The Lady Lies by Samantha Saxon
(Berkley, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-425-20358-1
Very readable, although somewhat inconsistent, this book sometimes captivated me with its extravagant prose style and sometimes irritated me with a somewhat cold-blooded approach to sex.

A handsome, young war hero, Aidan Duhearst, Earl of Wessex, is wounded and then captured by the French following the battle of Albuera. He falls into the hands of the woman supposed to be the mistress of Napoleon, Lady Celeste Rivenhall. The daughter of an English man and a French woman, Celeste commands troops in the French army and is in Albuera to “evaluate the general and the garrison’s efficiency” for Napoleon.

(Those of you who will run screaming from the bookstore at this unlikely scenario may be excused now.)

En route to be turned over to Napoleon, Aidan finds a key in his bread and is able to escape. What he does not know is that Celeste is actually a double agent, giving false intelligence to the French and passing along essential information to help the British war effort. Long fascinated by the handsome earl’s war exploits, it was she who ensured that he had the opportunity to escape.

Celeste returns to England, assigned to use her feminine wiles to discover which British peer is a traitor, passing secrets to the French. To no one’s surprise but hers, she runs almost immediately into the earl of Wessex, home and recovering from his war wounds. Aidan is furious that Napoleon’s mistress is running tame in the houses of the ton. When he goes to Whitehall to turn her in, however, he is told that she has been thoroughly vetted and found to be harmless. No doubt he was feverish and delusional during his captivity in Spain.

Aidan begins a private campaign to unmask Celeste as a French spy and bring her to justice. If he finds himself required to frequently manhandle the lovely traitor, and even have sex with her, why, then so much the better.

Well-paced and readable in spite of some occasionally overblown writing, this book largely kept my interest and attention as I was reading. Ultimately, though, I was left with a feeling of dissatisfaction.

Celeste is a sympathetic character and must have a core of steel to have been so successful a double agent, but she dissolves into a puddle when she’s with Aidan. Certainly, I want him to have an effect on her, and it’s nice to read about a strong woman finding the satisfaction in a measure of vulnerability – but we’re really only told about Celeste’s strength. What we see is her being reduced to such a puddle of helplessness that she can’t even speak in a moment when it would have been highly appropriate for her to defend herself to Aidan.

While Aiden’s a strong and honorable man, he behaves like a jerk to Celeste. He believes the worst about her every time, even after multiple occasions have proved beyond a shadow of doubt that she is not what she seems. In addition, he just can’t keep his pants zipped. What kind of a man boinks a woman he believes has just murdered his close friend in cold blood? Not one that I believe is in love with the woman, that’s for sure.

In addition to quite a bit of rather cold-blooded sex between the hero and heroine, there’s also a heaping helping of skanky villain sex. I have no idea what authors believe this adds to a romance, but it certainly doesn’t make it more romantic.

In the end, I was left with the impression that the author wanted to write a ‘sexy’ book, and the story was basically a framework into which sex could be inserted at frequent intervals. Unfortunately, I read romance for the romance. If the sex isn’t emotionally connected, it doesn’t matter how much of it there is, it’s just body parts rubbing together.

It was, in many respects, an interesting and well-told story, which carried me through. In the final analysis, however, I didn’t find it to be much of a love story. Which is always what I’m hoping for when the book says ‘Romance’ on the spine.

--Judi McKee

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