Sunday, October 23, 2011

Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth

Book Description:
Though a celebrated French beauty in 1849, Madeleine DuMais's cleverness is her greatest asset - and one she puts to good use as a spy for the British. When her expertise is needed in the south of England to break up a smuggling ring, Madeleine willingly puts her life on hold to help the crown ...

Arriving in the quaint resort town of Winter Garden, Madeleine meets her partner in subterfuge. Thomas Blackwood is unlike any man she has ever met. His quiet confidence and mysterious intensity send shivers of pleasure coursing through her ... shivers that slowly melt into a desperate passion. As duty gives way to desire, surrender holds its reward. And Madeleine will never recover from the touch of Thomas's hands on her body - and the touch of his heart on her soul ...

I loved this book. 

Filled with intense emotion and sexual tension between the hero and heroine, I read it in one day.  How does Ashworth do it?  This will be another favorite for me and a keeper.

So far I've loved everything I've read by Adele Ashworth, but I was a bit apprehensive about reading Winter Garden because I'd already met the heroine in the previous book, Stolen Charms, and I wasn't exactly won over by her.  Not liking the heroine is an instant turn off for me.  I couldn't have been more wrong, I worried for nothing!  Madeleine is a strong and courageous heroine who is a realist and survivor.  She won me over handily, though she did annoy me towards the end of the book, but she had her reasons, so I'll forgive her for it.  I admired her courage and sympathized with her, but this book is really Thomas' story.  I simply loved Thomas Blackwood, Winter Garden's tortured hero.  With a twist on the beauty and the beast theme, these two come together in a beautiful and touching love story.  It brought tears to my eyes, I was so moved by it.

Thomas Blackwood has a secret.  He and the beautiful Madeleine DuMais must work together as spies to foil an opium smuggling ring.  From the moment they first meet we realize all is not as it seems with him.  He knows her already from somewhere - but she's never met him before.  Throughout the entire book, you're dying to know "how does he know her?"  As we read further, we realize he has loved her for years - but how can that be?  Thomas is handsome - and large.  He's big and strong with a commanding presence.  Combined with his good looks, he proves almost irresistible to Madeleine when she first meets him.  She is instantly attracted to him.  Surely she would have remembered him if she'd met him previously?  They're going to have to work closely together, posing as a former soldier who is having his memoirs translated - by Madame DuMais.  The arrangement is unorthodox, but she is posing as a French widow and they're counting on the nosy members of the town of Winter Garden to accept the arrangement because she is French (as if that explains everything and makes it "okay".)   Despite her attraction to Thomas, she is the consummate professional when it comes to the spy business.  She will not reveal her true emotions that develop gradually in regard to him - or will she?

This is so much more than just another romance spy story.  Thomas has another secret - regarding his legs.  Even though he is a gorgeous specimen of a man - he is lame.    Hindered with a disabling limp, there's something very wrong with him - but what?  How bad was his injury and what sort of lasting effects did it have on him?  Despite his large size and strength he is callously labeled a cripple by many.  In comparison Maddie is beautiful.  Stunning. A head turner.  Beauty and the beast.   Can Thomas reveal to her his secret love for her and the secret regarding his disability?  Will she be disgusted by him?  This wonderful proud man fears her answer more than anything he's ever come up against before in his life.

As the story progresses and we get more into their mission of determining who is the mastermind behind the smuggling operation in the area, the main focus of the book is how our hero and heroine deal with their mutual attraction while still maintaining their professionalism.  By sharing this little cottage, eating together, discussing the mission and sitting in front of the fire each night - it's not easy.  He, who has loved her from afar is finally getting his chance to be with her and maybe (if he's lucky) have her fall in love with him.  And she?  She has no idea of his true feelings - or of who he really is.  All she knows is he's making it nearly impossible for her not to throw herself at him.  Although they must work together as spies for the crown, there's much innuendo from him from the get go.  He is sexual in the way he is towards her, but it's subtle.  Is she imagining it?  Maggie, this experienced French woman who has been a spy for the crown for years is thrown off balance!  I loved it!

Before long Maddie is falling for this large and very quiet man whom she knows almost nothing about.  She's drawn to him and finds herself wanting him more and more as never before with anyone.  Their sensual moments together are hot - yet tender.  How many of these situations has Thomas been orchestrating?  Is he manipulating her because he's loved her for so long and he knows her already?   She is at a disadvantage.  He knows everything yet she is in the dark.  What will she do and think of him when she finds out he's been less than forthright from the beginning?   From time to time we get some clues and insight towards Thomas' secret, but it's still all very much a mystery.  It drove me crazy!  Gradually we begin to figure things out about who he really is and how he has loved Maddie for a long time.

Finally, when the time comes and the truth is out - it's gut wrenching and emotional, his confession brought me to tears.  I dare you not to just love him, despite his flaws and bad decisions.  My heart went out to him as he humbled himself. I had so much invested in this couple, wanting them to be happy and together!  I won't spoil the ending, but it's a roller coaster ride.  Maddie has some hard decisions to make, but as I said before, she's pragmatic - a realist.  You'll just have to read this great, great romance and see for yourself!

An emotional, worthwhile love story with a complex hero and heroine and a surprise ending that will take your breath away - I highly recommend it!



Joanne said...

Sounds wonderful -- and I know this has nothing to do with the quality of the storyline, but I love the cover, too! Very old-school "Heyer"-ish.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Joanne, yes all these older Adele Ashworth romances have those kind of covers, her later covers are more like today's.

Scorpio M. said...

I have this in my TBR and will start it tonight thanks to your review! I adore strong, quiet heroes.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Scorpio - please let me know how you like it!

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