Author: Gayle Wilson
ISBN: 0-373-29116-7 (Harlequin Historical)
Finished: 15 July 2007
Who: Elizabeth Carstairs and Valentine Sinclair, Earl of Dare
From the back: Valentine Sinclair, the Earl of Dare, was an enigma, even to those who professed to know him well. For while his morals seemed suspect and his leisure pursuits as reckless as any of his well-heeled peers’, there was something lurking beneath the facade of good looks, wit and charm that he so skillfully hid behind.
Valentine Sinclair is the eldest of the three Sinclair brothers. He’s a bit of a romantic and a knight errant. He became a spy for the English in the war against Napoleon mostly to support his two younger brothers, who are in the army, but also out of a sense of patriotic duty to his country. Even if that means he has to pretend to be one of the Regent’s shallow sycophants and tell everyone that he and his brothers are estranged. He treats his valet, Ned Harper, almost like a brother. He is so affected by the loss of his agent in France that he hunts down the men responsible for his death. It’s only natural, when he encounters Elizabeth Carstairs and senses that she is living in her own private prison, that the earl sets out to rescue her.
Elizabeth Carstairs made a choice, two years ago, that has kept her under Henri Bonnet’s thumb. She’s accepted her fate and bears the consequences quietly. She doesn’t expect anyone to come to her rescue, especially a member of the ton. She is shocked when she learns that Bonnet has lost her to Sinclair in a card game. Elizabeth believes that he lost on purpose and has some nefarious assignment for her in the earl’s household. Also, Elizabeth is sure the earl intends to make her his lover.
Though the earl is attracted to Elizabeth in ways he’s never been attracted to women of his acquaintance before, he believes her to be a woman of gentle birth and not a common strumpet. He’s too much a gentleman to use her in that way. Both Ned Harper and Ian, one of Val’s brother, believe that the earl is refusing to see the truth. Regardless, the earl is determined to learn her story and asks the recuperating Ian to help him.
Val does something that I thought was out of character. He asks Henri to tell him how Elizabeth came to be his “employee”. Though the truth is far from pretty, it’s nowhere near as sordid as the lies Henri spins to provoke the earl. The fact that the earl believes the Frenchman didn’t make sense to me. Val has no reason to trust Bonnet and probably should have been a bit more suspicious. The story the Frenchman tells him feeds into his own fears that Ned and Ian were right about Elizabeth. His illusions are shattered and his heart is broken.
I had one other qualm about the book. I just couldn’t accept that there wasn’t anyone Elizabeth could have gone to for help two years ago. She has family. Were they that uncaring, that they never questioned what happened to her?
That said, if she had no one she could turn to and she believed her choice was the right one at the time, then I can respect the decision Elizabeth made. She stoically took responsibility for her actions, and even tried to solve the problem herself.
This is the first book in The Sinclair Brides trilogy.
“Did you dance?”
“Not with grace.”
“I’m sure Grace was vastly disappointed.”
— Elizabeth, Val