Sweet Deceit tries to include too many of the typical historical Regency era conventions. This leads to too many characters and situations that are not very well developed. In addition, an inconsistent hero and heroine who both tend to jump to conclusions make this an uneven read.
Geoffrey Rainville, the elderly Duke of Wimberley, married the young and beautiful Diana to try and produce an heir. Diana agreed to the marriage to save her bumbling father and herself from poverty and disgrace. The two of them have developed a close relationship in the five years of their marriage, but despite Diana's willingness and Geoffrey's many attempts, she is still a virgin.
Geoffrey is desperate to produce an heir because he does not want his title and estate to go to Montjoy, his deceased brother's son. His reasons for denying his nephew are valid, so he decides that he must persuade Diana to have relations with one of his other young relatives so that she can have a child to claim the title.
Diana is very reluctant even though she wants a child. She thinks that it is morally wrong, but Geoffrey uses every means of persuasion and manipulation to get her to agree. The person he chooses for the task is his sister's son, Gavin Winslow, Lord Baldwin. Gavin has spent the last several years in America and is only recently back in England to assume his title after the deaths of his father and older brother.
Gavin expects Diana to be a frivolous money grabber because she married a man so much older. He loves his uncle and does not want to see him hurt. Gavin is surprised when Geoffrey proposes his plan and reluctantly agrees. He knows why his uncle cannot abide Montjoy and has his own reasons for despising his cousin.
Diana and Gavin fall in love with each other during their time together. Once she is with child, he leaves the country to do some diplomatic work and to stay away from his uncle's wife. But danger is waiting for all of them as the villain does his best to see that her child never becomes the heir.
This is only a short description of the excess of drama. There is also Gavin's former love who scorned him, married a richer man, and then tries to manipulate herself back into his life. She is in trouble, but her manipulations continue and she just becomes irritating. She seems in the story for only two reasons: to a) give Gavin a reason for mistrusting beautiful women and b) to keep Gavin and Diana apart far too long. The main villain is nasty enough, so when a second villain is thrown in too close to the end, it felt forced and was only necessary to tie up a loose end.
Gavin's initial mistrust of Diana leads him to treat her badly enough that I'm not sure why she would want to be around him. There is, however, a scene where his questioning of her is justified and rather than just tell him the truth, she rants at him. From a short distance, he sees a woman in her coach wearing her signature cloak race into the arms of another man and then go into an inn. Rather than just tell him that she had loaned her cloak and coach to her maid, she gets into a snit, thus pushing him away.
At another point in the drama, Diana spends several chapters trying to get away from the villain who is now legally living in her home. But when Gavin returns from his trip and plans to tactfully get her out of this bad situation, she tells him she is perfectly safe. This, of course, leads right into terrible things. Her reasons for staying just do not work.
The author does do a good job with Diana's relationship with her husband. She skillfully shows how having his wife sleep with someone else, even for the best of reasons, affects him, Diana, and Gavin. Expanding on this theme and leaving out some of the other elements could have made this a much more unusual and affecting story.
--B. Kathy Leitle