Desert Isle Keeper
A Delicate Deception
A Delicate Deception is a sparkler of a tale, featuring a complex heroine, a winning hero, a great romance and memorable secondary characters.
Amelia Allenby has come to the Derbyshire countryside with her friend and former governess Georgiana to get away from the prying eyes of society after causing a shocking scandal. It’s a scandal she’s glad to have initiated, as Amelia is no society rose, and she’d be entirely content with her country life were she not being annoyed by the sudden presence of a very tall man who roams the pathways of the property on which she’s staying during her daily walks and rides. Though he is reserved and polite every time they meet, his presence provides an increased concern for introverted Amelia, who worries that she’s being spied on.
That irritating, tall man is engineer Sydney Goddard, who, unbeknownst to the ladies, has recently inherited the property, but isn’t sure how to move forward with his inheritance. Enter his snarky, somewhat dissolute best friend, brother-in-law and former lover, Marcus Lexington (Lex), The Duke of Hereford, who has arrived to help Sydney survey the property, draw up its borders, and eventually help him restore the fire-ravaged Pelham Hall to its former glory. Sydney has mixed feelings about this prospect, to say the least.
When Amelia’s faithful dog, Nan, bites through Sydney’s boot when attempting to protect Amelia from him, Amelia immediately jumps into action and they make a more peaceable connection. Little do Amelia and Georgina know they’re well-acquainted with Lex – in writing, although they’ve never met in person – they have shared a bantery correspondence over Lex’s poorly researched article in a historical magazine. The last letter they received from him said that he will be at Pelham Hall in August and wishes to visit them – which is why they initially mistake Sydney for Lex.
Sydney is willing to live with the misunderstanding – after all, Amelia is opinionated and biting in ways that lift his gloom. But Lex has a surprise in store for him that shocks Sydney and gives him even more firm purpose in life.
I liked Amelia in all of her prickly yet tenderhearted standoffishness. She reminded me of a Bette Davis heroine in her behavior, and provides an amusing counterpoint to Sydney’s much more serious ways. The daughter of a marquess born on the wrong side of the blanket, her big scandal involved writing a racy novel that thinly fictionalized the lives of the ton’s social set (even though she didn’t pen the naughty bits!). Who can blame her for having residual anxiety?
Also great is Sydney and Lex’s mutual devotion, which is matched by the sisterhood between Georgina and Amelia. They’re all believable best friends who felt as if they would easily kill for one another.
Sydney is a funny, awkward and gently morose sort of guy – not a dashing hero but the kind of man who listens and listens well when the heroine talks. Sydney’s grief over his lost brother is a real and heartbreaking presence in the novel.
Sydney and Amelia’s relationship can be described in one word – tentative. They edge toward one another, their scars lying between them, until they work up enough confidence to get a little closer. This slow burn is richly rewarding, and the end result is a great relationship worth rooting for.
The dry, witty Lex easily became one of my favorite supporting characters in all of romance in 2019. The man’s a bit laconic, and a playboy with a good heart. He really cares about his debate with Amelia and Georgina, and I liked his evolving friendship with Georgina in particular.
My only real quibble involves a spoiler that I shan’t reveal; I will just say that one character might have been judiciously pruned out of the narrative.
Also, kudos to Sebastian for her continued commitment to diversity. Both of our leads are bisexual, and Amelia is neuroatypical, displaying agoraphobic behavior. Lex is also legally blind thanks to his being caught in the fire that killed his sister and Sydney’s brother and sister-in-law. A Delicate Deception is a great addition to any reader’s keeper shelf.