The Lady's Tutor by Robin Schone
(Zebra, $4.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-6288-5
****
Luckily for me and my employer, I picked a holiday to read The Lady's Tutor. This story was so captivating that I wouldn't have been able to concentrate on something as mundane as work. I was too mesmerized to do anything but be spellbound.

Reading The Lady's Tutor reminded me of the excitement I felt years ago, as a new romance reader, devouring Woodiwiss and Rogers. Now, as then, I had dichotomous feelings; part of me wanted to peek at the end of the story or hurry there as fast as I could while another voice reasoned that if I read too fast, I'd cheat myself out of some of the grand enjoyment I was having. It's been many moons since I've been this fascinated by a story.

Elizabeth Petre has all that a Victorian woman could want. She is the daughter of the Prime Minister, married to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and has two fine sons. She wants for nothing . . . except love and sexual fulfillment. She believes the rumors that her husband has a mistress and is determined to save her marriage. Obviously there's something wrong with her, or why would her husband go searching elsewhere. To accomplish this, she seeks out Lord Safyre, the Bastard Sheik, to tutor her in the erotic arts of lovemaking.

Ramiel, Lord Safyre, is the bastard son of an English countess and an Arab sheik. He's been scorned by English society and banished from his father's kingdom. Deciding to accept Elizabeth's offer, he gives her The Perfumed Garden for the Soul's Recreation, an erotic book that he used as he learned how to please a woman. He'll use it as Elizabeth's textbook, requiring that she read chapters and be ready to discuss the information for each day's lesson.

Each morning at five Elizabeth arrives at Ramiel's home for a brief but memorable lesson, introduced to topics that she's never imagined. Anatomical terms are used with seeming abandon. As the lessons continue and Elizabeth realizes that she's missed more than love and sexual fulfillment, she must also come to terms with the men in her life, both the familiar and the exotic, the ones she trusts and the ones who will betray her.

The Lady's Tutor is well researched, but never sounds scholarly or pedantic. We learn of Elizabeth's motives first, with Ramiel's being more enigmatic. As the plot unfolds and we're sucked deeper into Elizabeth's plight and her dismay with her current lifestyle, then her choices seem at once complex and simple.

Each chapter builds momentum and continuity. We're hooked from the beginning as we empathize with this troubled woman who wants to save and reinvigorate her marriage, yet the writing is so skillful that it's easy more than that, natural to understand her attraction to this man so unlike any of the men in her sphere.

The denouement is the only part that was less than believable. There's almost a frenetic feel as Elizabeth finally discovers the truth that she's been seeking. She uses too broad a brush as she indicts people who she feels have betrayed her, judging too quickly what she has seen only superficially and briefly.

As I read The Lady's Tutor, I was very grateful that I'm an American woman living in the latter half of the twentieth century. To be treated as chattel, to know that a man had total control over my life and fortune would be difficult to accept. Elizabeth was remarkable as she stood up to both her husband and father, but without the support of another man Ramiel she would have been helpless. That part still rankles.

Ms. Schone has treated us to a book which is highly explicit and erotic, but eroticism with a difference. It's intelligent, refined, never harsh or distasteful. Some parts even have an elegant feel. She doesn't give us sex for sex's sake, but each interlude builds to a wonderful level of trust and awakening. We're given dialog that's more erogenous than some love scenes I've read. If you've read some well-known authors and have been dissatisfied, then be prepared for romantic erotica the way it should be written.

The Lady's Tutor is a DoubleDay Book Club Selection. Its theme and the erotic execution of that theme may shock some people, but many, many more will be delighted, justifiably so. And a final word of advice if you can, take the day off. A truly captivating romance demands your undivided attention.

--Linda Mowery


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