Publication date: September 24, 2013
Series: Fairbourne Quartet #3
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Marielle Lyon is a French émigré with secrets – secrets that make Gavin Norwood, Viscount Kendale, suspect her of being a spy for the French. Marielle has been playing a game of cat-and-mouse with her Gavin, whom she dubs Handsome Stupid Man, not knowing he might actually be the cat in their game.
Kendale is a man unlike many of his aristocratic peers. His years in the military instilled in him lasting independence and discipline, along with the tracking skills of a hound, which are useful in his independent work for the Home Office. Kendale is an interesting blend of the gentleman and the soldier; he is astute, perceptive, and dangerous, yet also kind and generous to Marielle, even when he planned to imprison her in his home for an interrogation. He knows Marielle is lying about her clandestine activities, and he is determined to find out the truth, even if he has to stalk her wherever she goes.
Marielle has crafted her current existence on lies and deceits, all for the sake of her father. Her masquerade as the niece to the Comte de Vence is questioned by all, and rumors of her as a spy lead to further questions when she treats them with disregard. She constantly dons a deliberate mask, never slipping up in any of her stories, never showing any outward vulnerability to her acquaintances. Yet her disguises are draining, and she is running out of time. In her mission for her father she is just as persistent as Kendale, if not more.
One of Marielle’s oft-used personas is that of a femme fatale. In spite of her being Kendale’s quarry, she maintains the upper hand emotionally for most of the story as she calculates seduction and flirtation to Kendale, who struggles to rein in his rampant desire for her. This makes her not only the most fascinating character in the story – for that we get to see her emotional barrier slowly crumble to pieces – but also the most dynamic character in both manner and action.
While Kendale is not as dynamic as Marielle, his character works well with hers. Together, these two will battle a cunning French enemy, make futile attempts to resist their mutual attraction, and slowly uncover each other’s secrets, until all that’s left are their hearts in unwanted discord, searching for harmony.
Undoubtedly, Marielle is the mystery that keeps the story alive, for it is her secrets that catalyze the plot and her interactions with Kendale. I should warn though, that the gist of Marielle’s secrets and her mission are revealed in tiny bits and pieces in the first half of the story; the plot of the first story may be confusing for some without the background fully explained – for example, we know who the villain early on, but we are not told the reason and mechanism behind Marielle’s mission and her true identity until much later. The effect of this device is either confusion or anticipation, and I suspect more the latter due to the story’s pacing.
My criticisms: I have read several of Madeline Hunter’s works, and in each the hero always seems to have a nearly irrational desire for the heroine, for reasons unknown to him. While that is no troubling matter by itself, it fails to act in accordance with the concise bedroom scenes that are without ample rising action in terms of sexual tension. Yes, the desire is written, but it is not felt through the characters, especially Marielle.
Rating: 4 tulips
*ARC via Romance Junkies, though this review was written independently of Romance Junkies