Beauty Like the Night

My False Heart

A Woman Scorned

A Woman of Virtue by Liz Carlyle
(Pocket, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-7434-1055-6
A Woman of Virtue is an immediate sequel to A Woman Scorned - the final scene of the earlier book occurs at the beginning of the second. The hero of A Woman of Virtue is the heroine’s secret half-brother and a major character in the first book.

David, Lord Delacourt, is a tortured hero. He knows he is not the rightful holder of the title because his mother conceived when she was raped by the dissolute Earl of Kildermore and the previous Lord Delacourt married her to protect her reputation, raising David as his son. David is very close to his half-sister, who inherited the Kildermore title when there was no legitimate male heir, as well as to her family but is desperate to conceal his true origins from the rest of the world. When his sister marries the Reverend Mr. Cole Amherst and establishes a new life for herself, David allows himself to run to dissolution.

When the story begins, David encounters a lovely young woman who is changing into female garments in a horse stall after riding the winner in a horse race. David assumes she is a woman of loose virtue and begins to force her sexually until stopped by a groom and her young brother, Lord Sands. He learns that the lovely redhead is Lady Cecelia Markham-Sands. David recognizes his responsibility and rushes her off to his clergyman brother-in-law to wed.

But Lady Cecelia is not so eager to wed. Finally after discussion with Cole Amherst she agrees to a mock engagement that will be broken after any scandal has had time to die down.

Nearly six years later, it’s 1824, and Cecelia is the widowed Lady Walrafen. Lord Walrafen had been considerably older than his young bride. She had hoped that marriage would lead to children and a family, but they had had no children. She now devotes much of her time and energies to working at Cole Amherst’s mission in the dangerous East End as well as being actively involved in fund raising among her society connections.

Jonet Amherst is close to confinement with her sixth child, and Cole will be taking her out of the city. He devises a bet over a family game of whist that if he wins David will owe him a personal favor. David knows there’s no danger because he is a vastly superior card player to his brother-in-law. But astonishingly - suspiciously astonishingly - Cole does win. The favor is that he wants David to assume his duties at the mission for the three months while he and Jonet are out of town.

This favor will throw David into close contact with Cecelia as well as involving them both in a series of murders.

A Woman of Virtue seems a slightly puzzling title. David, not Cecelia, is the principal character, and most of the action is viewed from his perspective. One of the major conflicts between them stems from David’s reluctance to reveal the facts behind his birth, and his concerns seem valid. Social position in that time and class was largely a factor of accident of birth. David risks more than merely embarrassing his mother if the truth gets out. Readers will know, however, that his worries about informing Cecelia are misplaced. She is the kind of heroine who isn’t going to let details like that bother her.

The circumstances behind Cecelia’s marriage to Lord Walrafen are never satisfactorily explained. Why’d he want to marry her? Why’d she want to marry him? It’s understandable that she didn’t want to marry David the first time around - after all, the guy tried to assault her. But she always comes across as an intelligent, rational woman, one who would have the sense to marry wisely.

This book is a must-read for readers who enjoyed A Woman Scorned. Jonet and Cole Amherst are secondary characters - and for more than just a cameo appearance - and her two sons, who are starting to enjoy the typical male pursuits of their class, have a part in the action.

It is the many supporting characters that distinguish A Woman of Virtue from many others set in the same Regency era. Rather than portraying a gaggle of lords and ladies, the author has populated her book with characters from the lower classes. Readers who enjoy the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Victorian-period mysteries by Anne Perry may glimpse a resemblance in the police constable Max de Rohan. (De Rohan is an intriguing enough character that it would not be a surprise if he were to have his own book in the future.) While characters in other Regency-era romances may spend their time attending balls and sipping tea, David and Cecelia get to experience a vastly different segment of society, and that makes for a more interesting story.

The mystery subplot is intriguing and deftly handled. The author manages to juggle a number of seemingly unrelated threads that tie up neatly by the end.

Liz Carlyle is one of the exciting new authors in the romance genre. She is sure to gain additional fans with A Woman of Virtue.

--Lesley Dunlap

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