her be the one who learns to love someone for more than their body. But Dahl doesn't fudge history either: Marissa's initial dalliance wouldn't be a problem in a perfect world, but in 1847 England, it is--not just for her, either. Her actions affect her whole family, and she accepts her responsibility.
Super duper awesome. Also, a Twitter exchange with the author led to some choice Jensen Ackles gifs, so there's that too.