Hidden in the shadows of the coach interior, Lady Milford greets the unexpected guest, guessing right away that she's the "notorious" Laura Falkner in disguise. Well aware of Laura's downfall in society since her disappearance several years ago when her father was accused of stealing the Blue Moon diamond, Lady Milford offers her assistance. After arriving at her home, the lady gifts Laura a pair of red silk and beaded dancing slippers, much to Laura's annoyance since she believes that she will never require such beautiful things again. But Lady Milford suspects differently and insists she take them, as well as become the companion of her dear friend, Lady Josephine.
Lady Milford is a bit of a matchmaker, which Laura discovers once she realizes that she is now the companion to the aging aunt of the scoundrel who accused her father of theft. He is also the miscreant whose face she scarred for life as she escaped to Portugal with her father, as well as the eligible gentleman Laura had hoped to marry—Alexander "Alex" Ross, the Earl of Copley.
Lord Copley is thrilled, astonished, as well as suspicious, when he finds Laura in his aunt's home disguised as a spinster. There's no hiding her beauty from him as he has longed for her since her disappearance. Feeling as though he has been given a second chance to win her heart, can he keep Laura from investigating her father's past in order to clear his name? Will Alex win Laura's affection once more before she discovers his secrets?
STROKE OF MIDNIGHT is book two of the CINDERELLA SISTERHOOD novels. Since I haven't read the first or third one, I'm not sure of the connection with the series but I assume it may be the red shoes which are passed on. That's the only detail that I felt I missed, so I believe it's fairly easy to read this series out of order if you wish.
In the beginning, the heroine is naïve and immature for her age, but I assume this was caused by her years of isolation with her father in the mountains of Portugal, away from society since the year of her debut. Her hope to solve the mystery of the missing Blue Moon diamond and clear her father's name is noble, if not foolish. Acting in disguise as a lady's companion allows Laura to attend the balls with her employer, while remaining in the background fairly unseen as a servant. It's only a matter of time before someone else recognizes her besides Alex, and the ton is not kind to those disgraced by crime, even if by affiliation.
Laura's character grew on me as the novel progressed, even though I felt she was naïve and foolish in the beginning. She had a lot to overcome and for the most part, she did so with grace and humility, earning the respect of those who truly mattered. She wasn't without flaws, which made her more believable for the times. When she stood up for herself against her peers, I became a fan of her spunk.
Alex is more complex because the reader doesn't understand the reasons for his actions until almost the end of the novel. Although he seems aloof, as is typical with his position in society, his personality is shaped by his past and I really enjoyed his transformation. I especially appreciated how this couple's relationship develops further when the reader is given a broader glimpse of their story that goes beyond where most romance novels end. For this story, it's necessary to continue past their nuptials, so the difference makes sense and buoys their happy-ever-after.
STROKE OF MIDNIGHT is a satisfying regency whodunit, especially for those who love the nuances of a riches-to-rags-to-riches theme with some Cinderella similarities. Although some of the plot is predictable toward the end, many of the circumstances were unexpected and enhanced my overall enjoyment. I like that the evil stepmother and stepsisters weren't relatives as in the fairy tale, but you had to imagine which characters were playing those parts in this author's version. The Cinderella similarities are subtle which makes this version unpredictable and more fun for the reader to guess who is who.