The Indiscretion

The Proposition

Sleeping Beauty

Untie My Heart by Judith Ivory
(Avon, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-380-81297-5
Judith Ivory writes interesting books! Her characters are complex, her plots are unusual, her love scenes are torrid. While her last two books, The Proposition and The Indiscretion were quite good, in my opinion they didn’t quite match her earlier Cuevas’ books. Untie My Heart is closer in tone and style to my favorites among her novels.

The hero is Stuart Winston Aysgarth, sixth Viscount Mount Villars. He left England years earlier to escape his cruel and debauched father. He is far away in Russia when he inherits his title and fortune and does not learn of his parent’s death until months after the fact. In the interim, his Uncle Leonard attempts to claim both the title and the fortune. By the time Stuart arrives in England, his uncle’s extravagance has left him with a financial mess. Indeed, his fortune is tied up and the demands on his purse are so great that when a woman sues him for killing her lamb, he literally does not have the £50 that the local court awards her.

Emma Hotchkiss is the widow of a Yorkshire vicar. She is trying to support herself by doing odd jobs around the village and raising sheep. When the new viscount’s speeding carriage kills her only male lamb, her hope for expanding her small flock, she seeks redress in the courts only to have the viscount’s solicitor appeal to a higher court. Unable to pursue the case further, Emma decides that she will take any steps necessary to get her money.

Emma has unexpected skills to achieve her aim. She spent several years in London where she was involved with a band of confidence men. Indeed, her husband had been a con man of great talent until danger and tragedy had driven him to abandon the life and take up a very different calling. Emma devises a clever plan to get her money. But the best laid plans can go awry, especially if the mark is both intelligent and determined. Stuart discovers Emma’s scam and decides to take advantage of her unusual talents.

Stuart’s uncle had not only spent his money; he also stole valuables from the family home. Among the missing items is a green, jeweled statute and Stuart’s mother’s favorite earrings, both of which have great sentimental value to the new viscount. Leonard denies having these pieces, but his nephew knows he is lying. Stuart decides that Emma’s unusual talents can help him recover his property. Emma is not a willing participant, but Stuart threatens her with prison unless she cooperates.

Of course, there is more than a “business” partnership between Stuart and Emma. From their first meeting, there is an attraction between the two and this ignites in a most unusual fashion. But Emma wants no part of the only kind of relationship that could exist between a vicar’s widow and a viscount.

Both the hero and the heroine of Untie My Heart are complex and fascinating characters. Stuart is no typical English nobleman. He has lived for years in the mysterious east and he has imbibed the sensuality of foreign lands. Emma had walked on the wild side during her teenage years but has been trying to achieve respectability and stability. Both have been wounded in the past. As the title suggests, Stuart in particular is tied down emotionally and needs to heal.

Ivory is a wonderful prose stylist. Her writing is frequently lyrical and her descriptive passages capture both characters and settings. The love scenes are highly sensual but they also move the story forward and provide added insight about who Stuart and Emma really are. These are two passionate people who are liberated (or should we say “untied”) by what they come to share.

The scam plot is most enjoyable as we watch the nasty Leonard being drawn inexorably into the web of deceit that Emma has constructed and falling victim to his own greed.

Untie My Heart plumbs the depths of human emotions to a degree too infrequently found in romances. Ivory’s characters are never simple nor are they always easy to like. But they are fascinating. I will want to revisit Stuart’s and Emma’s unique love story and thus this book will remain on my keeper shelf.

--Jean Mason

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