The Captain's Lady

More Than You Wished

My Reckless Heart

Tempting Torment

With All My Heart

Let Me Be The One
by Jo Goodman
(Zebra, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-8217-6867-0
Jo Goodman has written both a compelling story and a somewhat tedious telling; a fulfilling romance with a major distraction that leads to a caveat to the R sensuality rating. And on top of that I am going to attempt to do so without ruining the secrets that make the story gripping.

Elizabeth Penrose is the twenty-six year old daughter of an Earl, and she’s “on the shelf”. She is serving as a companion and social organizer for “friends” Louise and Harrison Battenburn. Elizabeth is a complex character with layers revealed in each chapter. It seems that Elizabeth once fell and has endured a dramatic limp as a result, thus making her “unsuitable” as a wife.

There is much more to Elizabeth’s story. I liked her initially, grew to disdain her for a while, and then recaptured a sense of appreciation for her as the story unfolded.

Brendan Northam, called North by friends, is a member of a unique band of friends from prep school days who called themselves the Compass Club. Besides North, there is East (Lord Eastlyn), South (Lord Southerton) and West (Mr. Marchman, soon to be Lord Westerly). They are part of a covert group of spies headed by Colonel Blackwood, a cousin to Elizabeth’s mother. He sends North to meet with Elizabeth at a month long country party at the Batterburns. While there, he is to investigate the mysterious Gentleman Thief.

The Gentleman Thief has been robbing members of the ton for quite some time, stealing a piece of jewelry here and there, at various homes and parties. He is called this because it is assumed he is one of their own, as his access can only be attributed to entrance into the finest homes. There are also concerns that he may be stealing important papers with the jewelry, hence the government’s involvement. Further complications arise when North is accused of being said thief and Elizabeth lies to protect him, claiming he was with her all night.

They are forced to marry and the rest of the story revolves around their relationship, all their various secrets and solving the problem of the thief as well as several other mysteries. There are many twists and turns and all relate.

Here’s the caveat: Although the story starts off promising with the first meeting of North and Elizabeth, there follows a rather disturbing interlude: a very explicit and often brazen accounting of their first sexual encounter. It cannot really be described as lovemaking, but it is clearly sex. The actions of both characters were cold, calculating and distasteful. Other encounters are more sensuous, with some sense of caring, and while explicit, are more R-rated in nature. Unfortunately, that one explicit scene jarred me right out of the story, and it took a while to get past it.

That said, I did get engaged in the last half of the book, as the relationship between the two characters developed and the mysteries unfolded. Some residual stubbornness on Elizabeth’s part had me slightly frustrated, but this was momentary and her motivations were quickly recounted.

Northam is a typical male spy hero, who is strong, courageous and ultimately sensitive to his wife. He accepts his feelings more easily than Elizabeth and his camaraderie with his friends make him a much more sympathetic character than Elizabeth. Throughout much of the book Elizabeth is lacking in warmth and difficult to figure out. It is only as her feelings for North take over that she emerges as a likeable, strong, worthy heroine.

Goodman writes compelling and intricate stories. Her characters have a lot of depth. It is telling that I was much more interested in the four “Compass” members than the heroine until near the middle part of the story. Although it took me a while to really warm to Elizabeth, in the end I was glad to see she and North work out their conflicts and find their happiness.

Let Me Be The One may appeal to you, especially if you like multi-layered characters and compelling mysteries in your romance. But steer clear if non-emotional sexual encounters are distracting.

--Shirley Lyons

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