At Your Pleasure
Pocket, $7.99, March 27, 2012,
Glittering court socialites and underworld cutpurses alike know that Adrian Ferrers, Earl of Rivenham, is the most dangerous man in London. Rivenham will let nothing - not the deepening shadow of war, nor the growing darkness within him - interfere with his ambition to restore his family to its former glory. But when tasked by the king to uncover a traitor, he discovers instead a conspiracy - and a woman whose courage awakens terrible temptations. To save her is to risk everything. To love her might cost his life.
Lady Leonora knows that Rivenham is the devil in beautiful disguise - and that the irresistible tension between them is as unpredictable as the dilemma in which Nora finds herself: held hostage on her own estate by Rivenham and the king’s men. But when war breaks out, Nora has no choice but to place her trust in her dearest enemy - and pray that love does not become the weapon that destroys them both. . .
At Your Pleasure has an early Georgian setting. Very early Georgian. Like, 1715, the year after George I of Hanover succeeded to the English throne when his cousin, Queen Anne, died and her half-brother, James Stuart, was barred from the succession because he was Catholic. It was a time of great political unrest. When the Whigs gained power, many Tories, already sympathetic to James, openly rebelled and joined forces with the Jacobite movement. It is this upheaval that informs the romance of Leonora, whose Tory father and brother are causing trouble in exile, and Adrian, who renounces his Catholic faith in order to save his family and their lands.
Meredith Duran makes marvelous use of the time and setting—not just as a backdrop, but as part of the makeup of her characters. This is especially the case with Adrian, who has been tasked with the capture of David Coleville, Nora’s brother, who is fomenting rebellion. It is an assignment fraught with political danger, as well as emotional danger, for he and Nora were once teenaged lovers, cruelly separated.
When his majesty had put this task to him, he’d agreed at once. He knew the danger of failure, but not accepting held a greater risk. One wonders that he scruples to hunt Jacobites, his enemies would have whispered. Perhaps he still harbors an affinity for popish causes.
[They] disliked the prospect of a former Catholic drawing so close to power. Should Adrian fail to capture David Colville, they would ensure that his religious history shed a particular light on his failure. Soon, he would be the one to whom the whiff of treason attached.
Being a Catholic in Protestant England was never easy, and Adrian’s decision to renounce his faith came at a great personal cost.
Since his childhood he had watched his family be harassed and punished for their faith. He had been forced abroad by laws that denied English Catholics an education, and in his years of absence, a younger brother and sister and died as strangers to him. He had missed years of his family’s lives. For a time, after his return, he had managed to accept this. Trusting to the fondness of the world like all innocent fools, he had hoped for contentment.
But then Nora’s family had done him a favor. They had shown him the cost of his naiveté. They had taught him very neatly how a Catholic, no matter his station, might be abused and discounted with no dear for repercussions. …Adrian’s mind had changed then. He would not spend his life skulking for fear. He would not place his head in the yoke and meekly labor on, content to be abused and ignored as a popish idolator. He would pursue power instead. He would amass enough of it to ensure that nobody ever again thought it safe to spit on the Ferrers.
The first step had been to conform to the High Church. He had waited until father’s death to do it. His brother had reviled the decision, his mother had given him up for damned. He had held fast against tears and threats, with no moment of doubt, and he had profited by it greatly.
In an intimate scene, where all of Adrian and Nora’s secrets are laid bare, Adrian talks about the agony of his decision, and what ultimately decided the matter for him.
“These lands to your west” - his breath warmed her lobe - “they were ever my home. Because of them, I understand what Hodderby means to you.”
She nodded. She had never doubted that.
“And this place,” he said, “this isle, this kingdom: this is where I felt I belonged. The language I first spake was bred of this soil. The blood of my family is mixed with the blood of English kings.”
“Yes.” The Ferrers were an older family than her own.
She felt him set his forehead to the crown of her head, and heard his inhalation - as though he sought to breathe in the scent of her. “But so long as I kept to my forefathers’ faith - a faith which had been bred of this land no less than its plants and cattle - I found no welcome here,” he said. “In my own home, Nora, I have been a stranger, though I never realized it until I went to France. Only on those foreign shores did I finally feel what it might be to belong.
”It was a sweet thing,“ he said at last, ”I will not disguise it. To speak my name and see no black recognition…to admit my faith and find a brethren’s greeting instead of suspicion and hatred… But there was a choice for me, you know,“ he continued. ”I might have stayed abroad. France welcomed me very gently. Only, I could not forget where I belonged."
At Your Pleasure is a novel about loyalties, some of them unique to this time, and to whom do you owe your highest loyalty? Your church? Your king? Your country? Your family? Your love? And what do you do when those loyalties are in conflict? It is a gripping conflict for both Adrian and Nora and some of their resolutions may surprise you.
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.