Love's Reward

 
Flowers Under Ice
by Jean Ross Ewing
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-17036-5
****
The rating I’ve assigned this book is a reflection of its split personality. The beginning is awkward and poorly paced. Stereotypes and stock plot devices abound. With a length of nearly 400 pages, I was sure I was in for a long ordeal. But after the first few chapters, the book undergoes a personality change and becomes an extremely entertaining book with appealing characters and a multi-layered, imaginative plot.

If the first section of the book equaled the rest, this would be a five-heart book. As it is, I can recommend this book to readers but advise they get over the rough ground of the early chapters as quickly as possible before settling in to enjoy the rest. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to skip those early chapters because they set the stage for the rest.

Major the Honorable Dominic Wyndham, brother and heir to the Earl of Windrush, was a secondary character is the author’s previous novel, Illusion. (It’s not necessary to have read the earlier book although its main characters make a short appearance in this one.) A half-pay officer following the war with Napoleon, he has embarked on a dissolute lifestyle that scandalizes society and his staid brother in particular.

As the story opens, Dominic and Lord Stansted, heir to a dukedom, are scaling the steeple of St. James while a fascinated crowd watches. Dominic sacrifices his shirt to assist Stansted in his climb. His brother arrives to inform him that while he has been carousing his days away, his wife Harriet has died in Edinburgh.

The earl introduces a woman hidden in the shadows of his coach as Catriona Sinclair, Harriet’s companion, who has brought the news to London.

“Good evening, Miss Sinclair. You find me sadly bereft of both spouse and shirt. How very unfortunate.”

Catriona’s purpose in coming to London is to encourage Dominic to return to Edinburgh with her in order to claim his son. Within hours of their wedding, claiming that Dominic had forced her to engage in unnatural acts, Harriet had fled, and they have been estranged ever since. He denies that he could be the father of her child.

Catriona desperately needs Dominic to claim the child, so she agrees to a bargain. On their trip north, she will be at his disposal with her virtue as his price.

“You will want to surrender. Every day you will be besieged by a man who has a great deal more experience in the game than you do. I shall seduce you. You will fall in love and I shall break your heart. I guarantee it.”

The trip will require seven days. During the time they will dedicate each day to one of the cardinal vices.

And thus the stage is set.

Unfortunately for the debauch-minded Dominic but most fortunately for the reader, things do not go as planned. The remainder of the book is a “road book” where the characters’ adventures take place on their journey.

In the opening chapters I felt sure that Dominic was yet another of those ubiquitous rakish heroes who are shown the error of their ways by the love of a good woman. To my pleasant surprise, Dominic is a far more complex character than that. As they continue on their journey, Catriona becomes better acquainted with this man who holds the key to her clan’s future (as does the reader), and Dominic turns out to be a more worthy -- and resourceful -- individual than he initially appeared.

Meanwhile, Catriona also turns out to be more than she seemed at first. She withholds her reasons for needing Dominic’s presence -- withholds them past the point where she ought to be confiding in him in my opinion.

Most importantly for a romance, the gradual development of their mutual love is understandable and convincing. Too often in romances a couple is at odds over a particular subject then -- pow! -- out of the clear blue -- they both realize they’re deeply in love but leaving the reader with doubts. Readers will believe in Dominic’s and Catriona’s feelings.

Ms. Ewing is a new author to me, but I’m already searching out a copy of Illusions and will be watching for future books. This is an author with true potential.

--Lesley Dunlap


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