By Arrangement

By Design

By Possession

The Charmer

Lord of a Thousand Nights

The Protector

The Romantic

The Seducer

Lady of Sin by Madeline Hunter
(Dell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-58731-5
Both romantic and strongly sensual, Lady of Sin is a delightful love story. Some readers might find the pace a bit slow, but I savored the leisurely journey.

Lawyer Nathaniel Knightridge only defends those he believes are innocent, and his success rate is high, so when a client is executed because Nathaniel failed to prove his case, he wants only solitude and as much brandy as he can consume. The last person he expects to have to deal with is Charlotte, the widowed Baroness Mardenford. The only thing Charlotte and Nathaniel have ever agreed on is that they disagree about everything.

Charlotte claims she is intruding on Nathaniel’s bitter vigil because she wants his support for a petition to Parliament to improve the legal status of married women. It quickly becomes clear, however, that she was actually prompted by concern for his state of mind. An angry Nathaniel tells her he can think of more effective forms of comfort, and proceeds to demonstrate exactly what he has in mind. Not only is Charlotte astonishingly responsive, but Nathaniel is surprised to discover that kissing her evokes powerful memories of an intimate liaison with a masked woman at a recent houseparty.

He dismisses the idea, because it is unthinkable that the unexceptionable respectable Charlotte might be the passionate goddess whose identity he never learned. Nonetheless, his seduction proceeds enthusiastically – until they are interrupted by the arrival of his father.

Nathaniel’s father would much prefer his youngest son go into the clergy, but as Nathaniel is a lawyer, and a highly successful one, it seems there is a chance for him to make himself useful. His father wants Nathaniel to prosecute a case that threatens to be both difficult and notorious. An aristocrat is willing to testify in order to put a blackmailer behind bars, and this criminal must not be allowed to drag the exemplary peer’s name through the mud in court. The witness for the prosecution is Baron Mardenford, Charlotte’s brother-in-law and the father of her beloved nephew.

I enjoyed this book, partly for its adroit combination of mystery (what really is the story behind that blackmail accusation, anyway?) and road romance (as Charlotte and Nathaniel travel the country collecting signatures for her petition). The focus is definitely on their developing relationship, but the author has done a lovely job of intertwining both elements. As each layer of the mystery is unfolded, it forces each character to make some difficult decisions.

Charlotte and Nathaniel are both complex, intelligent characters, and the story makes good use of their depth of character to keep them interesting both to each other and the reader. He’s an unconventional rule-breaker, which makes it easy to accept that he would support Charlotte’s unpopular (among Regency-era males, at least) desire for gender reform. On the other hand, he’s not a wild rebel. He is ingrained with enough of the mores of his time to make him believable and temper him with a streak of conventionality.

Charlotte is, at least on the surface, rather conservative with a life that is much more traditional than Nathaniel’s. She longs for the children that her marriage never produced, and lavishes her maternal feelings on her nephew. But then, there’s that almost scandalous petition that would protect married women from the worst of their husband’s abuses…and her ability to revel in the sexuality that Nathaniel has awakened.

The hero and heroine have a very passionate relationship that, although not always easy to reconcile with the other elements of their lives, serves nicely to keep bringing them together. Ms. Hunter’s skill as a writer also ensures that there is always an emotional connection. It makes the story as satisfyingly romantic as it is sensual.

Although there is a mystery plot, it is very much at the service of the relationship. If you prefer your ‘historical’ novel loaded with spies or strident suffragettes or characters transplanted from the 21st century, you might not find this quite exciting enough. On the other hand, those of you who appreciate a good character-driven romance populated by interesting adults will find a satisfying home here.

-- Judi McKee

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