Saturday, April 25, 2009
She stood at peril's threshold --
then love beckoned her in…...
A prim, well-bred gentlewoman, Sara Fielding is a writer who puts pen to paper to create dreams. But now curiosity is luring her from the shelter of her country cottage into the dangerous world of Derek Craven -- handsome, tough, and tenacious -- and the most exciting man Sara has ever met.
Derek rose from poverty to become the wealthy lord of London's most exclusive gambling house. And now duty demands that he allow Sara Fielding to enter his perilous realm of ever-shifting fortunes -- with her impeccable manners and her infuriating innocence. But there is a hidden strength and sensuality to the lady that captivates him beyond his better judgment. And in this world, where danger lurks behind every shadow, even a proper "mouse" can be transformed into a breathtaking enchantress -- and a cynical gambler can be shaken to his core by the power of passion and the promise of love.
She's done it again, another Lisa Kleypas book I've loved. I must say her record with me is pretty high. Is it any wonder I consider her one of the best romance authors out there? The writing in her historicals is always true to period, though in this one it's a little vague about what year it actually is. Sometime after the regency period, but before Victoria's time. This is one of her earlier books, the sequel to Then Came You (which I loved as well). For an early book, it was really great. It had all the bells and whistles needed to make it a great story. This one is about Derek Craven.
Derek Craven. Some people I know consider him their favorite hero. He's a complex man. Born to a prostitute - reputedly in a drainpipe - in the worst section of London, he grows up a poor Cockney, forced to make his way in the world on his own. He is no stranger to thievery, grave robbing, prostitution and any number of nefarious occupations. But somehow with cunning and luck he earned enough money to open the greatest gambling club in London and made a fortune at it. But, at the age of 30, he has never fallen in love - the one thing he is missing in his life. Derek considers himself incapable of loving anyone. For all his wealth, Derek still does not consider himself good enough for any of the proper young ladies of the ton. Low born - flash gentry - he avoids love and relationships for fear he'll be rebuffed. What father would ever let his daughter marry the likes of the disreputable Derek Craven? A ladies man and a rake, known for cuckolding husbands and sleeping with only women of nobility he's no slouch in the bedroom, but he's never courted a woman, he's never cared for anyone enough to want to say "I love you" - until Sara Fielding comes into his life.
Sara, a prim and proper young woman who is the best selling author of a Moll Flanders type book called Mathilda meets Derek and rescues him after he is slashed across the face by ruffians in a back alley. Doing "research" on the seamy side of London for her latest book that centers on the gambling dens of London, she saves his life. Sara might be meek and spinsterish, but she carries a gun and knows how to use it. She shoots and kills a man to save Derek and then helps him back to his club. This crazy ex-lover of Derek's, Joyce Ashby, who has an obsession over him sent the men to slash his face. He "dropped" her and ended their affair and she can't get over him. She will stop at nothing to make sure no one else can have him either. Derek should have strangled her when he had the chance. She's always popping up in the story.
Derek is put off by Sara at first with her old-maidish demeanor. He's gruff and callous with her at first, but I kind of like that in him! She begins to grow on him after she receives his reluctant approval to visit his club so she can take notes on what it is like to be in a gambling den for her book. She's wins over everyone in the club, but he's the last one to give in - outwardly at least. He's amused by her at first, but then finds himself unexpectedly attracted to her beauty, which is hidden most of the time behind spectacles and a cap on her head. He makes her remove these items, secretly taking a pair of her spectacles and carrying them around with him in his pocket. Little does he know that Sara is developing the same feeling towards him.
She is drawn to him from the beginning. This larger than life, virile man's man who is so different from what she is used to. Nothing like her milksop "almost" fiance back home, who is a mama's boy that has been stringing her along for four years with the promise that one day they will marry - but still with no official proposal! Derek Craven blows him away in comparison. Before long, Sara is wondering what it would be like to kiss Derek and in one scene she takes a great leap and asks him to kiss her for "research" purposes, of course! He's been dying to kiss her, but he can't do it. He's afraid that once he starts he won't be able to stop. He turns her down. Poor Sara, having no idea of his true feelings, she is humiliated, convinced he thinks her so unattractive he can't bear to kiss her. Grr, I hate these sort of miscommunications! Anyway, Sara, with some help from her new friends, Lily (from the last book) and Craven's right hand man, Worthy, attends a masquerade ball at Craven's that night dressed in disguise as her "Mathilda". She's dressed as an enchantress and is the sensation of the evening. Derek does not recognzie her. All he sees is this gorgeous, vivacious woman that he claims as his for the evening. He keeps her next to him all night. Now, I did find it remarkable that a smart man like Derek Craven didn't recognize her earlier on, though he does recognize her eventually in a very hot and heavy scene (my favorite part!) Once his eyes are opened and he knows who she is and the danger she poses to his good judgment, he realizes he must send her away back to her home town away from the danger he represents. He's going to bed her (she's a virgin) if she stays in town. He must get rid of her. Now he decides to be noble!?
I found this part poignant. Both of them want each other, but he sends her away. I felt so sorry for her. He rejects her quite often in this book, at least three times. I felt like hitting him after a while! But, she never gave up on him. Still, she returns to her small village and dull fiance (he finally proposes to her.) But things are not the same for her there, she has already changed. Experiencing the hot kisses from a Derek Craven will do that to a girl! Her fiance doesn't like this change in her and they break up (she's well rid of him anyway!) With perfect timing (as is often the case in romance novels) she is invited to a weekend party at Lily, now Lady Raiford's, country estate. And guess who is also there? Yup! From there, all hell breaks loose! Turns out crazy Joyce Ashby, who is up to no good, is there as well. But, before she wreaks havoc, Derek and Sara are reunited, yet he is still fighting it, he can't get over this insecurity of his that he's not good enough for her. Will he ever give in and finally ask her to marry him? I won't spoil it, but they find their way together and it's a pleasure to read about how they do it (this is a romance after all - you know they will eventually!) and live their lives until that crazy bitch, Joyce comes into the picture again! I kept wishing someone would take a gun to the woman (I kind of got my wish!) One of my favorite lines was when Sara yells at Joyce "and give me back my necklace!" (You'll get it when you read it!)
With an exciting lead up to the conclusion involving the usual angst, a kidnapping and fire, the ending is satisfying and happy, I can assure you. Do yourself a favor and read this book, you won't be sorry. This is a quick read and one of the things I loved most about it was seeing the way Derek was able to overcome his inability to love and say "I Love You" to Sara. He's got so much "stuff" in his head from all his childhood, it's rewarding to see him finally happy at the end. I think when he finally tells Sara he loves her it was my favorite part. Derek makes the story. Sara is such an unusual choice for him at first, so it made it that much more interesting to see if this little mouse can capture a big fat cat like Derek - but she does and it's a can't-put-it-down read until the end! Enjoy it, I know I sure did!