Everyone’s favorite, ever-practical Caroline, Countess of Eskmaine returns in full force in this After Dark novel. A challenge from her sister-in-law Allegra, Duchess of Gravesmere, puts Caroline on the dance floor with the next man who asks her to dance. The irrepressible rake, Tristan, Baron Gresham is recently returned from Venice, bored with the life of a libertine. Attending a ball, he decides to ask Lady Eskmaine for a dance. Determined to teach Allegra that she is capable of handling her own affairs, Caroline accepts Lord Gresham’s invitation.
The moment their hands touch, the attraction is undeniable. Neither knows, however, what the other is seeking. Caroline, tired of being the paragon of common sense in the family, wants to let go and live a little. The return of her old adversary, now obviously interested in her, may be just what she needs. Tristan, on the other hand, wishes to leave behind his rakish lifestyle and become a proper English gentleman. Beautiful, intelligent and dependable Caroline fills his thoughts as the one woman with whom he’d like to build that life.
What happens when the immovable, sensible Caroline meets the irresistible, sensual Tristan? Will he ignite passion’s fires within her, giving her the release she needs? Will she bring him the contentment and love he so deeply desires? And just what is Lady Manning up to this time?
Publisher and Release Date: A Heyer Love LLC, October 2014
Time and Setting: Georgian Venice and London
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars
Review by Maria Almaguer
Tristan, Baron Gresham, is a rake of notorious reputation who has lived the high and dissolute life in Venice for several years before homesickness prompts his return to England. He is tiring of his empty life and his thoughts have lately turned to a certain elegant lady he has never quite forgotten: Caroline Ansley, the Countess of Eskmaine, a beautiful and charming widow with a young son who is considered the epitome of charm, respectability, and kindness. Several years ago, Tristan was involved in a contretemps with Caroline’s sister-in-law, Allegra, and Caroline’s brother, Adam, the Duke of Gravesmere, before their marriage. Apparently, Caroline gracefully smoothed the situation over, to the relief of those involved as well as the ton at large.
But Caroline is now bored and weary of all the above accolades and attributes to her personality. So when Tristan expresses a blatant interest in her, she is intrigued and uncharacteristically amenable. She boldly proposes a discreet liaison strictly for pleasure, no strings attached. He is surprised and flattered and only too happy to accept.
So they embark on a passionate affair that fairly singes the pages, but it is very tastefully written. Their conversations during their time together (along with their frank and provocative sex talk) reveal great passion as well as the growing attachment between them. Shown in contrast to the debutante season for the extremely young Cecilia, Caroline’s determined niece who is visiting from Yorkshire, we see that Caroline and Tristan are an older and more mature couple who, though they know what they want, are nevertheless constrained by the dictates and proprieties of polite society.
“But you are a man, and gossip only enhances your reputation…As a woman, mine would be ruined.”
Even as Caroline falls hard for Tristan, she refuses to allow herself to admit her love for a man who is renowned for his past promiscuity and conquests. She fears he will eventually tire of her.
She must remember, she told herself, that those moments with him were a passing pleasure. She must not confuse their affair with the actualities of life.
We don’t quite get enough of Tristan’s point of view here and, though he is a very likeable and magnetic character, I would have liked to have seen more of a transformation on his side from libertine to devoted swain. In fact, this is the only reason I did not give this book 5 stars as I love it in every other way.
Though Caroline and Tristan are minor characters in a previous book in the series, I did not feel confused by other characters’ situations in the storyline. Although the past relationship between Caroline’s brother and sister-in-law (in which Tristan played a crucial role) is fascinating enough that I may want to read A Duchess Enraged.
The fashions and decor, while not elaborately or exhaustively described, are enough to get a sense of the Georgian period: the complicated and cumbersome fashions and powdered hair, for example. There is also mention of the League of Armed Neutrality and a scene set in the Chapter Coffee-House in London.
Author Alicia Quigley has a clever premise with her Traditional series running concurrently with her After Dark Georgian Romance series. The Traditional are sweet love stories sans the passion and sex while the After Dark series are the exact same stories told with added spice and heat. It’s a unique idea catering to both tastes in historical romance; indeed, the author’s web site is called aheyerlove.com, a tribute to Georgette Heyer, the queen of the traditional Regency (sweet) romance. However, since this reader prefers her love stories on the sensual side, I cannot comment on how Ms Quigley’s sweet stories compare to the erotic.
Ms Quigley writes in a clear, concise style that flows well and I found myself enjoying the story very much and wondering what would happen next. I must add that, during the time I was reading this, I was experiencing a very stressful period in my life and it very much helped me to forget all my troubles and greatly entertained me. But I have to say that the cover leaves much to be desired for a sexy romance.