Celia's Grand Passion

The Golden Leopard

Lord Dragoner's Wife

Lucy in Disguise

The Silver Lion

Dangerous Deceptions
by Lynn Kerstan
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-21248-7
Lynn Kerstan can always be counted on to write an intelligent, absorbing romance, and Dangerous Deceptions is no exception. This tale of an impoverished viscount and an actress with a secret is complex. If you want the payoff, you have to read with concentration – no skimming allowed. But it’s definitely worth the effort.

Jarrett, Lord Dering, makes his living at the card tables after being cast out of his family. One night he manages to win quite a sum, and the next day he receives an invitation to Paradise, an exclusive gentlemen’s “retreat” in the Lake District. But there’s a catch. Jarrett is being recruited by an entity called Black Phoenix. His orders are to find out enough information on the goings-on at Paradise to close the place down. Should he choose to accept the mission, he’ll be given the necessary funds to carry it out, and a magnificent horse as well. An associate will meet him at Paradise.

Intrigued, and frankly, wanting to get his hands on the horse, Jarrett agrees. Once he arrives at the secluded resort, it doesn’t take long for him to discover that Paradise caters to every whim a man can have – those of the flesh as well as other, darker pursuits. And his accomplice is not what Jarrett expected. She’s a Gypsy dancer named Gaetana, whom Jarrett “wins” in a wager. He decides to call her “Kate”, after Shakespeare’s tale of the shrew.

Ah, if only Jarrett knew. For “Kate” really is a Katherine, and she’s an actress born of much higher stature than one would guess. Jarrett and Kate will need to learn to trust one another if they are to come out ahead and expose the sordid underbelly of Paradise. Meanwhile, they are powerfully attracted to each other. Can a reprobate nobleman find happiness with an actress?

For much of the book Jarrett and Kate don’t quite know what they are looking for, and unfortunately, readers are as much in the dark as the two leads. Hints are dropped, of course. But red herrings are part of the plot, and some of the secondary characters who might prove important end up having little to do with the eventual resolution. And there are plenty of them. It’s a bit hard to keep track.

The story really shines when the focus is on the developing relationship between Kate and Jarrett, though. They play mind games with each other, only to find they really do trust each other anyway, so there are no silly misunderstandings cluttering up the plot. And though they have the best of intentions, they can’t keep their physical attraction under wraps for very long, which steams up the story nicely.

Just when it seems the story is finished, there’s a subplot to be resolved which extends the book another forty or so pages. I’m not quite sure how well it worked. While necessary to finalize the happily-ever-after, it felt like another episode rather than the ending chapters.

Indications are that this is the first of a trilogy. I doubt we’ve seen the last of Black Phoenix, and under the sure command of Lynn Kerstan, that bodes well for readers. Dangerous Deceptions is an excellent way to start a new series, and if you like complex stories that demand more of a reader than just passive enjoyment, you won’t be disappointed in this one.

--Cathy Sova

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