Deadly Affairs

Deadly Pleasure

Perfect Secrets

The Rival

The Third Heiress

Deadly Illusions

A Lady at Last
by Brenda Joyce
(HQN, $6.99, R) ISBN – 0-373-77137-1
A Lady at Last by Brenda Joyce is a charming, absorbing read, reminiscent of the romances a lot of us grew up reading. It’s the sixth book in the popular de Warenne Dynasty series, set in Regency England and featuring Cliff, the runaway youngest de Warenne brother and gentleman pirate.

Cliff arrives on Jamaica the day before a famous pirate is to be hanged, and finds himself worried about the pirate’s soon to be orphaned daughter, Amanda. Cliff has seen Amanda many times, playing and swimming in the ocean, and has always been intrigued by the spirited existence that earned Amanda the nickname “La Sauvage.” He is saddened to learn that Amanda may end up imprisoned in an orphan asylum when her father dies.

Cliff’s meeting with Jamaica’s governor is interrupted by none other than Amanda herself, come to plead with the governor for her father’s life. He watches in a sort of detached horror as Amanda, who is not a child as Cliff had previously believed, bargains her chastity in exchange for leniency. The governor accepts with alacrity, as Amanda is a beautiful young woman, but their tryst is thwarted by Cliff, who knows the governor will never pardon his prisoner.

Amanda finds herself bullied onto Cliff’s ship, bound to his home in the islands and from there to England to be reunited with her mother’s family. Cliff soon realizes that although Amanda is an amazing young woman, there is no way she’ll fit in English society, and he burdens himself with the task of somehow teaching Amanda the gentility she needs. Complicating this process is Cliff’s growing desire for Amanda, and Amanda’s insistence that she should be Cliff’s mistress in payment for his care.

Wonderful characters drive this romance. Cliff is handsome, kind and compassionate, with a strong opinion of what is honorable. He left home at age fourteen, leaving his loving, worried parents, to make his own way in the world. His fortune has been earned the hard way, with wit and cunning and fearlessness. Amanda is a gentle, affectionate soul, reared with a combination of neglect and a heavy hand. Her perception of the roles of men and women is skewed, and she makes Cliff crazy as he tries to cling to propriety.

There’s something delicious about a hero who tries and tries to remain detached from a woman who innocently puts him in a major sweat. Cliff is extremely worldly and a good many years older than Amanda, but taking her to his bed consumes his thoughts. The occasions when he nearly succumbs to the attraction are more juicy reading than a lot of books that are labeled “erotic.” The love scenes are classic Joyce, combining emotion with lots of description and heat.

I haven’t read the earlier books in the series, but I definitely plan to, so that I can learn more about the secondary characters from Cliff’s family that are introduced in this book. They’re all very well fleshed out and are important to the story. It’s certain that fans will be glad to catch up on what’s up with the de Warenne clan. The villain is also a very well written secondary character. The motivation is clear and the problems caused are very realistic.

The writing is excellent, with well described settings and easy-to-follow dialogue. The HEA is deserved and not too easily obtained, all of which make A Lady at Last very readable and deserving of a strong recommendation.

--Wendy Livingston

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