Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh

“The Devil was about to be tamed.” Her name is Hannah Reid. Born a commoner, she has been Duchess of Dunbarton ever since she was nineteen years old, the wife of an elderly duke to whom she has been rumored to be consistently and flagrantly unfaithful. Now the old duke is dead and, more womanly and beautiful than ever at thirty, Hannah has her freedom at last.

And she knows just what she wants to do with it. To the shock of a conventional friend, she announces her intention to take a lover — and not just any lover, but the most dangerous and delicious man in all of upper-class England: Constantine Huxtable.

Constantine’s illegitimacy has denied him the title of Earl, so now he denies himself nothing . . . or so the ton would have it. Rumored to be living the free and easy life of a sensualist in his country estate, he always chooses recent widows for his short-lived affairs. Hannah will fit the bill nicely.

But once these two passionate and scandalous figures find each other, they discover that it isn’t so easy to extricate oneself from the fires of desire — without getting singed. For the duchess and the dark lord each have startling secrets to reveal, and when all is said and done, neither will be able to say which one fell in love first, who tamed whom, and who has emerged from this game of hearts with the stronger hand.

The final story of the Huxtable series, featuring Constantine, the heir who wasn't.  For all that was made of Constantine's "bad-ness" in the previous books, the revelation of how he got that reputation was a bit ho-hum. 

"Did other people do such things? Did everyone have these shameful, damnably uncomfortable skeletons in their closets?"

Doesn't that sound like he's hiding something just absolutely horrible?  I didn't find it to be so.

This, of course, brings about the question of redeeming a "villain" and if it can be done effectively.  I never saw Constantine as a villain, an antagonist certainly, since he ruffles the feathers of his cousin, Elliott, Viscount Lyngate, and his wife Vanessa (though he is intentionally cruel to Vanessa).  Regardless, I expected some deep, dark secret and didn't get it.

But I thoroughly enjoyed Hannah and her transformation from The Duchess to simply Hannah.  She and Constantine are a lot of fun together, able to help and strengthen one another, learn to accept who they really are without masks and grow to love each other in the process.

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