Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Romance novelist Woodiwiss's sequel to her perennial bestseller The Flame and the Flower (1972) continues the story of Heather and Brandon Birmingham's son, Beauregard. Set in 1825 England and the Carolinas, it's a bit more politically correct than the earlier book. Notorious for beginning her stories with the rape of the heroine by the hero, Woodiwiss nods to current sensibilities by having the heroine almost raped by the hero, but here Beau is excused because he's feverish and delirious, and also because plucky Cerynise Edlyn Kendall doesn't seem to mind the experience. Beau's a dashing sea captain (as was his sire, Brandon), and Cerynise is an orphan thrown out on the mean London streets by the villain who usurped her guardian's wealth. (Readers will remember that Beau's mother, Heather, was also an orphan thrown out on the London streets.) In standard Woodiwiss form, the hero and heroine, though burning with lust for each other, are separated by willfulness and misunderstanding. Cerynise's pregnancy brings hot hunk Beau to heel, and they wed--an almost mirror image of Brandon and Heather's relationship. A vicious pair of London villains and an equally vicious trio of villains in Charleston add a new twist to the story and allow Woodiwiss to invent a melodramatic climax in a storm-buffeted house. The prose is stilted, the plot hackneyed and both dialogue and settings pay little attention to historical accuracy. (Sept.)
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The Elusive Flame
October 24, 1825
Cerynise Edlyn Kendall stood at the lofty windows of the front parlour and, through a wealth of tears, gloomily observed the people scurrying along the lane traversing Berkeley Square. They seemed in urgent haste to find shelter before the gathering clouds sent a torrent of rain down upon them. The chilling gusts that accompanied the glowering sky buffeted both young and old, male and female, puckishly snatching cloaks and redingotes of passersby who were put to task keeping top hats, fashionable bonnets or their flyaway wraps in place. Cheeks and noses were brightened to a reddish hue, and shivers came from those more lightly clad. For the most part, the city′s inhabitants were making their way with varying degrees of eagerness or resignation to family and homes or to more lonely existences. They gave little heed to the comfort awaiting them or, for that matter, how fragile life really was.
A large porcelain clock, artfully adorned with figurines, delicately chimed the fourth hour on the marble mantel in the parlour. Cerynise clenched her slender hands together in the gently gathered fullness of her skirt, burrowing them into the stiff, black taffeta as she struggled valiantly against an encroaching grief. As the tinkling of the timepiece quieted, she stilled the urge to glance over her shoulder with the same expectancy that had become ingrained by the ritual of tea of which she and her guardian, Lydia Winthrop, had partaken daily for the last five years. The suddenness of the woman′s death had stunned Cerynise, and even now, she found it difficult to accept. Lydia had seemed so vivacious and energetic for a woman approaching seventy. Even on the night of her death, her wit and humour had nigh sparkled in contrast to the dour sullenness of her great-nephew, who had come to call upon her that evening. Yet, however much Cerynise wished otherwise, Lydia was dead and buried. Only yesterday Cerynise had stared fixedly at the mahogany casket while final prayers were being spoken for the repose of the woman′s soul. To her wearied mind, it now seemed an eternity had passed since a handful of dirt, signifying man′s return to ashes and dust, was scattered over the descending coffin. That kind, loving woman whom Cerynise had come to love as her protectress, confidante, surrogate parent and dearest friend was now forever gone from her sight and company.
Despite Cerynise′s efforts to banish her sorrow, soft lips trembled back from fine, white teeth as a new rush of tears welled up to blur the thickly fringed hazel eyes. Never again would the two of them enjoy delightful little chitchats over brimming cups and crumpets or sit together in the evening before a cheery, heartwarming fire while Cerynise read aloud to the elder from a treasured book of verse or fiction. The sitting room would no longer be imbued with the lilting strains of melodies which Cerynise had sung while Lydia played the pianoforte. Neither would they traverse a bustling strand together nor share their thoughts while strolling along the banks of the Serpentine in Hyde Park, nor would they simply enjoy the presence of the other in the peace and serenity of the glade. Forever gone would be her guardian′s gentle support, which, despite the obstacles of society, had bolstered a young girl′s dream of becoming a great painter, to the extent that exhibits had been held and paintings had been sold for goodly sums to wealthy patrons, albeit under an element of secrecy with only the initials CK hinting of the artist′s identity. Even now, as poignant memories brought ever-freshening waves of grief sweeping over her, Cerynise could almost imagine the tall, slender, black-garbed silhouette of the elder standing a short distance behind and to the right of her easel as she had oftentimes done while Cerynise painted and, in her rather husky voice, reminding her ward to always be true to herself no matter what.
Cerynise′s despair and loneliness we re more than she seemed capable of bearing at the moment. She felt completely drained and weak. It was not at all surprising to her that the room seemed to tilt unnaturally, leaving her swaying on her feet and blinking against an encroaching dizziness. In desperation she clutched the window frame for support and rested her brow against the cool, dark wood until gradually the feeling subsided. She had eaten very little since Lydia′s death, managing to down nothing more than a few sips of broth and a dry wedge of toast. What sleep she had finally gleaned in her bedchamber upstairs wasn′t worth noting. Still, she doubted her ability to find ease from her sorrow even now, though she knew that Lydia wouldn′t have wanted her to be unduly distressed by her untimely departure. The elder had once offered a world of comfort and compassion to a frightened twelve-year-old girl who, at the time, had just lost her parents in a devastating storm that had sent a large tree crashing down upon their home. Cerynise had blamed herself for not being there to save diem, but Lydia, who had grown up in the area and been childhood friends with Cerynise′s grandmother, whose own death had preceded her daughter′s by several years, had gently led the girl to understand that she, too, would have been killed had she not been away attending a young lady′s academy. No matter the hardships one had to face, the elder had counselled her solicitously, life had to go on. Lydia would have expected her to remember that now.
Yet it was so terribly hard, Cerynise groaned inwardly. If Lydia had been ill even one day of those five years or if there had been some kind of warning, then the whole household would have been better prepared, but as much as it might have forewarned her, Cerynise would never have wished a long, debilitating illness on the elder. No, if the hand of death could not have been stayed, then the fact that Lydia had succumbed in such seemingly good health was truly a blessing, however much it had shocked the young woman who had loved her in life and now grieved her passing. The Elusive Flame. Copyright © by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.