The Imposter

The Pretender

Surrender to a Wicked Spy

The Spy

To Wed a Scandalous Spy

Seducing the Spy
by Celeste Bradley
(St. Martin’s, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-93967-1
Thanks to a strong, intelligent and vividly-drawn hero and heroine, Seducing the Spy is an entertaining, romantic and sensual book – a lovely warm read for a chilly autumn evening.

Stanton Thorne is a handsome Marquis who is also a member of the Royal Four – a more-or-less secret club of four aristocrats who are actually running England while Prinny is spending money and chasing skirts. And, of course, the Royal Four all have predator code names, so you’ll know how dangerous they are.

Stanton is known as a cold, ill-tempered man (his servants are terrified of him). What is less well-known is that he has an uncanny ability to tell when people are lying.

It is because of his ruthless intelligence, however, that Lady Alicia Lawrence turns to him when she overhears three aristocrats plot to kidnap the Prince Regent. Alicia has been shunned by Society and her family since an incident five years earlier when she was caught with three men in her bed, including a simple-minded stableboy. Since Alicia steadfastly denied she’d done anything wrong, she gained a reputation as a shameless liar as well as a trollop.

Stanton dismisses her, until the note she leaves behind reveals that one of the men involved in her plot is likely a dangerous villain the Royal Four are eager to capture. Stanton needs Alicia to identify the treasonous aristocrat, which she can only do by matching the voice she heard to a face. Since Alicia’s notoriety will not allow her to move about in polite society, Stanton hires her to pose as his mistress at a racy house-party where she may speak freely to as many men as it takes to identify the plotter.

Stanton slowly finds himself coming to appreciate the intelligent, bluntly-spoken and sensual Alicia, but he can’t possibly trust her. She’s the one person he can’t read, so he can never be certain she’s telling the truth – and if there’s one thing Stanton knows for a fact, it’s that the world is full of liars.

While a mystery forms the framework of this book, happily for the reader it is really a highly entertaining character study, following the relationship that develops between two complex and very different people.

Alicia, who has lived in near penury with her old governess since being cast off by her family, leaps at this opportunity to improve her standard of living and publicly rub her family’s nose in her status as a fallen woman. The somewhat grim cynicism with which she begins the book begins to fall away and she starts to have fun with her situation.

Her lively intelligence and sense of humor – set free by the fact that she has nothing to lose – both exasperate and intrigue Stanton, for whom life is a very serious business. Her clever playfulness combined with his dry irony means their repartee is often acerbic, sometimes (reluctantly on his part) playful, and always fast-paced and entertaining. What begins as a battle of wits slowly turns into a zesty fencing match with erotic overtones as the sexual tension builds.

The author does such a wonderful job of building the sensual tension, in fact, that it was an enormous disappointment to discover that, after some heated but, um, incomplete sexual encounters, the relationship was finally consummated…offstage! Hard to believe that Ms. Bradley totally missed the fact that a reader would expect this emotional payoff after doing such a good job of getting us invested in the characters and the relationship. This, in my opinion, was a rather bizarre choice.

After having enjoyed the first 98 per cent of the book so thoroughly, this abrupt and unsatisfying finish is what prevented the book from being a keeper for me.

Up to that point, however, I was involved, entertained and emotionally engaged. Which is pretty much what I’m hoping for any time I open a romance.

-- Judi McKee

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