>> Monday, November 07, 2011
Meet the Huxtables—three headstrong sisters and their dashing brother—each searching for love that’s always a shocking indiscretion away. . . . In her magnificent new novel, New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh sweeps us into a world of scandal and intrigue—glittering Regency England—and introduces the youngest Huxtable: Stephen, the only son. Here Stephen will risk his reputation and his heart as he enters a scandalous liaison with the infamous beauty intent on seduction. But when passion turns the tables on them both, who can say who has seduced whom?It's a double standard of mine, I suppose, but while I don't particularly care for the rakish hero / innocent virgin combination, I love bad, jaded heroine / sweet, decent hero pairings. Seducing an Angel certainly had one. Cassandra, Lady Paget is no mere "fast" woman, she's actually rumoured to be an axe murderer. Yep, I've certainly never seen that before in a historical romance!
He must be wealthy, wellborn, and want her more than he wants any other woman. Those are the conditions that must be met by the man Cassandra Belmont chooses for her lover. Marriage is out of the question for the destitute widow who stands accused of murdering her husband and must now barter her beauty in order to survive. With seduction in mind, she sets her sights on Stephen Huxtable, the irresistibly attractive Earl of Merton and London’s most eligible bachelor. But Stephen’s first intriguing glimpse of the mysterious, alluring Lady Paget convinces him that he has found the ideal woman to share his bed. There is only one caveat. This relationship fueled by mutual pleasure must be on his terms.
As the two warily circle each other in a sensual dance of attack and retreat, a single night of passion alters all the rules. Cassandra, whose reputation is already in tatters, is now in danger of losing the one thing she vowed never to give. And Stephen, who wants Cassandra more than he has ever wanted any woman, won’t rest until she has surrendered everything—not as his mistress—but as his lover and wife...
Cassandra was left in an untenable situation when her husband died. She's got very little money left, no family that can support her and a household she feels responsible for. The only asset she has left is her own beautiful self. She refuses to even consider marrying again, after the disaster that was her first marriage (not that the offers are thick on the ground, anyway, with all the rumours flying about accusing her of having killed her husband), so the only option left is to find a rich lover. She wants someone who'll be easy prey, and the Earl of Merton seems like the perfect candidate.
Stephen Huxtable, the Earl of Merton, is certainly young, inexperienced and angelic looking, but he's no easy prey. While he's attracted to Cassandra from the moment they meet, and there's no reason to say no to her offer to be his mistress, he refuses to just fall into the stereotypical role of the rich man who uses his mistress only for impersonal sex. Stephen is intrigued by her and wants a much more intimate connection than she's offering.
Anyone who says beta heroes are boring and wimpy should read this book. Stephen is the ultimate beta hero. He's good and honourable and wonderfully nice. He treats Cassandra with respect and wants to help her. But he's also no pushover. When he thinks something is not right, he doesn't let anyone, not even this woman he's come to love, push him into it. And when he wants something, such as Cassandra in his life, he will get it.
It was a conflict I really enjoyed, especially in the first half. There's Cassandra, determined that her relationship with Stephen will be limited to sex, and Stephen determined that it will be much more. I'm sure some readers will find Cassandra unlikeable and prickly. Well, she sometimes is all that. She's not automatically happy and grateful when a wonderful man falls in love with her and wants to get married. And yet, I liked her all the more for that, because she certainly had reasons to be as she was.
The first half was an A, and I couldn't stop reading, but things became a bit predictable in the second half (if Balogh has any faults, is that she does like her "I'm not good enough for him" plots), and ended with a way too drawn-out ending. Still, this is one to enjoy.
MY GRADE: A B+.