It's been a sad trend in the last couple of decades that most historical romances have focused mostly on the sex, and not so much the romance of a story. So it can be a rare treat for me when I find an author who can not just create a story that gets the period right, but also has romantic encounters that actually focus on peoples' thoughts and reactions rather than romping about in a bed or haystack.
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Her second book on the Huxtable family, first introduced in First Comes Marriage, the youngest sister of the family, Katherine, gets to have her time on stage. Now twenty, she is having her London Season, and with her blonde hair and blue eyes, a beauty that is turning the heads of many a suitor.
But during a drunken party, a group of men that she doesn't know ruin her reputation. Jasper Finley, Lord Mountford, is celebrating his birthday, and has an eye for the ladies -- so much so that despite his wealth and title, no respectable mother would dream of letting her daughter go near him, much less marry him. Taking on a dare in his drunken state, Jasper says that not only will he seduce Katherine Huxtable, he's going to do it within two weeks -- and the wager gets written down in the notorious betting books of the gentlemen's clubs in London.
It's a scheme to ruin Katherine's future if it ever gets out, for in Regency period London, a girl's virtue is her greatest asset in the marriage market. When Jasper begins to go about his debauchery, Katherine thinks that he's interested in her, and avidly enters the flirtation, despite growing whispers. And when it seems that Jasper is just about to win his wager, something stops him...
But it certainly doesn't stop the wagging tongues, for London loves a good scandal, and the story leaps ahead three years. Katherine has not entertained any serious offers, and seemingly enjoys her life as a spinster. When she again encounters Jasper, they both quietly agree that the events of their earlier meetings remain a secret. But a cousin of Jasper's with a mean spirit and malicious tongue ruins their conspiracy and with Katherine's reputation in shreds, this very unlikely couple finds themselves married to each other. And yet another wager is born, but this time, things are not going to go quite as well as before...
I was expecting this to be a typical historical romance, where the hero and heroine when they make mistakes don't seem to have very many consequences attached to them -- somehow everyone seems to forget that something had gone wrong. In this one, Ms. Balogh lets them make those disasters, and they have to cope with the results -- it's this touch that makes the story work, and I got to actually like this unlikely pair of a wild-living nobleman and a vicar's daughter. Both of them are more than pretty, well-dressed cardboard figures, and Ms. Balogh let them explore their pasts and their dreams for the future, along with some very interesting ideas about just what it means to love.
All of this adds up to when this couple does get intimate, well, it fairly sizzles off the page -- without being too vulgar about it. It's a nice change from having to read about panting couples who can't wait to hop into bed together, and honestly come off as being a bit too modern. Let's face it, at times you want to be courted and wooed a bit, and not treated like a slab of meat to be devoured. Here the prose gets lushly romantic, but not at all sloppy, and I was left with the feeling that the pair were actually in love with each other by the end of the novel.
This makes a fine sequel to the first book in the series, and while it's not necessary to have read the previous novel, it does help to understand Katherine's background and why she reacts the way that she does to Jasper's courtship. Overall, this is a fine read and great escapist reading. I'm looking forward to the next novel in the story, which tells the story of the third sister, and will be available in May. An excerpt from the first chapter of that book is included in this one.
Four stars overall. Recommended.
The Huxtable Series:
First Comes Marriage
Then Comes Seduction -- you are here
At Last Comes Love
Seducing an Angel
A Secret Affair
Then Comes Seduction
2009; Bantam Dell/Random House Publishing
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