Saturday, January 23, 2010
Determined to secure another London season without assistance from her new brother-in-law, Mary Alsworthy accepts a secret assignment from Lord Vaughn on behalf of the Pink Carnation: to infiltrate the ranks of the dreaded French spy, the Black Tulip, before he and his master can stage their planned invasion of England. Every spy has a weakness, and for the Black Tulip that weakness is black-haired women-his "petals" of the Tulip. A natural at the art of seduction, Mary easily catches the attention of the French spy, but Lord Vaughn never anticipates that his own heart will be caught as well. Fighting their growing attraction, impediments from their past, and, of course, the French, Mary and Vaughn find themselves lost in the shadows of a treacherous garden of lies.
Book Four of the Pink Carnation Series, I was afraid I wasn't going to like it - how wrong I was - I loved it! Listening to these books on audio is so much fun. Kate Reading does a great job at the voices, and I love the way she does Lord Vaughn's drawl in particular. He happens to be the hero - or rather - anti-hero of this book.
Vaughn is an aging ne'er do well that we become acquainted with in the previous two books, we're not exactly sure what to make of him. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Silver at his temples carrying a silver topped cane, silver in his waistcoat - the man loves the color silver! A widower with a past, the Pink Carnation has enlisted him to be a spy for her. He's not exactly thrilled with the idea, but he has his reasons for helping her, as we learn later on in the book. As we learned in Book Three, the Black Tulip, a french enemy spy, has a penchant for statuesque, beautiful dark haired women whom he recruits as spies - his petals. Mary Alsworthy just happens to fit the bill. Vaughn must approach Mary to see if she'll go along with the idea of setting her up as bait to lure the Black Tulip into the open, and hopefully succeed in unmasking the French spy and removing him once and for all.
Mary was not altogether likable in the last book, which was the story of her sister Letty and Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, who had been in love with the beautiful Mary before he mistakenly eloped with her sister! Mary is now "a spinster" and unhappy that she must rely on her little sister's money for another season in London in search of a husband. Lord Vaughn becomes her savior. He and Mary make a bargain, she will become his "petal" for the Black Tulip in return for enough money to pay for her own season. The barbs and insults fly between the two, there is no love lost between them. Both are selfish and vain creatures, used to the good life. Mary can be calculating and mercenary when faced with poverty and no marriagable prospects. She is pragmatic and sensible when it comes to her future. Vaughn is a gentleman, but from a bygone era when men still wore swords and fought in duels for honor. He is rich to be sure, yet he has no love in his life. He's been a jaded wastrel much of his past ten years abroad, and he's now gotten to the point where he wants to settle down to a quiet life where all he has to worry about is producing an heir. As much as these two start out disliking each other enormously, a bond grows between them, and they develop a strong attraction for one another - albeit reluctantly. In some ways their mutual distrust and then love for one another reminds me of Scarlett and Rhett - another pair of renegades who flout society's niceties in order to achieve their ends.
I wound up loving the sparring that went on between Mary and Vaughn, it kept the book refreshing and perky. It was much more interesting that a conventional courtship. I loved Vaughn's snide and witty remarks in regard to St. George, a would be suitor of Mary's. Just as Vaughn is realizing that Mary could be someone he can see marrying himself, he finds out that his first wife, the sibilant Anne, is not dead afterall. She wants to resume their marriage! Due to this latest catastrophe (he has no love for his first wife who ran off with the music master ten years earlier) he cannot in good conscience seduce Mary or even offer her marriage, but he still doesn't like the idea of someone else marrying her either! Still, he must avoid her as much as he can, not easy since they're working together as spies to foil the Black Tulip. I really loved the fact that Mary grew up a lot in this book. Once she realizes that she loves Vaughn, she accepts it and will not take no from him. She nurses him when he is shot and I admired her and the way she handled herself in an emergency situation. Not only was she resourceful, she was brave and courageous. I was rooting for her - yes! Someday she will make a grand countess for him (if they can only get rid of his pesky first wife!)
With lots of adventure and some red herrings and plot twists, all comes out at the end - or does it? I'm still not convinced that the Black Tulip is dead, as we are led to believe. In this series, if there is no dead body, then I'm unconvinced. We shall see what happens in the next. A worthwhile read, refreshingly different from the previous two books, Vaughn and Mary make a delicious couple, they're meant for each other and the chemistry between them was wickedly delightful, although there was no sex going on between them (a bullet wound does tend to put a damper on that sort of thing.) Yet, there was a sensuality between them that made up for the lack of consummation. I have no doubt in the future Mary will be producing an heir and a spare in no time!
In regard to the modern-day parallel story between Colin and Eloise - I loved it! Yay, they had their date and it was great! Eloise does have the annoying tendency to say the wrong things around Colin, but I hope that once she feels more comfortable around him, she'll lose that. I am growing to love the handsome Colin, and I am thrilled for Eloise that he wants to see her again the next day! Their flirty repartee had me giggling like a school girl, I'm eager to see what happens next between them!