Monday, March 26, 2012

The Marriage Mart, Country Style . . . "Like No Other Lover" by Julie Ann Long

It's the last chance for Cynthia Brightly, the ton's most bewitching belle. Driven out of London by a secret scandal, she must find a grand husband at the Redmonds' house party before word of her downfall spreads all over England. Unfortunately, someone at Pennyroyal Green is already privy to the whispers of broken engagements and dueling lovers: Miles Redmond, renowned explorer and—thanks to his brother's disappearance—heir to the family's enormous fortune.

Miles set his sights on Cynthia once, at a time when the ambitious beauty thought herself too good for a second son. But now he's heir apparent, relishing his control. He strikes a bargain with her: he'll keep Cynthia's steamy secrets and help her find a husband among the guests—in exchange for a single kiss.

What could be the harm in a simple kiss? Cynthia is about to discover that it's enough to unleash fierce passion—and that Miles Redmond is most certainly like no other lover in the world.

It's probably safe to say that prospective spouses are "turned off" more quickly by evidence of money-love or avarice than any other issue. And in London's Marriage Mart usually referred to as "The Season," even with its obvious financial issues with poor aristocrats seeking flush heiresses as wives and vice versa, to speak plainly about one's goals of finding a husband because he is richer than all the others is still not kosher. So it was with our heroine who is single, poor, and hoping for a miracle--a rich and titled husband who will overlook her lack of wealth or social/family connection because of her beauty and personal refinement. Miss Cynthia had it all wrapped up--her earl was " bagged" but she just couldn't refrain from proving what a catch she was by making her suitors jealous, and when all her machinations resulted in a bloody and hurtful duel, the engagement was off and her reputation was in ruins.

Miles had thought her to be more beautiful and some of the exotic flowers, birds, and especially butterflies he had encountered on his travels in the tropics, but when her inner realities revealed themselves, he was well and truly willing to put his infatuation behind him. That is, until she shows up at his family's country house party with the express purpose of taking advantage of this last chance to find a comfortable life for herself. And while Miles Redmond is enough of a pragmatist to understand what she is about, he is determined not to help her--he may not hinder her--but his help comes at a price. What he is unprepared to deal with and is never really successful in doing so is the unwavering attraction he has for her in spite of what he knows about her.

This is a wonderful historical romance novel that reads beautifully, is told with humor and wit, with characters that are absolutely "right on" historically and who are just the kind of people who would have been included in a country houseparty in that time period. I was a bit put off by Miles' easy acceptance of his father's dictate that he engage the interest of one of the single ladies who had been invited for the express purpose of being courted by Miles. Yet Miles also was looking forward to a close and intimate assignation with one of the married ladies attending, knowing full well that she had been wooing him as a man who was known in London as a lover of widows and unhappy, dissatisfied married women in the ton. That he is continually upended by Miss Brightly doesn't set well with him, and I have to own up to liking Cynthia Brightly, a woman who initially comes across as avaricious and greedy, but who in reality is a poor woman who much rely on her own wits to try to find a way to live comfortably for the foreseeable future. I was especially taken with her during those brief times when she would reach into her closet and simply shake her purse, reminding herself that she really was down to her very last shilling. It was the reality of her life and she was a woman who was willing to do whatever it took to not end up with no one who cared and with no place to go.

This novel has been out for several years yet it is fresh and lively and a book that is really fun to read. There were several segments that had me laughing almost without end, the images that came into my mind were hilarious. Miss Brightly is an intelligent woman and some of her encounters with her would-be suitors are witty to the extreme. Yet there is lots of sexual tension in this story and some hot loving from time to time. It is not an overly erotic novel but there is something terribly erotic about characters who engage in non-stop innuendo and whose banter inevitably takes on a sexual overtone. Such is the dialogue in much of this story.

I highly recommend this read--a book that shouldn't be missed by lovers of historical romance fiction. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

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