Double Deceit is a Regency with a double-crossing twist. Alexandra Vale is an aspiring antiquarian who is despised by her father for being too tall, too outspoken, and too uninterested in finding a husband. Alex doesn’t care. She has far more interesting things on her mind that some silly matrimonial edict by her eternally disapproving father. She’s uncovered some Roman artifacts in a wood near their home, and all signs point to the remains of a villa underneath.
Anthony Linden, notorious rakehell, is astonished to learn from his own eternally disapproving father that the Linden estate has been lost in a dice game. Tony isn’t nearly the reprobate that society has painted him. In fact, he’s spent the last ten years or so quietly excavating various antiquities under the name of Anthony Torwell.
When his father makes the unwelcome announcement that the family will have to vacate within a month, Tony’s only thought it to somehow get the estate back to spare his beloved mother the pain. Maybe he can marry the deformed daughter of the man who took his family home. But if the girl is a sheltered freak, she won’t even consider a man with a reputation like Tony’s. What to do?
Tony begs his cousin, Jon, the local vicar, to switch identities with him. By passing himself off as Mr. Torwell, a vicar, Tony can court Miss Vale. When she falls in love with him, he’ll reveal himself as the heir to Linden Park. All Jon has to do is act like a crude buffoon. Jon agrees and off they set for the Vale home.
Alex is relieved when she receives word from London that her father has broken his leg and will be detained for several weeks. At least she’ll be spared his carping about the dowry he’s won for her, though she’s suspicious he cheated at the dice game (an unfortunately has no proof). When “Mr. Linden” and his friend “Mr. Torwell” arrive at the Vale home, under the guise of a broken-down carriage, Alex instantly surmises that Linden is there to get his family home back. She quickly devises a plan that will allow her to study Linden from a distance. She’ll switch identities with her cousin Sarah, a petite beauty with an unfortunate clubfoot. Sarah will be “Miss Vale.” Alex will be “Miss Meredith,” a companion.
Anthony cannot hide his interest upon spying an excavated Roman statue in the Vale home, however. Alex puts two and two together and is thrilled to find that he is the renowned antiquities expert A. Torwell. Together they will continue to excavate the villa site while Jon does his best to be repulsive so Tony can then step in and court Sarah. But Tony finds he’s not interested in Sarah -- he wants the tall, lush, intelligent companion with the acerbic tongue. And Sarah keeps rising to “Mr. Linden’s” defense, rather than being repulsed. Alex is smitten with Mr. Torwell. How will they untangle this mess?
I really liked Double Deceit. The plot twists and turns, and the subplot of the Roman villa was engrossing and interesting. Tony and Alex create a very genuine, albeit cautious, friendship as they try to figure out what happened to the Roman ruin, and their interaction is intelligent and endearing. The final conflict kept the two completely in character, too, as Alex lashes out at Tony, a reaction from years of defending herself, and Tony lashes back, after years of the same. And the author makes both of them suffer a bit before they finally change. These two are perfect for one another.
The secondary characters round out the story well, and the background of the excavation shows that the author did her homework. It was intriguing.
This is the most recent in a string of Regencies to allow a bit of uniqueness into the plot and stray far from the well-worn London Season path. It’s ironic that the Regency genre is struggling to survive, while the category genre thrives yet keeps pushing out the same five or six plots. At any rate, Double Deceit is as fresh as they come. Have fun!