Stages of Desire by Julia Tagan

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To be or not to be — in love…

As a ward of the Duchess of Dorset, Harriet can hardly expect more from a match than the ringing endorsement of “from what I’ve heard, the man is financially secure and his teeth are quite regular.” After all, she’s only the lowly daughter of traveling actors, not the actual daughter of the duchess.

William Talbot, Earl of Abingdon is set to marry the duchess’s daughter. After his elder brother’s scandalous death, his family’s reputation is paramount, and he’ll allow nothing to damage it again. But when Harriet disappears to save her father from debtor’s prison, the scandal threatens William and his intended’s family. The simple task of fetching the duchess’s runaway ward turns complicated when Harriet insists on traveling with her father’s acting company. William’s forced to tag along, and finds himself entranced. The stage transforms Harriet into a free-spirited, captivating beauty. But, someone’s been sabotaging the theater company, and instead of facing scandal, William and Harriet discover a threat not only to their growing passion, but to their lives..

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Publisher and Release Date: Lyrical Press, January 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: England, 1808
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Rating: 4 stars

Review by Vikki

I am pleased I had the opportunity to review Stages of Desire, an intriguing story of a young woman torn between two worlds, her birth family – a troupe of traveling actors – and the aristocratic family she has lived with for six years. She became a member of the ducal household when the daughter of the duke grew ill, and he believed she needed the companionship of someone her own age. The arrangement works out well for Lady Marianne, however Harriet Farley never quite fits in with society, always among them, but never truly accepted.

It is now time for both young ladies to find husbands. The widowed duchess has her sights set on the Earl of Abingdon, a very wealthy and well-favored gentleman, for her daughter. For Harriet, she has picked out Mr. Hopplehill, an older, portly gentleman, the sixth son of a baron. While Lady Marianne is pleased at the prospect of marrying the earl, Harriet finds Mr. Hopplehill a poor choice since he is quite a bit shorter than she and while kind, a bit of a bore.

When Harriet receives word that her father is in trouble, she asks to go to him, but the duchess refuses. Harriet takes matters into her own hands and leaves without the duchess’s approval. When the duchess finds out she has gone, she sends Lord Abingdon after her.

This starts the couple on a series of misadventures. As they travel together the attraction grows and even though, the earl is expected to offer for Lady Marianne, the pair gives into the overwhelming passion they feel for each other. Due to a misunderstanding the following morning, they part on less than the best of terms.
Will Lord Abingdon remain steadfast to the dictates of society, or will he break the chains holding him and chose the love that he secretly feels for Harriet?

This is a fascinating book that deals with serious issues, but while it could have been a dark story, it is not at all. There are so many plot twists that at times it was difficult to follow, but not in a bad way. The surprises along the way kept the pace brisk and enjoyable.

Harriet is a wonderful character, determined and full of life, definitely a spunky kid archetype, a bit of a free spirit as well. I loved her take charge attitude, and she does not stop until she has achieved her goals, whether it is brow beating her father into doing what is needed for his troupe, or going so far as to take to the stage as an actress to save the play.

On the other hand, Lord Abingdon is all about doing his duty as an earl, even though what he desperately wants is to be a physician. As the second son, he never expected to inherit the title and studied medicine at Oxford. He is ready to sacrifice his happiness because of this duty and comes very close to making the biggest mistake of his life.

Some of the decisions William makes do not sit very well with me and because of this, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. Of course the couple gets their HEA – it’s a romance novel after all – but everything just comes together too quickly. I would have liked to see a bit more emotion from Harriet. I do not think I would have been as forgiving as she.

Nonetheless, it is an engaging story and I quite enjoyed most of the book. I do recommend giving it a read if you like stories with interesting plot twists and plenty of surprises along the way. While this is definitely a full length novel, the pacing is very fast, and I finished the book very quickly. I always enjoy a story that entertains and titillates my mind and this one does both.

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