Beauty Like the Night

The Devil You Know

My False Heart

No True Gentleman

One Little Sin

A Woman of Virtue

A Woman Scorned

 
Never Lie to a Lady
by Liz Carlyle
(Pocket, $7.50, R) ISBN 1-41265-714-1
*****
I felt some disappointment over Liz Carlyle’s last three titles. (Call it the three little numbers series: One Little Sin, Two Little Lies, Three Little Secrets.) They weren’t bad; they just didn’t have the ‘Wow’ factor I’m always hoping to find. Ever since she exploded onto the publishing scene in 1999, I have depended on Ms. Carlyle to produce consistently high-quality romance fiction. My faith has been restored: Never Lie to a Lady is a wonderful work I can strongly recommend.

Xanthia Neville is not the typical well-bred unmarried English miss of the late 1820's. She’s nearly thirty and is thinking about embarking upon an affaire. Raised with her brother in the West Indies, Xanthia is uninterested in the usual social life of an Englishwoman of her class. She is a businesswoman, deeply involved in the family shipping business.

When her brother Kieran, Lord Rothewell unexpectedly inherited the title, they returned to England, but Xanthia did not adjust her life to fit the English norm. She works out of an office near the docks in Wapping. Assisting her is Gareth Lloyd, who is part of their past in the West Indies. Gareth is in love with Xanthia, but she doesn’t love him and is not interested in marriage. She is unwilling to give up her freedom and her business interests to any husband.

Stefan, Lord Nash also inherited a title unexpectedly. The son of an English father and a Russian mother, he had believed his future would involve serving in the czar’s army. When his father came into the title, Nash moved to England, but he still feels a bit set apart from the rest of English society. He is close to his younger brother Tony but has reservations about Tony’s wife. He is also devoted to his stepmother and two young half-sisters.

Xanthia and Nash meet at a ball and are immediately, strongly attracted. They share a few indiscreet moments. Nash describes himself as a “gamester and professional sybarite.” He believes he has been deliberately entrapped but nevertheless offers marriage as a gentleman ought. He is surprised when Xanthia refuses his proposal. He is also puzzled by her brother’s statement that Xanthia is nearly engaged to a long-time friend.

Xanthia doubts she will have further contact with Nash because she so rarely attends any society functions. But when she is drafted to chaperone her cousin Louisa in her first season, she faces a round of social engagements. Fortunately, they are not the type to attract a sophisticated rake like Nash. Nash, however, has decided to pursue the unusual Miss Neville. Against her better judgment, Xanthia cannot ignore that she is drawn to him.

Xanthia’s plans change dramatically when Lord de Vendenhim and Mr. Kemble enlist her aid in investigating whether Lord Nash is working against England’s interests in the eastern Mediterranean region. Xanthia does not believe that Nash is involved in any such plot but realizes it provides her with an excuse to see him more frequently.

TRR reviewers don’t hand out five-heart ratings lightly. A book has to have it all: plot, characters, a solid romance, good writing. It is, therefore, something of a concession for me to give Never Lie to a Lady five hearts because I’m not certain it qualifies on all points. The pacing is sometimes uneven and the national security plot is more a device to get the characters together than a genuine story line, but the strong, appealing characters and the thread of humor woven into the story are just too good to consign it to a lower rating.

In my review of the author’s first book, My False Heart, I praised her handling of the reformed rake plot and said it set a new standard for me. This newest treatment reaffirms my opinion: when it comes to the reformed rake plot, no one does it better than Ms. Carlyle.

The romance between Nash and Xanthia is a strength. Xanthia is what has become a stock character – the older woman uninterested in marriage. Similarly, Nash is the stereotypical unrepentant rake. Their gradual willingness to change is what makes the romance so convincing. These two characters are indisputably right for each other.

If you’re a long-time romance reader and think you’ve read it all in one form or another, you’ll be pleased to know Never Lie to a Lady offers something new. There’s one scene (pages 258-260) that charmed me with its originality and had me laughing out loud. Any book that includes that scene deserves a wide audience.

Never Lie to a Lady is the first in a new series by the author. (The next book will feature Gareth Lloyd as the hero.) Many of Ms. Carlyle’s books, however, have continuing characters. Her fans will recognize some of these characters from earlier books, particularly the hero of No True Gentleman, Max de Rohan, and George Kemble. Kemble is a particularly welcome addition to this story since he provides much of the humor.

If you’ve enjoyed Liz Carlyle’s books in the past, you won’t want to miss Never Lie to a Lady. It illustrates why she’s a top-tier romance author and an auto-buy for many fans. This one is a definite winner.

--Lesley Dunlap


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