|Loretta Chase is back in style with Silk is For Seduction, featuring her trademark independent, intelligent heroine and powerful nobleman who doesn't know what hit him once he meets her. This looks to be the first in a trilogy called the Dressmakers Series, and it's one readers will eagerly anticipate.
Marcelline Noirot and her sisters Sophy and Leonie run the most fashionable - if not the most popular - milliner's shop in London. Leonie has a head for figures and finance, and Sophy is a natural at publicity. But it is Marcelline, the eldest, who is the creative genius. Under her clever guidance, the dowdiest matron becomes a fashion setter. All that the sisters lack is the chance to clothe someone of great social importance, and their reputation will be made.
When the scandal sheets whisper that Gervaise Angier, the notorious Duke of Clevedon, is finally returning from Paris to marry his childhood fiancee, Marcelline knows this is their chance. Lady Clara Fairfax is lovely, but badly dressed; if the House of Noirot is chosen to design her wedding dress and trousseau, the rest of the ton will beat a path to their door. But Marcelline must convince the Duke before the other London modistes are suggested by Lady Clara's mother. Packing her most stunning creations, Marcelline heads for Paris, intending to snare the Duke before he leaves for London.
In a careful game of cat-and-mouse, Marcelline first captures Clevedon's attention at the opera, where all eyes are on the dark-haired beauty in the magnificent gown. Clevedon can't take his eyes off her, and he is thrown off balance when she declares that she intends to dress his fiancee. Via a series of wagers, Marcelline takes Paris by storm, culminating in her accompanying Clevedon to a ball given by a socially-important comtesse. She hasn't counted on her powerful attraction to Clevedon, however. Nor has he expected to be mesmerized by her wit and forthright manner.
They return to London, where Marcelline does indeed manage to attract the curiosity of Lady Clara once word of the Paris ball and Marcelline's magnificent gown hits the London papers. Lady Clara is taken aback, then intrigued by Marcelline's passion for design and forthright dismissal of Lady Clara's bland debutante wardrobe. Soon the Noirot sisters are creating new designs for the Duke's intended wife. Marcelline is getting what she wanted for the house of Noirot, but finds she wants much more from Clevedon.
Gervaise and Marcelline are absolutely marvelous characters. I loved them both, and at the same time, had no idea how the author was going to bring them together. Marcelline's past is just shy of disreputable; her parents were minor nobility and her mother was one of the Dreadful DeLuceys, one of England's most notorious families. The three girls were abandoned in the care of a seamstress aunt in Paris when they were children, and their shrewd business sense has allowed them to make a living at a time when options for women are few. The girls know what it is like to work hard and they are fiercely protective of their shop. And Marcelline has a small daughter, Lucie, to protect.
Gervaise couldn't have come from a more different background. Immensely wealthy, he has led an indolent lifestyle in Paris rather than return to England and face what he sees as a meaningless life. He loves his childhood friend Clara, but comes to realize it's as a sister, not as a potential wife. Marcelline provokes him to put his brain to use, to examine his life, and to open his eyes to the world of the working class. She refuses to back down, she's not cowed by him in the least, and at last he has found the woman who makes him feel alive. Not to mention Lucie has stolen his heart.
There is a subplot involving a mole who is stealing Marcelline's designs and selling them to a rival modiste, and it's used effectively. Lady Clara is an interesting character - and for once, not a scheming, evil fiancee - and wouldn't be out of place in her own story. Maybe she'll get a secondary romance in the next book. As for Sophy and Leonie, Sophy stepped forward in several scenes, so I'm expecting the next book in this series will feature her romance.
Ultimately, Lady Clara and Clevedon have to face the truth about their engagement, and it's Marcelline who brings it about, in a way. It's also one of the most memorable scenes in the book. The one thing that didn't work particularly well for me was the initial love scene. Well written, but it felt forced and a bit contrived. Marcelline already has one child to support and gives no thought to the possible consequences of her impulses.
But Silk is for Seduction is a fine read, with two intelligent and enjoyable lovers. Ms. Chase's knack for creating unforgettable characters really shines in this story, and I can't wait for the next installment.