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Desires of a Perfect Lady
by Victoria Alexander
(Avon, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-006-144948-2
As I looked at Victoria Alexander’s reviews from TRR, our reviewers rated her previous tales from 2 to 4 hearts. Since I found Desires of a Perfect Lady to be a rather mixed bag, this story falls in the range too…depending on which part of the story one was reading. Hence, I found this one to be merely acceptable.

Ten years ago, a young girl named Olivia Newbury and Sterling Harrington, the soon to be Earl of Wyldewood, had a romance and both thought they would end up married for life. Both were ecstatic about the prospect. But Olivia’s father had a nasty secret and he promised his daughter to a man who was less than stellar. Olivia was forced to marry this man, Lord Rathbourne. It didn’t matter that she loved Sterling or that Rathbourne was much older than her. She attempted to let Sterling know that she did not want this, but he never responded to her three letters.

Sterling had been informed that Olivia chose Rathbourne over him due to his money. He was young, immature and his pride was injured. He pouted rather than check with her, and he ignored her letter, fearing she would say that she did not love him as he loved her. When her other letters came he was dealing with his father, who suddenly became ill, and he put the letters in a drawer. He went on to marry a nice girl, who died a couple of years later of fever before they could have any offspring. Sterling never saw Olivia and while he thought of her periodically, he never dwelled on her or her circumstances.

Olivia is now a widow because Rathbourne was murdered in his study, apparently in an attempt to rob him of one or more of his precious artifacts that he collected. Olivia was one of his collection, or so she believed. He treated her like a possession, often beating her. Their sex life was one of domination, until Olivia learned that if she just quietly submitted, her husband did not get excited and he would leave her alone. She survived only because she had a secret list of things she wanted to accomplish once she was a widow. Included on the list were some places she wanted to visit, and activities like disregarding convention and following her heart. But first on her list was to bed the Earl of Wyldewood. She missed that activity in her youth and wanted to see what it would be like to share her bed with someone she once cared for. She has been counting the days until Rathbourne died and is now thrilled. She has fired all of his staff and hired her own.

But even from his grave Rathbourne tries to control her – she has to fulfill three tasks, all including his collection of artifacts – before she can inherit his estate. If she fails, she will just get a small allowance and live out her life like the past ten years. She is determined to succeed and convinces Sterling to help her – partly since his guilt over ignoring her letters is clear to all and partly so she can get the chance to seduce him.

They end up traveling to Egypt, then to Venice in pursuit of the treasures. Along the way they get to know each other. There are complications thrown in their paths – a young lawyer who is accompanying them falls for Olivia; Sterling’s mother, who invites herself along for propriety’s sake; and a host of barriers thrown in their path to keep them from finishing the collections.

The story itself is a bit convoluted. I didn’t always like either character since they always seemed to be acting out of selfish intent, and yet they professed they were doing things out of love. The search for the artifacts never jelled. They were unimportant to me and at times, they seemed unimportant to the seekers. There were hints of someone out to chase Olivia and Sterling, but it never materialized. And at times, Olivia acts stupidly, then immaturely. If she isn’t, then Sterling is. I struggled with their relationship, making it hard to root for their happily-ever-after.

While there were parts of the story that were intriguing and engaging, there were other parts that seemed to drag or were thrown in for no apparent reason. For instance, when they were on the verge of finalizing their first quest, a man tries to rob Olivia. Sterling is forced to protect her and ends up killing the man. But the reason for the robbery was never really explained and it just didn’t add up with the rest of the story.

Desires of a Perfect Lady is far from perfect but it is far from terrible either. It is truly a mixed bag.

--Shirley Lyons

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