Best Laid Schemes

Entwined

A Grand Design

His Grace Endures

Irish Rogue

Fallen

 
Moonlit by Emma Jensen
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8041-1956-2
***
Moonlit is a tale with several twists. Ultimately, the heroine's actions are often governed by emotion rather than any common sense, giving the story a forced feel to it. Add to this a hero who really needs a good smack upside the head, and Emma Jensen's formidable talents aren't allowed to shine as they should.

Viscount Trevor St. Wulfstan is something of an enigma. He's Irish, for one thing, and therefore not quite acceptable to most of the ton. He has scars on his face, a legacy from his vicious father. And he's a hit man of sorts for the British army, a member of an elite group called "The Ten". Need a foreign spy killed? Trevor is your man. Then one night, while attending a party at the home of a famous courtesan, Trevor spies a woman - the infamous Nell Nolan. Rumor has it that she's auditioning men for the role of her next protector. Trevor finds he can't take his eyes off her.

Nell Nolan is carrying on a charade. It's true that she was the companion to an elderly duke and everyone thought she was his mistress. Now the duke is dead, having left Nell with a sizeable amount of money and a townhouse, and she's in London to settle an old debt. She needs an escort to a certain ball, and if pretending to look around for a new lover will get her there, so be it.

Nell plans to attend the ball, settle her business, and return to Ireland. The formidable St. Wulfstan offers to escort Nell to the ball, in return for a night in his bed. Nell agrees, knowing she has no intention of honoring her promise. And this mysterious debt she must settle? It's the matter of three hundred pounds, owed to her late husband by his army officer. Since Nell is flush with money, this is really a debt of honor. So let's see; she'll ruin her reputation and lie to the one man who offers to help her, all for a paltry sum of money she doesn't need? Ah, but it's the principle of the thing, you see. This determination to pursue the "honorable" course cost Nell dearly in terms of characterization. Frankly, her reasoning seemed fairly idiotic. Not to mention, the debt is seven years old, and one gets the impression that the elderly duke could have cleared it up in a heartbeat if shed merely asked him.

Trevor has no intention of letting Nell off the hook. He pursues her, determined to win that night with her, and finds himself too deeply attracted to walk away. Nell senses that Trevor is deeply wounded by the events in his past, and when the opportunity presents itself to make good on her promise, she can't say no. Trevor, owner of a vast but impoverished estate, has little to offer her - except marriage. Soon they are on their way back to Ireland, where Nell will charm the villagers and the staff and use her own money to set the estate to rights.

Trevor, however, steadfastly refuses to talk about his past. And Nell is ever-patient, ever-understanding, ever-soothing, while the reader is likely wishing she'd give Trevor a good piece of her mind to shake him out of his self-absorption.

These two make lots of false assumptions instead of just talking things out. Trevor discovers that Nell's father was a vicar, so naturally he's not good enough for her because his childhood was lousy. But he won't tell her about it. Nell decides to return to London to settle things with the late duke's heir (another bit of "doing the honorable thing"), even though Trevor reasonably points out that she could do it all from a distance. But rather than explain her motive, she lets it drive an unnecessary wedge between them. Forced conflict.

For all that, the love story between these two is arresting. Trevor does not want children, and the methods of preventing conception typical of the Regency period are used here in matter-of-fact terms. And the spark between them is plenty hot.

It's also refreshing to read a Regency-set historical that takes place mainly outside of London. Trevor makes no bones about the fact that he loathes the place. Yet I wondered about his involvement with the army when he left for Ireland; this part of the plot just faded out. The attempts on Trevor's life, which happen whenever he's in London, seemed to serve little purpose other than setting up a climax.

Moonlit is an uneven read, yet there's an undeniable charm to the story. Scarred heroes and the women who teach them to love are staples in the romance genre, but Trevor St. Wulfstan is one of the better you're likely to meet. Fans of Emma Jensen's previous historicals are likely to enjoy this one very much.

--Cathy Sova


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