My False Heart

 
A Woman Scorned by Liz Carlyle
(Sonnet, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-671-03826-5
****
Liz Carlyle made quite a splash with her first Regency historical, My False Heart. It looked as if a promising new author had arrived on the romance scene. Her second book suggests that this promise will be realized. A Woman Scorned can only add to her growing reputation.

The woman is Jonet Rowland, Marchioness of Mercer. Married at eighteen to a man more than twice her age, she had watched her husband flaunt his mistress and his casual affairs in her face. She herself had become notorious because of her “friendship” with the dashing, younger Viscount Delacourt. Then, late one night after a party at which the marquis had quarreled violently with the viscount, Jonet’s husband is found dead of mysterious causes. Murder is suspected but cannot be proved. But society and her husband’s family were convinced that Jonet had done away with the philandering marquis.

Lord James Rowland, the new marquis’ uncle, is at loggerheads with his sister-in-law. Jonet refuses to bend to his wishes about raising her two sons. Convinced that Jonet may well be a murderess, Lord James hatches a clever scheme. When the marchioness advertises for a tutor for Stuart and Robert, he summons his nephew, Captain Cole Amherst and suggests that he take the position. He further suggests that Cole become his spy in the Mercer household.

Cole is a half-pay soldier, waiting for his wound to heal and for the Horse Guards to find him a peacetime assignment. But before he joined the army, Cole had been a scholar of some repute. Thus, he certainly has the credentials to teach a nine and a six year old. Cole’s first response is to have nothing to do with his uncle’s scheme. But Cole had lost his beloved parents at eleven and had become his uncle’s ward. He has little affection for Lord James, but a great deal of sympathy for the boys’ plight. So he agrees to go and see Lady Mercer.

Cole and Jonet are almost immediately at loggerheads; they are likewise almost immediately attracted to each other. But she believes Cole is her brother-in-law’s stooge and he thinks that she is an amoral adventuress. But his sense of responsibility induces him to take the position and before long, he realizes that something is very wrong in the Mercer household. Jonet and Stuart are both afraid of something. The servants are more guards than anything else. A danger threatens Jonet and her sons.

Jonet undoubtedly qualifies as a tormented heroine. Forced into a disastrous marriage, she had had to become strong and assertive or lose herself. A Scots peeress in her own right, she has been able to out-think or intimidate most men with her with and her beauty. She recognizes from the first that Cole is unlike most of the men she knows. But can she really trust him?

I would call Cole a semi-tortured hero. A widower, he feels guilt because his wife died while he was off in Portugal. The son of a vicar, he cannot fathom how he can be attracted to a woman like Jonet. Yet attracted he is. Cole is a man of paradoxes: soldier and scholar, man of the world and man of the spirit. He is also handsome, brave, kind to his charges, and a good friend. In short, he is a great romance hero.

The sexual tension between Cole and Jonet builds and builds until it explodes. Jonet is no shrinking violet in this relationship. She wants Cole and she goes after him. He doesn’t have a chance to resist, not that he really wants to. But there is the great difference in their status to consider.

In addition to a steamy romance, A Woman Scorned has a nicely done mystery. Who is threatening Jonet and her sons? Is it her ambitious brother-in-law or his nasty son, who would clearly stand to inherit the marquessate if Stuart and Robert are disposed of? Who murdered the marquis and why?

A Woman Scorned is a fine historical romance. The characters, both primary and secondary, are interesting and appealing. The love scenes earned the “R” rating in spades. The mystery and its outcome are cleverly done. The setting is well drawn. Carlyle’s first book was very, very good. Her second is as good, or maybe even better.

--Jean Mason


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