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A Gentleman’s Honor
by Stephanie Laurens
(Avon, $7.99, R) ISBN 0-06-000207-7
A Gentleman’s Honor is the second in the series The Bastion Club, in which a group of ex-spies form a “bastion” against marriage-minded mamas and society matchmakers. Of course, each is doomed to fall in love. According to the listing in the front of the book, there are seven members of the Bastion Club, so one presumes a steady diet is forthcoming.

Alicia Pevensy has a little problem. She’s masquerading as the widowed “Mrs. Carrington” in order to launch her beautiful younger sister, Adriana, into Society and help her snare a rich husband. Alicia, as head of the household since their parents’ deaths, has brought Adriana and their three young brothers to London for the Season. It’s a far cry from their near-penniless existence in a humble cottage out in the English sticks, and so far, everything seems to be going as planned. Adriana is a huge success (just exactly how these two managed to launch themselves into polite society with no money and no connections is never addressed). Alicia even has an unwanted suitor of her own: a Mr. Ruskin.

Ruskin manages to find out that Alicia isn’t a widow at all, and one night at a party, threatens to expose her unless she marries him. Alicia follows Ruskin into the garden to try and reason with him, where she discovers him lying dead with a knife sticking out of his side. As she’s standing there holding the knife, Anthony Torrington appears, takes one look, and knows she isn’t likely to be the murderer. But Ruskin was possibly involved in treasonous activities, and Tony is asked to investigate. This will bring him into close contact with the intriguing Mrs. Carrington.

Tony decides early on that Alicia is the woman he wants, but he doesn’t bother to bring her into the picture, which ultimately stands for some of the conflict in the story. Alicia, believing he wants her as his mistress, decides to throw caution to the winds and have an affair with him. This seemed fairly stupid, as the idea of a pregnancy never crosses her mind and would certainly ruin any chances of her sister making a good match. In the meantime, a mysterious villain identified only as “A.C.” is causing problems for them both.

The sex is trademark Laurens, which means it’s pretty steamy and there’s lots of it. The author does a nice job of getting the reader into both characters’ heads and opening up their emotions as they are drawn into the affair. Tony is astonished to find he’s losing his much-vaunted control around Alicia, at least in bed, and Alicia (lapse in birth control aside) is smart, strong, and more than a match for Tony’s machismo. She’s also free of nitwit antics like insisting she should accompany Tony down dark alleys to search for the villain. I liked them both – a lot.

The story is at its best when it’s focused on Tony and Alicia and their developing relationship. The Ruskin-villain subplot wasn’t that compelling and at times seemed to disappear out of the story, popping up when necessary to bring Tony and Alicia into closer proximity. And the laundry list of Bastion Club members, a Cynster or two, and other side characters was confusing. Example: there are two Jacks in the story, and both are Tony’s friends. I couldn’t keep them straight. One is married, I think, and one is getting his own book later. I think.

If you’re not a regular Stephanie Laurens reader, this book stands alone quite well. The romance is hot and genuine; if you pick up A Gentleman’s Honor looking for an entertaining, steamy love story between two very likable people, you won’t be disappointed. Note: the first two Bastion Club books hit the shelves within a month of one another, but the next isn’t due out until fall of 2004, with another Cynster novel and a hardcover book in between. At that rate, I have to wonder if readers’ interest in this series will be sustained. Though I enjoyed this book, I don’t think I’ll remember it in a year.

--Cathy Sova

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