Games of Pleasure

My Dark Prince

Night of Sin

The Seduction

 
Clandestine by Julia Ross
(Berkley, $14.00, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-21197-5
****
Sumptuous prose, loads of atmosphere and a luscious romance Ė this book is signature Julia Ross.

Sarah Callaway is alarmed when her cousin Rachel goes missing. Rachelís letters to Sarah indicate that she had been spurning unwelcome advances from a gentleman who visited the house where Rachel worked as a governess. When his persuasion did not work, the gentleman, according to Rachel, resorted to threats.

When Rachel disappears without a word to her, the Sarah believes she must have been abducted. A widow who supports herself by teaching and who has nowhere else to turn for help, Sarah has extremely limited resources to investigate Rachelís disappearance. In desperation she approaches Guy Devoran, the wealthy nephew of a duke and a man Rachelís letters described as generous, gallant and compassionate.

Sarah isnít sure why the mention of Rachelís name electrifies Guy, but she takes heart from the certain knowledge that he seems to remember Rachel vividly, even if his recollection of their encounter does not quite match Rachelís description of it.

Guy canít help but be suspicious Ė everything Sarah has told him about Rachel is a pack of lies, although he doesnít know if Sarah is deliberately trying to deceive him or if she has been deceived by her cousin. As a result, he canít help wondering how much he can trust the woman heís decided to help. In his experience, however, Rachel is perfectly capable of vanishing if it suits her, so he seriously doubts that thereís been any kind of abduction. Nonetheless, Guy canít resist the mystery and, although his true motivations remain an intriguing mystery, decides that he will help Sarah find her cousin.

This is a highly engaging book on a number of levels. Right from the start, Ms. Ross does a lovely job of luring the reader into the story. We always know enough to be intrigued but never wholly satisfied Ė she makes it clear that there are mysteries in the situation and that no character (or reader, for that matter) yet knows the whole story. Although her writing is lushly descriptive with a wonderful serenity of voice, this adept control over the story also keeps it interesting and nicely paced.

I should also assure you that, although truth and trust are issues in the story, and Guy in particular finds himself increasingly ensnared by an important detail he keeps from Sarah, I was never negatively frustrated by this issue. I understood why Guy kept the information secret initially, and sympathetic to the fact that he found it increasingly difficult to come clean as the story developed.

The character of Guy is rendered with an attractive subtlety. Although his motivations are hidden and readers are strongly aware that there is a lot we donít know about him, weíre still inclined to like and trust him. This is partly because he has loyal and affectionate friends who are willing to help him, and partly because he so clearly admires Sarahís fine qualities when they have been overlooked by others.

Sarah is clearly in over her head but, even pulled uncomfortably out of her quiet existence, is determined to help her beloved cousin. In fact, if there is a weakness in the book, itís Sarahís relentless determination to believe that she knows the truth about her cousin, no matter how many of Rachelís lies are exposed. In the beginning, her loyalty was understandable and admirable. After a while, however, her obstinate lack of doubt became a little tedious.

While this book is not as sexually explicit as others by Ms. Ross, there is a shimmering sensual tension between Guy and Sarah that is equally powerful. Red-haired and freckled, Sarah believes herself rather plain, neither understanding nor trusting the powerful attraction that exists between herself and Guy. Her lack of confidence keeps them apart physically for most of the book, but their desire to do more invigorates every page.

Thereís enough story to keep things moving, but the real treat is for readers who prefer a character-driven romance with a hero and heroine they can root for.

-- Judi McKee


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