A Well Pleasured Lady by Christina Dodd
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-380-79089-0
*****
To be followed next February by A Well Favored Gentleman

A Well Pleasured Lady is marvelous entertainment and is likely one of the best romances you will read this year. Christina Dodd, in her first book as a lead author for Avon, has proven amazing versatility in this romance set in 1793, and not the medieval period for which she is best known. This book is going on my keeper shelf; it has a sensational storyline, clever dialogue and writing, characters who will earn your love, and chemistry as potent as anything Bill Nye could mix up.

Head housekeeper Mary Rottenson is not who she has pretended to be for the past ten years. When her employer, the well-lived (and well-loved!) Lady Vale´ry, informs her that her godson, Sebastian Durant, Viscount Whitfield, is coming to seek her out, Mary is panicked -- he alone could identify her as a murderer. Instead, by force of his personality, she is caught up in his plan. She will act as his betrothed in order to gain access to a diary stolen from Lady Vale´ry. Should the diary fall into the wrong hands, not only would his beloved godmother suffer, but the very government could fall.

Why does Sebastian need her for his scheme? He knows her true identity Guinevere Mary Fairchild, part of the notoriously nasty Fairchilds, and he suspects one of that family has the diary.

Mary is as unlike the Fairchilds as one could be. Uptight, honest, scrupulous, and a bit of a wet rag, she holds herself in check to banish that part of her she blames for her predicament -- her youthfulness, her girlishness, and her emotions. For his part, the Viscount, whose family was destroyed by the Fairchilds more or less on a lark, cannot bring himself to trust his unwilling accomplice. At the very least, sparks fly, then burst into flames as he carries her over the threshold of Fairchild Manor.

Rarely have I read a book so quickly, laughing at the outlandish antics of the lewd, lascivious, and wanton Fairchilds in one moment, only to feel a pleasurable tingle in the next as Sebastian and Mary dance their dance. The Fairchild family is one you will love to hate, and will have fun hating. The scene in which the daughters vie for the chance to entrap Sebastian is an hilarious example of the levels they will stoop to. And illegitimate cousin Ian, who matter of factly states that he's the son of a selkie, is a character who adds to the richness of this story because of his unexpected shading. (Of course, not all of the Fairchilds' antics are funny, but you will still love to hate them.)

Sebastian and Mary share a love that is not soft and sweet. Their coming together is marked by heads being smashed and the use of force. Their first unions are not politically correct and might offend some readers, but Sebastian has a point -- he can only get through Mary's stony veneer through her lust. Politically incorrect or not, their love scenes are dazzlingly fulfilling.

To give much else away would take away from the reader's enjoyment. Mary and Sebastian are surprisingly layered in emotion, cunning, and the capacity to explode each other's lives. Christina Dodd has written, as well, a strong set of secondary characters to join them; in particular, Lady Vale´ry, cousin Ian (whose own story is told in next winter's follow-up, A Well Favored Gentleman), and a villain who took me completely by surprise. Sebastian will keep you on your toes as well. His motives, desires and suspicions make him a difficult man but the only one worthy of Mary, who is transformed from martinet to full-blown womanhood with his help. And, for those who enjoy luscious love scenes, those that the author has written will surely hit the spot.

I rarely gush over a book and, in fact, have only awarded four other books a 5-heart rating since the start of 1996. But gush I am over A Well Pleasured Lady and I am thrilled to recommend it to you whole-heartedly. You may not love it as much as I do, but I guarantee you will find it a great read.

--Laurie Likes Books


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