The Italian’s Inexperienced Mistress (Harlequin Presents), by Lynne Graham, was published in 2007 and is currently available as a free ebook. It seems you don’t need to read historicals for good old fashioned bodice rippers of simple virgins carried off by wealthy men of questionable backgrounds.
The titular Italian, Angelo, has risen from rags to riches without committing any crimes, even though he is related to a crime family. The head of that family, on his death bed, tells Angelo some secrets of the past, and provides the name of the man who betrayed Angelo’s mother. Angelo sets out to ruin that man and promptly encounters the man’s daughter, Gwenna. Apart from instant attraction, Angelo delights in the opportunity to add another dimension to his revenge. Gwenna appeals to Angelo to spare her father, and Angelo suggests she could take his place in the dungeon. No, that was Beauty and the Beast. Angelo proposes Gwenna sleep with him, and for love of her father, she agrees.
At this point my inner feminist has died and is rolling in her grave. I’m reminded of a joke: Stranger asks a lady, “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?” She pauses, then says “Yes.” He asks, “Would you sleep with me for ten dollars?” She says, “No way. What sort of woman do you think I am?” He replies, “We’ve already established that – now we are just haggling over the price.”
Angelo is generous, in all respects, and Gwenna is innocent, in all respects. Once she is relocated to his castle (sorry, mansion), they settle into a pattern of frequent hot sex while she comes to terms with the depth of her father’s fraud and dishonesty, and living the high life. The sex scenes are clear but not explicit, there is no mention of protection, and she is rather unrealistically transported into ectascy on the first and every subsequent occasion. Under the circumstances, perhaps it is no surprise she falls in love. Meanwhile, Angelo falls for her, attracted to her fish out of water appeal, and is transformed into…not a prince, but someone who cares about small dogs. That’s a good quality in a man, at least if you are a lady fond of small dogs.
The fantasy of being carried off by a powerful wealthy man who takes care of my every need and desire, and who lives to ravish me nightly is not without its appeal, I must confess. And that makes the story readable, even fun in parts. The heat level was just right, the plotting solid, and the dialogue snappy. But I’d still be a lot more comfortable with the fantasy of being sold to pay my father’s debts if it were placed in the past.