Tall, Dark and Disreputable
Harlequin/April 1, 2012/$6.25 print, $4.79 digital
Portia Tofton has always yearned for brooding Mateo Cardea. His dark good looks filled her girlish dreams—dreams that were cruelly shattered when Mateo rejected her hand in marriage.
Now Portia’s home has been gambled away, and Mateo is the only man she can turn to. This time, however, she has in her possession something he wants—and she finds herself striking a deal with the devil himself!
Danger is all around—but Portia has no choice but to trust this man who once betrayed her….
Ever wanted something (or someone) so bad that you made a deal with the devil? A couple years ago we were visiting some friends in Arizona, and they scheduled a sunset horseback ride in the Sonoran Desert’s serene Tanque Verde Valley, followed by dinner at a restaurant at the top of a mountain (with what felt like a 90 degree climb). Since I’d made it a purposeful 35 years without riding a horse, I was a nervous wreck. I chattered constantly with my horse, and dealt deals with the Devil, Fate, Krusty the Klown…just about anybody who I thought would be listening. I did NOT want to get bucked off that horse and fall into a cactus and die in the Arizona desert. Hell, no.
But everyone, it would appear, faces a moment in time when only a deal with the devil will do. Case in point, Deb Marlowe’s new Regency romance, Tall, Dark and Disreputable. The back cover warns, “She must make a deal with the devil himself.”
Oh, count me in! Loathe though I am to admit my horseback ride was sort of fun, I love a compromising situation that requires the bending of one’s morals. And Marlowe does not disappoint. This story has one of the best twists I’ve read in a long time. It made me anxious, and more than a little irritated at a mysterious woman and unidentified man.
Lady Portia Tofton is independent, spirited and she loves her country estate—more specifically, her magnificent gardens. One time, she loved Mateo Cardea, her personal devil. But when he rejected her hand in marriage, Portia followed a different path to a different man. A rascal of a man who not only died unexpectedly, but who gambled away her beloved home. Determined not to lose Stenbrooke, her home, she has to bargain with the disreputable one himself.
It had been a woman’s damed expectations that had ruined his life. Portia Varnsworth had once expected to marry him. Mateo’s father had expected him to go along with the idea. Mateo might have expected somebody to consult him on the matter, but no one had bothered.
Mateo Cardea has a love of his own—Cardea Shipping. The business had been in his family for over a century, yet in the end, his father had not left the business to Mateo, who had spent his life working and planning for taking the helm. Faced with disgrace and determined to regain his family’s legacy, he pointed his ships homeward.
One might imagine the devil to be Mateo. Or one might imagine the devil to be Portia. Then again, the devil may turn out to be La Incandescent Clarisse, the celebrated courtesan who drove Mateo and Portia’s fathers a raging battle that landed them both in jail at the news that one of them fathered a child with Clarisse. Or maybe the unknown man is the devil.
Hmm…so many choices. There are great plot twists and turns in this latest disreputable tale that started with a woman, and seems like it will end with a woman.
Mateo had arrived in the village today; word was out and spreading fast across the country. Weeks it had taken for him to take ship and make his way here, but had he come for her? She snorted. Of course not. Apparently not even the loss of his family legacy was enough to tempt him to her side. Despite the urgent wording of her request he had holed up in the most disreputable tavern for miles around. No doubt he’d spent the day drinking, carousing, and who knows what else, while she had been left to twiddle her thumbs.
How utterly predictable.
Guess who inherited Cardea Shipping? You guessed it: Portia. And guess what she’s going to propose to Mateo in order for him to regain his legacy? You guessed it: save Stenbrooke.
But that’s not the crux of the story. It’s not the legend that sets Mateo and Portia on their journey.
“Ah, yes, well my father and Lord Thomas were arrested—for their own protection. They spent two days in a cell together and came out the best of friends.”
“And the lady? Clarisse?” Etta leaned closer.
“When they were released, she had gone. She left Naples and disappeared. No one ever knew where she went, although rumours abounded. My father and Lord Thomas made a vow to find her and searched for years.”
Perhaps it’s because both developed blinders through the years, putting stock in physical things like a home or a business. Hers to the possibility of trusting another and finding love. His to the possibility of finding peace and companionship.
“But more important than even achieving your goals is the journey—the path you take in pursuit of your ambitions.” She glanced slyly at Mateo. “And most crucial of all? The people you travel with. Those are the things that make life worthwhile and reaching your objective palatable.”
What if Faust had it wrong? What if the key to getting your heart’s desire isn’t a bargain with the devil? What if it’s realizing that it’s the journey, not the destination, which makes life valuable?
Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and in the spring of 2012, her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.