Come What May

Daring the Devil

Jackson's Way

Lady Reckless

Maddie's Justice

The Perfect Seduction
by Leslie LaFoy
(St. Martinís, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-98763-3
The Perfect Seduction features two of the finest lead characters Iíve encountered in a historical romance in some time. Seraphina Treadwell is stranded in Belize City, her parents presumably lost after six months in the jungle, and her husband missing. She has been acting as a guardian of sorts to the three young Reeves girls, whose parents have also died. Sera, a talented botanical artist, is nearly destitute when an envelope arrives from England addressed to the girlsí father, with two hundred pounds inside. With it, Sera takes the girls to their uncle, Carden Reeves, who is now the newest Earl of Lansdown.

Carden mistakes Sera for an applicant to the housekeeperís position when she arrives on his doorstep. He immediately decides to hire her and get her into his bed. These rather piggish plans are completely upset when Sera informs him sheís brought his three nieces to him, as he is now their only living relation. Carden is thrown for a loop. Heís a successful architectural engineer, not an earl, and heíd never planned to marry. Now heís got a house full of females on his hands, and an unwanted title with all the attendant responsibilities.

Desperate, Carden offers Sera the position of governess. After some wrangling, they come to an arrangement: Sera will stay in London and care for the girls, who will hopefully provide a buffer between Carden and the matchmaking mamas sure to land on his doorstep now that heís acquired a title. Carden will go about his work, and hopefully this earl business wonít get in the way of his engineering projects or his rakish lifestyle.

Sera has more baggage than just the girls. Her marriage to Gerald Treadwell was a hasty arrangement to soothe her ill parents, and when he turned out to be a lout, she was stuck. Now it turns out her fatherís work has been published, and Sera has been systematically cheated out of the royalties due to her. It looks like Gerald isnít dead, after all, but here in London, collecting Seraís money as a bogus ďagentĒ for Seraís father. Sera knows her attraction to Carden is doomed, as he wonít marry and she wonít settle for anything less, even if she can disentangle herself from her loveless marriage.

Sera is delightful. Sheís direct, resourceful, and straightforward about what she wants Ė and doesnít want. Carden, used to actresses and opera dancers, canít quite decide what to make of her at first Ė but he canít stay away from her, either. Seraís determination never to enter into another sham relationship rings true, given her past, and the author brings it into the story without allowing Sera to play the victim.

Carden would have been better off without the bad-boy reputation weíre supposed to hang on him. For one thing, he doesnít do much thatís rakish. Heís also very devoted to his work, and he is as straight with Sera as she is with him, so the whole idea of the ďreformed rakeĒ doesnít fit here at all. His deepening attraction to Sera plays out as realistic, however, and the fact that it takes so long for the two of them to get together is actually a nice demonstration of Cardenís true character, and it ainít rakehell. Heís understanding of her feelings and restrains himself from pursuing her heavily, until the point where he just canít help himself. By then, Sera is more than willing, and the sex is hot, indeed.

The element involving Gerald, the missing husband, pops up to add some suspense, but itís fairly predictable, and doesnít seem to do much other than give Carden room to play the hero. Cardenís two pals are obvious setups for future books, too. But if The Perfect Seduction is any indication, Leslie LaFoy has a real talent for crafting smart, mature leads and romance that evolves into genuine passion. Iíll be looking for the next installment.

--Cathy Sova

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