How To Kiss a Hero

The Lover's Charm

A Most Reckless Lady

The Suitor

The Affair by Sandy Hingston
(Berkley, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-425-18907-4
The ‘School for Scandal’ is in session once more, and in this third book of the series Sandy Hingston has outdone herself. The Affair invites us to explore familiar characters more fully, and Hingston has produced not one, but two compelling romantic heroes for our reading enjoyment. The series has featured some refreshingly unique people, but this pairing of older, somewhat ‘seasoned’ lovers is truly inspired. Once I began to read The Affair, I couldn’t put it down.

At age 43, Christiane, the countess d’Oliveri, has led an exciting, unconventional life. When she was a young and hopeful newcomer to the ton, her reputation was irrevocably stained by the machinations of a vindictive fellow debutante. Cast into the vast cruel world, Christiane used her good education and genteel upbringing to her advantage and proceeded to do very well for herself as the proprietress of a Parisian gambling hell. What’s more, she spent several contented years as mistress to a French officer, Jean-Baptiste. After her protector was killed in the line of duty, Christiane married an aged Italian count. She was left with d’Oliveri’s name and fortune when he died three years later. This was not enough to appease the ton, and Christiane found herself firmly on the fringe of polite English society.

Undaunted by fate, Christiane has been successfully serving as a sort of ‘silent partner’ to her dear friend, Evelyn Treadwell. Their Academy for the Elevation of Young Women is a success, and while Mrs. Treadwell provides respectability, Christiane works behind the scenes to provide the young women with poise and polish. Snaring a husband and then graciously running his household is still a woman’s crowning achievement, and word of mouth has it that girls from Mrs. Treadwell’s Academy do well on the marriage mart. Evelyn and Christiane hope that their young ladies will also gain a measure of confidence and personal worth.

Christiane’s thin veil of respectability is disturbed when a man from her past comes calling. Lord Gannon Carew hopes to enroll his recently orphaned niece, Claire, in the Academy. During an interview with Mrs. Treadwell on Claire’s behalf, Gannon is shocked when Christiane blunders into the room. Their colorful past together is dredged up. It seems that Gannon was smitten with Christiane back in Paris, and things ended with him wounding Jean-Baptiste in a duel. After some consideration the adults decide to try overlooking unpleasant memories for Claire’s sake.

Christiane reluctantly confronts feelings that she would rather ignore. Gannon is even more compelling than he was at 20, filling up the room with his Irish good looks and confidence - remembering things about her that both flatter and appall Christiane. She is chagrined when she realizes that he affects her so greatly. This is a different side of Christiane, because frequently in the other books I questioned her depth of character and certainly her judgment. Her soiled reputation apparently gives her free reign to flout the moralities of the times. It was a pleasure to read Christiane’s reactions to Gannon and her interactions with him. She struggles with her emotions even as she gives in to them, and her insecurities are exposed.

The author also explores Evelyn’s reaction to the relationship between Christiane and Gannon. Her feelings run the gamut from intrigue and excitement to shock, indignation, anger and jealousy toward her friend. Gannon’s influence forces these women to look closely at their friendship.

Gannon made me wonder…why can’t all romance heroes be like this? He is unapologetic about his feelings. He’s candid and confident, yet he’s sensuous, tender and very loyal to people he loves. Christiane is amazed when she realizes how much he truly cared for her during their somewhat brief past acquaintance. Apparently it changed his relationship with all other women when she broke his heart. He is a middle-aged woman’s dream!

Claire is a troubled young lady whose painful childhood has made her meek and reticent. The circumstances surrounding her parents’ deaths have raised questions. Christiane and Evelyn fear that Claire’s problems go beyond their ability to help her.

When Claire meets David Wrede, he rescues her from a small but significant social disaster. He goes on rescuing her in general because he falls in love with this gentle, quiet girl. David is a Quaker and is another of Hingston’s unique creations. He says and does everything a romance reader could wish him to, and Christiane sums him up well when she says, “You’re a rare bird, Mr. Wrede. Claire is unaccountably fortunate to have flushed you out.”

Set aside a block of uninterrupted time to read The Affair. Sandy Hingston’s understanding of human nature and masterful dialogue make this book a real find. Don’t worry if you haven’t read other books in the series, this one stands on its own very well. Dare we hope that the ‘School for Scandal’ will turn out more for our reading enjoyment? Yes, we do!

--Deann Carpenter

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