Lord Armadale’s Iberian Lady by Sharon Sobel

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Even her family’s ball cannot distract Lady Cassandra Eastham from the very serious business of her life. Secretly, she has assumed her father’s work of translating highly confidential documents for agencies of the British and Portuguese governments in order to hide her father’s illness. When an important message arrives on the night of the ball, Cassandra, eager to read it, escapes to the seclusion of a dark corner. There she is interrupted by Weston Barrington, the Earl of Armadale and a hero in the Peninsula War, who has only recently returned to England from Portugal. Although Lord Barrington appears eager to resume the life of a privileged English gentleman, Cassandra instinctively distrusts him and refuses to be seduced by his blue eyes and fair hair, or romanced in her late mother’s language—Portuguese.

Lord Armadale—West to his friends—has managed to become a live-in guest of the Eastham family to determine if there is a spy among them, but West is drawn to Lady Cassandra despite his determination to remain a bachelor. When a brutally injured young woman arrives at Eastham House and dies in the marble foyer, the incident unites him and Cassandra in a dangerous partnership. The dead woman cannot be an accidental target for murder. Despite being dressed in rags, she looks enough like Lady Cassandra to be her twin sister. And Cassandra might be the murderer’s next victim.

As Cassandra and West work together to uncover the woman’s identity and why she came to Eastham House, West comes to realize his responses to his beautiful partner have more to do with desire than detection and deceit, and he is determined to do battle to save the life of the lady with whom he is falling in love.

Publisher and Release date: ImaJinn Books, 21 March 2013

RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1820s
Genre: Historical Romance/Mystery
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

I found this to be a very enjoyable romantic adventure story with a strong, well-structured mystery at its centre and two attractive and engaging protagonists.

Our heroine is Lady Cassandra de Amoreia Eastham, daughter of Lord Eastham and his (late) Portuguese wife. She is both beautiful and intelligent and spends much of her time helping her father with his work, much of which involves translating documents from Portuguese into English and forwarding them to the mysterious Mr Cenoura in London. It’s clear from the start that Eastham has played some part in intelligence gathering during the recent Peninsular War, and that his work is continuing still. The problem is that with advancing years, his ability to focus has begun to wane noticeably and he is often mentally ‘absent’ despite his physical presence. Cassie is naturally protective of the father she loves, and in order to protect his reputation, she has actually taken over his translation work.

She is annoyed and rather unnerved when the family acquires a houseguest for a few weeks. Weston Barrington, fourth Earl of Armadale is having repairs carried out on his home and as his younger brother is a long-standing family friend, West has been invited to stay with the Easthams.

Their first meeting does not go well, as Armadale interrupts Cassie as she has (secretly) received a message related to her father’s work and longs to be on her own so that she can read it. But when he teases her Cassie bristles and decides he’s arrogant and interfering, even as she realises that she is not unaffected by his masculine build and his good looks. Her step-mother is keen to promote a match between them, but Cassandra is immediately suspicious of his motives for being there and keen to keep him well away from her father’s work. Naturally, her reticence and obvious animosity towards him guarantees his deeper interest not only in her, but in what she’s up to.

Cassie wants Armadale gone and gives him the cold shoulder at every opportunity, even though there’s a strong current of attraction between them. But when a dying woman who is the very image of Cassie, suddenly turns up on the doorstep, they start to put aside their animosity and to work together to solve an ever deepening mystery.

As this IS a mystery, it’s difficult to say more without giving away too much of the story, which is quite a intricate one, filled with adventure, secret identities, danger and romance.

The book is very entertaining and the pacing throughout is good. There is a fairly large supporting cast of characters including Cassie’s brothers and step-mother, her childhood nurse Maria Isabel, and her maid and confidante, Debra, all of whom are deftly drawn. The care and protectiveness the family shows towards Eastham makes his unawareness of the situation even more poignant, and I thought that the familial relationships in general were well done. The two principals are well-characterised for the most part, although I have to question some of Cassandra’s actions in the light of the fact that she is a gently-bred young lady who is the daughter of a member of the English aristocracy. She and Armadale consummate their relationship during the story and yet there is never any mention of consequences or an indication that such a possibility has occurred to Cassie – or to Armadale either. She doesn’t give a thought to the enormity of the step she is taking or the potential disgrace, and he doesn’t try to dissuade her or wrestle with his conscience as a man of honour; which meant that both their attitudes felt rather too modern for the period.

And there’s another thing I have to point out, as it’s something that jolted me completely out of the story when I read it – and it happened several times – which was the ease with which the characters seemed able to travel from Eastham House in Windsor to London.

Windsor is approximately 25 miles from Central London, and the journey today, on a clear road (which is rare as that stretch of road is one of the busiest in the UK!) would take about 45 minutes (according to Google Maps.) But in 1820, over unmade roads and in a horse drawn carriage, I would think the journey would take considerably longer – perhaps a couple of hours or more.

So to my mind, that makes it extremely unlikely that anyone would have travelled from and returned to Windsor on the same night, and yet, in this book, Cassie and her maid, and later, Cassie and Armadale make the return journey – on the same night – to attend events in London.

Those reservations aside, I found Lord Armadale’s Iberian Lady to be a thoroughly engaging read. The romance was developed at a good pace, and I liked that we were shown that West and Cassie were suited in more ways than the physical. They worked together very well on an intellectual level as well, and importantly, Armadale recognised Cassie’s intelligence and valued her contributions as they worked to unravel the mystery. The plot was quite complex, with enough twists and turns to hold my interest, and the romance between Armadale and his Iberian Lady was by turns sexy and sweet.

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