Beguiling the Beauty
Berkley Sensation / May 1, 2012 / $7.99
What a scoundrel wants, a scoundrel gets...
When the Duke of Lexington meets the mysterious Baroness von Seidlitz-Hardenberg on a transatlantic liner, he is fascinated. She’s exactly what he’s been searching for—a beautiful woman who interests and entices him. He falls hard and fast—and soon proposes marriage.
And then she disappears without a trace…
For in reality, the “baroness” is Venetia Easterbrook—a proper young widow who had her own vengeful reasons for instigating an affair with the duke. But the plan has backfired. Venetia has fallen in love with the man she despised—and there’s no telling what might happen when she is finally unmasked…
I love character-driven romance, and Sherry Thomas excels at it. Beguiling the Beauty builds a full-bodied romance on the foundation of a spare plot.
Essentially, the plot pivots on the fact that our hero Christian, the Duke of Lexington, falls in love at first sight with our heroine, Venetia Townsend, when they are both 19 and Venetia is already married. They do not meet, but Venetia’s extraordinary beauty haunts Christian for 10 years. When they finally meet, it is because Christian has told an unkind (and untrue) story about her marriages to illustrate a point at the end of a lecture, and Venetia is at the lecture. She determines to punish him by making him fall in love with her and then abandoning him. Yes. That old chestnut. But in the hands of a master of character-driven narrative, the chestnut falls by the wayside, and we are thoroughly engaged by the way the relationship builds between Christian and Venetia.
Venetia decides to seduce Christian whilst veiled so he doesn’t know who she is. She boards the transatlantic ship he is taking back to England and is almost immediately shocked to discover that he enjoys her company but doesn’t care how she looks.
It was as if she’d set off across the Atlantic to find a route to India, only to encounter a whole new continent.
Later, when their intimacy deepens, she takes off her veil, but insists that Christian wear a blindfold. He seems to be willing to do almost anything to be with her.
She took the scarf from him, tied it around his head, and guided him to the chaise longue. It was not easy, but he refrained from pulling her down onto the chaise with him. He wanted to inhale her again, that infinitely clean scent of her.
And, as they get to know each other, Christian turns out not to be the cold, vindictive man Venetia thought him to be. She realizes that her plotted revenge has badly backfired.
He tilted his head a few degrees to one side. “You are safe with me. You know that.”
He was wrong. She hadn’t been in this much peril in a long, long time. How stupid she’d been, hoping he would tip the decision for her. She wasn’t playing with fire; she was juggling sticks of dynamite with their fuses already lit. For every grain of pleasure she dared now, she would later pay with a pound of grief.
And Venetia is not the only person endangered by this growing attraction.
The sound of her laughter registered as a burst of brightness in the night. It still amazed him that she not only laughed, but laughed often. It amazed him even more that he’d been the one to elicit the laughter. When she laughed, nothing was impossible. He could climb Mount Everest, cross the Sahara, and raise the lost realm of Atlantis all in a day.
One of my favorite moments during the Atlantic crossing—and possibly in the entire book—is when, after Venetia and Christian have become lovers, she joins him on deck and he smiles at her: “She felt as if she’d been hugging puppies all day.” What a wonderful evocation of happiness.
Later, when her identity is finally revealed, we see how difficult her beauty has always been both for her and for Christian. He has made assumptions based on her appearance and she has learned that, too often, she is judged because of it.
She tilted her umbrella slightly away from her person. “There are those who like me for the way my nose sits on my face—a ridiculous reason to like someone. But it’s also a fairly ridiculous reason to not like someone—as it is in your case.”
“I disapprove of your character, Mrs. Easterbrook.”
“You don’t know my character, sir,” she said decisively. “The only thing you know is my face.”
This book is based upon two people learning about each other’s character, overcoming ridiculous prejudices, and embracing change. It draws the reader into their journey without the necessity of kidnapping, pirates, highwaymen, or other nefarious doings. It is a book about people finding love. Exactly what a romance should be.
Myretta is the co-founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a pretty big Jane Austen web site. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, www.myrettarobens.com and on Twitter @Myretta.