Perils of the Heart

 
The Pirate Next Door
by Jennifer Ashley
(Leisure, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-5277-6
****
Lovely widow Alexandra Alastair is lying in bed one night, thinking about a list of potential suitors that might include her intriguing new neighbor, when she overhears a threatening conversation. Grayson Finley, the new Viscount Stoke, is the neighbor in question – and at the moment, he’s in danger of being strangled by an enemy who has tracked him down.

Alexandra manages to save him after he’s been left tied up with a noose around his neck. Grayson is eternally grateful to the beautiful angel who appeared out of nowhere and literally saved his neck. He’s quickly enamored, and Alexandra is equally attracted to him. But Grayson is a former pirate, come to London with his twelve-year-old daughter, and he’s on a mission for the Crown to find the missing king of France, Louis Bourbon. Something his enemies definitely do not want him to do. He has enough on his plate just keeping young Maggie safe and trying to provide her with a decent life.

Alexandra is interested in Maggie, and offers to teach her appropriate manners and introduce her to a bit of genteel society. Alexandra’s former governess is also available to take Maggie under her wing (as well as provide a secondary romance). Grayson and Alexandra dance around their mutual attraction, until Alexandra is kidnapped and Grayson must act to save her.

The villain in this story is a former pirate named Ardmore, now turned pirate-hunter. He’s on the trail of Louis Bourbon’s accomplices, as only pirates would have the wherewithal to smuggle a king in and out of a country. Once, Grayson and Ardmore were friends. Now they are at each other’s throats, though a sense of wistfulness over their lost friendship hangs over Grayson, at least. But Ardmore will do just about anything to bring Grayson to ruin, including kidnapping the woman Grayson loves and trying to marry her himself.

The Pirate Next Door offers more depth and wit than the standard pirate romance. Alexandra, whose late husband was an unfaithful scoundrel, decides to marry the dullest, most respectable man she can find – until Grayson lands next door. Grayson’s main purpose in life is to provide a stable home for Maggie, but he falls head over heels for Alexandra almost the moment he meets her. Watching their carefully laid plans unravel in the face of their growing love is the most enjoyable part of the story.

The sensuality between these two is plenty hot. Here the author has quite a bit of leeway because Alexandra is a widow, not a blushing virgin. And their almost instant attraction felt quite natural. The dialogue sparkles in places, and Alexandra’s intelligence rules over her heart when necessary. Readers are spared any tiresome “brave heroine” antics.

The secondary romance between Vanessa, the former governess, and a younger cohort of Grayson’s is a delight, and provides one of the funniest scenes in the book. Although some of the action is telegraphed in advance, it’s still entertaining. And the climax paves the way for Ardmore to reappear. He was an intriguing character, one I’d like to explore more fully.

The Pirate Next Door is a fast-paced, enjoyable story, one guaranteed to throw a bright spot into a dreary fall evening. If all pirate romances were this good, we’d see a huge resurgence of the subgenre.

--Cathy Sova


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