A Secret Love, by Stephanie Laurens (Cynsters #5)

>> Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Of Stephanie Laurens's Bar Cynster series the only one I liked the first time I read them was the 5th, A Secret Love. At that time, I had given it an A+.

She was desperate for his help...
When a mysterious lady, her face hidden by a black veil, begs Gabriel Cynster for his help, he cannot refuse her plea. For despite her disguise, Gabriel finds the woman alluring and he is powerless to deny her. But he exacts payment as only a Cynster would demand: with each piece of information he uncovers, she must pay him - in the form of a kiss.

He was powerless to resist...
Lady Alathea Morwellan knows Gabriel is intrigued, but despite the sparks that fly between them, they have never passed a civil moment together. Yet as the stakes get higher, so does Gabriel's desire for payment. And with each overpowering kiss, each passionate embrace, Alathea knows that she will not be able to resist his ultimate seduction...but what will happen when she reveals the truth?
This time I liked it, but not quite that much. Still, an A- is nothing to sneeze at.

The book had two distinct parts, and I enjoyed both of them, albeit for different reasons, and one more than the other.

The first part of the book involved Alathea posing as the countess to try to get Gabriel's help in saving her family from a group of unscrupulous men who fleece their investors. The setup was a bit irritating, actually. I hate the character of the stupid, absent-minded, useless father, who can't be bothered with mundane stuff, so he leaves such things to his daughter, who sacrifices her life to do this for her family. Of course, the guy nevertheless dabbles a bit in business only to create big trouble. And the heroine, instead of killing him, as she should, or at least insisting that he asume responsability, just cossets him and solves the trouble.

Oh, well. I did my best to ignore the genesis of the problem and enjoy the results, which I did. I had lots of fun with the encounters between Gabriel and the countess, and with his reactions when he runs into Alathea before he finds out the truth. Maybe it wasn't a very realistic situation, but the piquancy of it all got me. The sexual tension in this part is thick enough to cut with a knife. Gabriel doesn't only want the mysterious countess sexually, he has more tender feelings, too. I loved that guy.

Another good point in this first part was the suspense subplot. I usually like Laurens' suspense subplots. Except for the one in Devil's Bride, the other ones I've felt were intriguing and really added to the love story: the ghost in A Rake's Vow, the stuff about the Lady of the Vale in Scandal's Bride, the race-fixing syndicate in A Rogue's Proposal and here we had the convolutions about proving that the Central East Africa Gold Company was a fraud, which I found enjoyable.

Anyway, this first part was perfect.

Then we had the second part, after Gabriel discovers the countess' identity. I liked this part for his pursuit of Alathea, but many of the details that I'd enjoyed in the first part didn't continue to be as good.

First, the sexual tension. The second half has much less of Gabriel's POV, and I wanted more of it. Maybe even a little more of that mental lusting everyone hates? ;-) I loved how he was obsessed with the countess, and I missed that obsession when he discovered the truth. It didn't help that for a long while he decided they should solve the problem with the East Africa company before they resolved their relationship, so during that section of the book the suspense subplot took center stage, and though it was an interesting subplot, it wasn't what I wanted to read.

Also, about the subplot, it soured in the end. I liked it during most of the book, but unfortunately, the resolution was awful. We had Alathea getting a fit of TSTLness, and then we had the pleasure of being introduced to a villain of the cartoonish, moustache-twirling variety. It had been more of an intellectual mystery, previously, so this ending didn't fit well with the tone of the rest of the story.

As I said, I liked Gabriel pursuing Alathea, especially because it was a pursuit that was firm, yet not dictatorial. I also loved how they dealt with each other as equals. They are friends, and they respect each other.

However, some details in the love story bothered me. As in all of the Cynsters' books, the heroine doesn't want to marry the hero, but Alathea's motives were not very solid. Also, there's a particular scene, an interlude in a parlour at a party they'd gone to, where Alathea ends up stark naked for hours, in the middle of the party!! Ok, there wasn't a lot of traffic there, but still, I would have thought, in cases like that, being able to fix your clothes in a hurry would have been of paramount consideration! I mean, of course, there are many things that felt kind of wrong, like the way Alathea just went around on her own at night. You'd think she'd be a bit less free to leave the house at night and go wherever she pleased, even if she was in her late 20s and considered a spinster. But I didn't really mind that, while that love scene in the party drove me nuts.

A perfect first half and a quite good second half would average an A-. Excellent!

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