Something Wicked by Jo Beverley
(Topaz, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-451-40780-6
****
Shall I begin with the best part? Let me say that the seduction scene in Jo Beverley's latest Malloren book is one of the steamiest I have ever read. Wow! And the rest of the book is almost as good! Yes, I do believe Something Wicked is something else again.

This is the third book about the Malloren's and is the story of Lady Elfled, the twin sister of the dashing hero of My Lady Notorious. I might make a suggestion here: if you haven't read the first two books in the series, you might want to. I think Something Wicked can stand alone, but I know that I enjoyed the book more because I was already familiar with the characters and the personal dynamics established in the previous books. (Also, both books are really good, sexy reads, just like this one.)

The story begins with Lady Elf, as she is known, saying farewell to her twin and his wife as they set off for Nova Scotia. Elf feels bereft, not only because her brother is leaving, but also because of the stark comparison between his life and her own. She is twenty-five, unwed, and without any notable accomplishments other than serving as her brother's hostess. Her intimidating brothers, especially the Marquess of Rothgar, have scared off any interesting suitors. Elf wonders if she will simply waste away into virginal spinsterdom, a fate she deplores.

Unfortunately, the only man she feels drawn to is a most unlikely candidate for a suitor. He is Fortitude Ware, the Earl of Walgrave and brother of her twin Cyn's wife Chastity. Fort is a declared enemy of the Malloren family, despite the connection, although Elf is not quite clear about the source of this enmity. She knows it has something to do with the violent death of Fort's father at a ball at the Malloren estate.

With her brothers' out of town, Elf convinces her friend Amanda to attend a masquerade at Vauxhall Gardens. While escaping from an overly aggressive admirer, she overhears two men plotting something against the young king George III. One of the conspirators is obviously a Scottish Jacobite; the other is the Earl of Walgrave. She is discovered, but while the Scot wants to dispose of her, Walgrave saves her by saying that the masked young woman is simply his jealous mistress.

Thus begins the relationship between Fort and the woman he knows as Lisette. Fort is a troubled man; his father's death weighs heavily upon him. His desire for revenge against the Mallorens has become a compulsion. He has withdrawn from warm human relationships. He finds the mysterious Lisette intriguing and responds to her as he has to no one in months.

For her part, Elf believes that she must act, both to foil the plot and to save Fort from his own folly. And so she musters the power of the Malloren family to try to discover the nature and purpose of the conspiracy. And if this means allowing Fort to seduce her, well, why not, as Lisette, enjoy what Elf can never have.

Beverley has a very good feel for the Georgian era, for its mores, for its fashions and for its politics. She uses the vicious political intrigue which characterized the first years of George III's reign as an effective backdrop to her story. The Jacobite plot is a perfectly credible event given the times.

Something Wicked provides a fast paced plot, a well drawn setting and a first rate love story. Elf is a grand heroine, daring, determined, and yet not anachronistic. Her attitudes and actions are consistent with the social world in which she lived. Fort is a legitimately tortured hero. He has good reason to dislike the Mallorens and his response to discovering Lisette's real identity is completely in character.

My fondness for the novels of Jo Beverley has grown with every one of her books that I read. Something Wicked adds to my appreciation of her ability to write excellent historical romance. Now, when are we going to get Rothgar's story?

--Jean Mason


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