Friday, February 26, 2010

The Edge of Desire -- by Stephanie Laurens

"Christian, I need your help. There is no one else I can turn to . . . L" When Christian Allardyce, 6th Marquess of Dearne, reads those words, his world turns upside down. Lady Letitia Randall is a woman like no other, and the day he left her behind to fight for king and country was the most difficult of his life. He never forgot the feel of her lips against his, but never expects to see her again. Yet now she seeks his help, and Christian knows he will not resist her plea.

Letitia believes that Christian abandoned her when she needed him most, and she hates to call on his aid. But to clear her brother's name, she has sworn to use every weapon at her command, even if it means seducing her ex-lover. Yet all the while, Christian is waging a war of his own--a campaign of pure pleasure and sweet revenge that will take them both beyond the edge of desire.

Loveless marriages were not uncommon, in fact, they were more common than most modern individuals realize. It was not only royalty who married to continue an aristocratic line. Often the future of any title was held in the tenuous hands of a man and woman who wedded and bedded in order to continue on their way of life. There were also marriages of convenience which passed wealth (in the form of fat dowries) from eligible maidens to high-living aristocrats as well as poor but gently born maidens who sought to bring wealth into their families through marriage. However, Lady Letitia Randall did not fit into either of these categories. Her husband was a secretive, possessive, common man who simply set out to add the beautiful Lady Letitia to his museum collections and to wile his way into the salons of the haut ton. She knew the basis of her marriage was never going to be true affection, and in her hour or need, when she needed the man to whom she had given her heart, she received nothing but silence in response to her desperate calls for rescue. Little did she know that her lover, Christian Allardyce, was actually an undercover agent for the British Secret Service, or at least the early 19th century version of that agency. He was, in fact, so deeply undercover that he never received Lady Letitia's letters or her calls for rescue.

Now, many years later, with her husband having been found murdered and the authorities having set themselves to arrest her brother as the murderer, Lady Letitia knows of only one person she can trust to put matters to rights and to clear her brother from all guilt or perception of guilt. In spite of her resentment at his cavalier treatment of her in her hour of need, she knows that Christian has the contacts and the skills to uncover the true murderer.

This novel is a part of the Bastion Club series and as such brings in some of the characters from other stories in this series. Yet they are not an overwhelming presence but make the reader curious about those characters. I know it made me want to read more of their particular situations and relationships. As is the case in so many historical romances, there is a conflict between the main characters that is supposed to give "spice" to their repartee and to create tension which is resolved when they fall into each other's arms. There is some of that in this book. But the underlying story of the murder, the hint of espionage, the mysterious identity of Christian's former boss, the secret room, and so on, give a unique flavor to this romance that lifts it out of the usual to become somewhat unique. There are some surprises which also add to the ornamentation of the story. I really liked that.

As with all historicals, I like the descriptive passages, the clothes, the palatial dwellings, the ups and downs of the narrow English society, the struggles that many women had to be truly themselves within the constraints of a society who saw them only as decorative breeders. Lady Letitia is a strong and courageous character who has done what she had to do and come out on the other side better, more mature, more beautiful and multi-dimensional as a person and as one who can attract and keep the attention and affections of someone like Christian.

If you like really good historical romance, you'll like this story. I give this novel a rating of 4.5 out of 5.


Tracy said...

So Letitia was getting it on with Christian while married? Do they show you that or just tell you that? You know I'm not a fan of infidelity in books so I'm not sure how'd I'd feel about this one.

Dr J said...

This book is not about infidelity -- Letitia have no contact at all during her loveless marriage. In fact, she does not even know what has happened to Christian, only that he has disappeared on the Continent during the war with Napoleon and has not been heard from for years. Now he has returned, her husband has been found murdered, her brother is the chief suspect, and Letitia calls on the one person who she knows will truly investigate the crime. Their personal relationship is almost a barrier to the investigation but throughout the story they grow close once again.

Tracy said...

Ah - good to know! Thank you for clearing that up.