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Posted May 22, 2014
Book #2.5 in Máire Claremont’s dark and dramatic Mad Passions series, featuring vulnerable gentlewomen tyrannized by cruel and manipulative men, only to rise up strong and survive in the face of all odds.
Máire Claremont is a wonderful new voice to the historical romance genre with her strong debut last year, The Dark Lady, and the first book in her Mad Passions series. Claremont’s books remind me a lot of the works of Lorraine Heath, and not just because both set their stories firmly in the Victorian era. The stories have undercurrents of melancholy—think of the Bronte sisters’ Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. The fashions were heavy and thick, not to mention the voluminous undergarments which were stifling and constrictive and, while women were still under the iron power of men, society was becoming more socially aware of abusive marriages, the state of the poor and destitute, while the aristocracy was undergoing massive social changes. This makes the era rich in history and perfect for bleak and sensational plots.
Clare Ederly, the Duchess of Duncliffe, is the wealthy, young widow of the older Duke of Duncliffe, Mary’s horrible father from The Lady in Red. Both abused by the duke, Clare and Mary forged a bond and now Clare has dedicated her life to helping other women escape their abusive situations. But her life is in danger due to the nature of her work so her uncle—yet another overbearing and controlling man—convinces her to accept a protector to keep her safe.
Edward, Mary’s loving husband, asks his good friend, Byron, Lord Wyndham, for his help in protecting Clare and also in pursuing the threat to her life. Byron is a former soldier who has seen the horrors of war but has determined to put the past behind him and live his life to the fullest. Despite his reluctance to delve into intrigue, he is honorable and wishes to help a woman in need. He, like Clare, is also a survivor. He is also unlike many men of his class; he doesn’t take lovers or mistresses carelessly.
It’s instant attraction on both sides but Clare is wary and distrustful while Byron perceptively reads Clare’s reticence and approaches her cautiously. But while protective of Clare, he also wants to help her get on with her life and not give up. I love how he declares his attraction to her without fear, much to her shock and secret gratification.
As Byron closes in on the threats to Clare’s life, the two get to know each other. Their cozy time in Byron’s lovely hideaway cottage sparks their romance and inspires Clare to confess to him her painful secret, one she’s sure will prevent any man from ever fully loving her.
There is some nice humorous touches in this love story. When she enters the cottage and gets trapped by her hoops, for example. Or when he tries to get her to laugh with his exaggerated poetic overtures.
This is a beautifully written and sweet story. I love how Byron—aptly named—quotes poetry to Clare and refuses to give in to her hopelessness. She needs him and their romance is both sweet and sexy.
”’Infuse everything with a sense of lightness?’ ‘The world is dark enough as it is, madam,’ he said gently.”
“‘All the better to laugh, unless you wish we sit beside the road and weep?’”
“‘I…I’ve no real idea how men and women talk in private.’”
A lovely novella, a nice little treat to savor before the next book in the series, The Dark Affair.