Daring the Duke

Three Nights of Sin

The Viscountís Wicked Ways

For the Earlís Pleasure
by Anne Mallory
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13)† ISBN 978-006-157914-1
Being a reviewer is fun and often gives me the chance to read stories that I would never expect to read.†Sometimes an author uses a well-worn plotline and happily, there are circumstances where an author surprises.†It is wonderful to find an author willing to take a chance on something new.† Anne Mallory has done that in For the Earlís Pleasure. For that, she gets my thanks and several points towards a recommendation, but there is just enough here that I struggled with that I couldnít go with a full four hearts.

It is London sometime in the 1800ís (it isnít really more specific than that) and there are new inventions all the time including hot air balloons and hobby horse races. Scientific societies crop up and some are truly interested in science while others seem to be a setting for nefarious schemes and bad deeds.†The ton is the tonÖballs, soirees and gossip with power in who you know and your title.†Scandal is frowned upon, so when word gets out that there is a list with names of imposters, people who are not what they seem and others who have family secrets, there is nervousness in the air.

It is said that Valerian Rainewood, notorious rake and heir to a dukedom, has the list. And he has power.†This heir was actually the second son until his brother Thornton got killed in a riding accident. Valerian, who used to be carefree and fun, is now filled with the prestige of his position and under pressure from his grandmother and father to fulfill his destiny and sign betrothal documents securing him to Celeste Malcolm.†But Rainewood continues to delay.

Abigail Smart is on the fringe of the ton. She has a fortune, making her eligible, but she has secrets that could ruin her and her family.†Abigail sees ghosts. She and Rainewood grew up not far from each other and were playmates. As they grew up, their relationship was starting to change as they both became aware of the sexual nature of male-female relationships. In fact, they shared an innocent first kiss.†But when Thornton died, he appeared to Abigail, needing her help.† Valerian didnít believe her and in fact, thought she was mocking him.†He shunned her and left his childhood behind.†For the past few years, he has tried to thwart Abigailís efforts to find a suitable husband.†And lately he has been harassing her at balls, walking with her, unnerving her and doing so without really drawing attention.†Abigail lives with the fear that her secret will be found out, that Rainewood will mock her publicly and that she will have to undergo treatments in an asylum, something her mother tried to do when she first discovered Abigailís plight. Abigail still sees ghosts, she just doesnít tell anyone.

One night, after an encounter with Abigail, Rainewood is attacked coming out of a gambling hell. The next thing he remembers is entering his home, where Abigail has come for tea with his grandmother. He realizes that he is invisible to all but Abigail.††It is only his spirit and he is thrown for a loop. He enlists Abigailís help when he discovers that he is actually still alive and in some kind of limbo state. He is being held and drugged but he doesnít know where. It also seems that he is in his most lucid and physical state when he is around Abigail.†They enter an uneasy alliance.

Now, while all this is weird, it is innovative.†What follows is a rather good mystery as they explore life between realms and try to save Valerian from what could ultimately be his death.† There are secondary characters galore that play a role, including friends of Valerianís and suitors of Abigailís.†Her mother worries that she is reverting to her problems and there is the threat of the doctor who once treated her.†All of these men are suspects and there is no one to trust but her maid, who tells Abigail she thinks she is special, not crazy.

Valerian realizes that he can be the man he was growing up when he is with Abigail and she falls for him all other again.†I struggled with the fact that she was falling in love with essentially a ghost or spirit or being. But he wasnít a man. I also struggled with the fact that they had a physical relationship while in this state.†Valerian wasnít always able to feel and at times, he wasnít able to touch, but when he could, he made the most of it.†This was a tad too creepy for me.†

For the Earlís Pleasure is a book that can be termed ďoriginalĒ, filled with risk-taking and at times provocative. It elicited feelings ranging from warm to suspense. It is drama, with comedic moments and hints of scariness. I recommend it, but do so with a warning that it will not be to everyoneís tastes.†And even now, I am not sure it is to mine.†

--Shirley Lyons

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