One of my regular rereads is Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth, and that is due to Thomas. Ahhhh, Thomas . . . He's so deliciously tortured (What?! It's good for him!) and he loves his Madeleine so much that it gives me the shivers. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Thomas Blackwood and Madeleine DeMais are spies in Victorian England. They are working on an opium smuggling case in the small resort town of Winter Garden, posing as a reclusive scholar and the French translator of his memoirs on the Opium Wars in which he fought and where he received his obvious injuries, manifested in a painful limp.
Their attraction to each other is palpable and the atmosphere is fraught with delectable sexual tension. It isn't long before they act on that attraction, but though they've been intimate several times, Madeleine has never seen Thomas completely naked. In a riveting scene, he finally bares not just his body, but his soul.
Silently he reached for his right leg, pulling up on the cuff of his pants as he had with the left. This time, however, she noticed a difference in his boot. At the top, near the knee, were two buckled straps, one below the other and an inch or so apart, which he unfastened very slowly. That finished, and with a tug of one hand at the heel, one at the calf, the boot gave way, exposing the core of his fear.
Madeleine stared, her body numbing, heart twisting with overwhelming compassion and sadness. Two inches below the scarred and deformed knee, his right leg had been expertly cut off.
'Will you love me now, Maddie?' she heard in a tender, hoarse, far away voice.
The stark vulnerability Thomas displays never fails to move me, and Madeleine's response is all one could hope for. When they make love for the first time with no barriers, neither physical nor emotional, it is the stuff of great romance.
But my favorite moment in Winter Garden is one I can't really speak of without giving the whole book away. I have to be oblique, but those who have read the book will know what I'm talking about. There is electricity in the air when Thomas and Madeleine meet for the first time.
The breeze shifted, blowing into her eyes the soft fur that lined her hood. Madeleine reached up and adjusted it, and it was at that moment that he realized she stood behind him.
He tensed, the ax in midair. Then he let the handle slide through his fingers as the head of it dropped to rest against his fist. With a very deep inhale he raised his face to the setting sun. Five seconds passed. Ten. Then he turned his head to the side so that she only saw his profile as he spoke to her over his shoulder.
'I've been waiting for you, Madeleine.'
At the end of the book when she gives the same words back to him, I've been waiting for you, Thomas, it is a benediction, a completion of their journey toward each other. The first time I read the book, I turned the last page and immediately went back to the first and read that opening scene again. It takes on a whole new complexion and meaning, once you know what is about to unfold. “I've been waiting for you.” It gives me goosebumps just thinking of it. And, if you haven't read Winter Garden yet, what are you waiting for?
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com