Title: A Wicked Liaison
Author: Christine Merrill
UK Copyright: 2007 (Mills & Boon)
UK ISBN: 978-0-263-86237-9
US Copyright: 2009 (Harlequin); pgs. 276
Series: Harlequin Historical #953
US ISBN: 978-0-373-29553-1
Genre: Historical Romance — Regency
Constance Townley, the young Dowager Duchess of Wellford, is in a bind. The small allowance the new duke, Freddy, gives her isn’t enough to maintain her London residence. Freddy would prefer that she retire to the dower house on his estate. Constance, only thirty, hopes to remarry and that requires her to remain in London. Her late husband had the deed to the residence, and all of the furnishings, put in Constance’s name. Unfortunately, Freddy also has the deed and he’s avoiding her. If she could sell her townhouse and find a smaller, more economical residence, Constance could live comfortably until she receives a suitable marriage proposal. Unfortunately, the men who call on her lately are only offering “carte blanche”, to keep her as a mistress. After twelve years of marriage and no children to show for it, it is believed that Constance is barren. Men of the nobility need sons to ensure the family name continues. A woman like Constance is more attractive as a mistress than a wife.
Very few people know how desperate Constance has become. Unfortunately, one of the few is Lord John “Jack” Barton. He’s unscrupulous and cold. He views Constance as an object, an ornament, to be collected and looked at. He’ll do anything to manipulate her into doing what he wants He’s slowly backing Constance into a corner until she has no other choice than to give into him. Constance has no one to turn to for help. However, unbeknown to her, someone is about to come to her rescue. Someone who’s known and loved her for years.
Anthony de Portnay Smythe is professional thief. In the past, his skills kept his two widowed sisters-in-law, nephews, and niece from the poor house. Thanks to careful investing and the marriage of the ladies, Tony’s talents are no longer required and he’s feeling a little unneeded in that department. However, since making the acquaintance of St John Radwell, Earl of Stanton, Tony’s talents have been called upon for the good of the nation. Stanton has a job for him. A Treasury official has settled a large gaming debt by being blackmailed into handing over engraving plates for the ten-pound note.
Stanton needs Tony to steal them back, if at all possible, before the counterfeiter has the chance put the money in circulation. It has to be done discreetly, too, so as to not destabilize the markets and cause panic. He advise Tony to also search the house of the man’s supposed mistress, just to be sure he hasn’t hidden them there. The would-be counterfeiter: Lord Barton; his supposed mistress: Constance Townley
Comments: I really loved this book. Ms. Merrill, as I’ve said before, is one of my favorite Harlequin Historical authors (I think she might even be the favorite).
My favorite character was Patrick, Tony’s valet. Patrick was a thief once, and he is the person who taught Tony. He’s also Tony’s confidant, knows all about his unrequited love for the duchess, and the one who tells Tony when he’s making a mistake by not revealing his true identity to Connie sooner rather than later. I enjoyed reading their scenes together because they’re usually where Tony is explaining why he hasn’t said anything to Connie and Patrick pointing out the flaws to his reasoning. There is even a face-palm moment for Patrick during one such conversation.
Though he’s a thief, Tony is otherwise a true gentleman — he is the third son of an earl. He’s caring, polite, well-mannered. He’s also funny, witty, and confident when it comes to his “profession”. When it comes to Connie, he’s afraid to tell her the truth of his identity, that he’s someone she’s known since they were children, because he’s afraid of the rejection. I liked him a lot, and I could understand why it was important for him that Connie recognize him without being told. And I love how she figures it out.
I liked Connie very much. I thought she was true to her time. Raised to make the best marriage possible — she did that. When her older husband died, she expected to be provided for (and she really was, if Freddy hadn’t been an idiot) so she wouldn’t have to worry about where her next meal came from. She wanted to remarry, so she played by the rules, remained respectable and keep an eye out for the best possible offer — just like she’d be raised. It’s not her fault that the men only see her as a potential mistress. She does the best she can and she does make mistakes. I like that she tries to stand up to Barton — usually only to fail, but she does try — and that she eventually gets the better of him.
“Did you find the deed?”
“What? No ‘Hello, Tony. So good to see you. Lovely dancing this evening. . .’ No preamble. Small talk? Chit-chat?”
— Constance, Tony
Started: 21 April 2010
Finished: 3 May 2010