>> Saturday, July 05, 2014
Hannah Reid, born a commoner, has been Duchess of Dunbarton since she was nineteen years old, the wife of an elderly Royal to whom she is rumoured to be consistently and flagrantly unfaithful. Now the old Duke is dead and, more womanly and beautiful than ever at thirty, Hannah has her freedom at last. And she knows just what she wants to do with it. To the shock of a conventional friend, she announces her intention to take a lover - and not just any lover, but the most dangerous and delicious man in all of upper class England: Constantine Huxtable.
Constantine's illegitimacy has denied him the title of Earl, but otherwise he denies himself nothing. Lounging in a country house he populates with trollops, vagabonds and thieves, drinking deep from the goblet of his own carnal lust, he always chooses recent widows for his short-lived affairs. Hannah will fit the bill nicely. But once these two passionate and scandalous figures find each other, they discover it isn't so easy to extricate oneself from the fires of desire - without getting singed.
A Secret Affair is the closing book for the Huxtable quintet, and tells the story of one of the most intriguing characters in the series. These books came out a long time ago, and even those of you who read them might not remember the setup that well, so a bit of a summary. The previous books have told the stories of the four Huxtable siblings, an impoverished but genteel country family. They know they're distantly related to the titled branch of the family, but when the holder of the title dies, it unexpectedly turns out that Stephen is now the Earl of Merton.
The previous Earl, Jonathan, actually had an older brother, Constantine, from the same two parents. However, Constantine was born just a couple days before his parents got married, so he's technically illegitimate. Everyone assumes that Con must resent his younger brother and that his fondness for him can't be anything other than pretense. Obviously he's out to take advantage of the boy, who was born with what the reader will recognise as Down syndrome, so will be easy prey to an unscrupulous man.
Con has been presented with a bit of a mysterious "is he or isn't he?" slant in the previous books in the series, but we know from the start of this one that he adored his little brother. His reaction to the public distrust he experiences is basically to behave exactly as they would expect. He's still accepted in polite society, but he's got a bit of a dangerous reputation.
It is exactly that dangerous reputation that leads Hannah, the recently widowed Duchess of Dunbarton, to decide on Con as her first lover after the mourning period is over. Hannah's husband was much older than her, and that, plus the fact that she's constantly surrounded by admiring men, has meant that she's got a bit of a scandalous reputation herself.
Hannah's decision comes without much of an interest being expressed by Con himself. She basically targets him and goes after him, which was quite the role-reversal. Her determination is almost cold-blooded, in the way she very deliberately plays games with him. I was intrigued.
It's a strong start, but things become a bit more traditional after they become lovers. It's still a good, solid book, one with enjoyable characters, but I must admit, after that start, I was hoping for a bit more envelope-pushing. I had other niggles with it, like the amount of psychobabble, and the fact that there are way too many love scenes at the beginning, when they first become lovers (I ended up wishing for a fade to black, to be honest). It still ended up as a book I liked, but I did close it with a sense of slight disappointment.
MY GRADE: A B.