All About Passion
Fans of Stephanie Laurens’s Bar Cynster books will not be disappointed by the latest installment in the series, while newcomers won’t have any problem reading this as a stand-alone. Gyles Rawlings, Earl of Chillingworth and an honorary Cynster, gets his comeuppance in spectacular style, learning all about love as well as passion. And man, is there ever a lot of passion!
Chillingworth has decided to marry – but not for him the love matches of his Cynster pals. No, Gyles is too pragmatic for that. He chooses a distant cousin he’s never seen, Francesca Rawlings, and sets off to her home in the country, where she leads a very secluded existence. He meets a subdued, dreamy, slightly disconnected girl who, he presumes, is the lady in question. But he also makes the acquaintance of a very different woman – a dark-haired stunner with a luscious smile and fire in her soul. Phew! Good thing he’s not marrying her. A lifetime with a woman like that would tear down all the barriers Gyles has put up around his soul, and force him to confront the demons in his past that have made it impossible for him to give his heart.
If only life were that straightforward…Unbeknownst to Gyles, there are two Francesca Rawlingses, and the one he thinks he’s offered for (through a third party – he can’t be bothered to do it himself) is not the one he ends up with. That would be Francesca, the beautiful, half-Italian daughter of one of his cousins who grew up in Italy, coming to England only after the death of her parents. She has begun to chafe under the restrictions of her new life, longing for freedom and the chance to express all the passion in herself. Francesca knows straight off who Gyles is and why he’s come to visit, and she’s excited at the prospect of a lifetime with him. The other young lady in question is Frannie, the child of Gyles’s other cousin, the dreamy-eyed girl he met in the garden. On the eve of her wedding, Francesca discovers that Gyles thinks he’s marrying Frannie and decides she’s going to make him pay for being so high-handed. Gyles learns of his mistake literally at the altar, when it’s too late to turn back. After the wedding, however, several mishaps and near-accidents warn Gyles that someone doesn’t like his new wife, and he has to admit to himself that Francesca means more to him than he thought she would.
Readers familiar with the Bar Cynster series will appreciate the twist Laurens gives to her usual formula. Instead of the usual “jaded rake meets the love of his life and pursues the reluctant maiden, with lots of sex along the way,” in this story it’s the woman who must persuade the man that love is worth the risk. Right from the start, Francesca realizes that Gyles is her soulmate, and stops at nothing to convince him that they belong together, not just in bed but also in every aspect of their lives. Gyles has what he thinks are very good reasons for avoiding a closer emotional bond with his wife, and half the fun of the story is watching him make the gradual movement toward love, all the while denying to himself that it’s happening.
Another element that made this an enjoyable read for me is the cast of characters. It’s refreshing to encounter a heroine who’s not just another “milk-and-water” Regency miss. Francesca has a very good idea of what she wants from marriage and life, and is gifted with tremendous persuasive powers and the courage to reach for what she wants. Gyles starts out as pretty cold-hearted and calculating, but it doesn’t take long for the reader to warm up to him and get a more complete idea of his complex personality. He’s got a latent streak of protectiveness toward his wife, and the threats against her life bring this out, much to his surprise and dismay.
The cast of other characters is well done too, with the exception of Francesca’s cousin Frannie. Laurens never quite explains the nature of her handicap: is it due to a personal trauma, or is it something she was born with? Given the relatively important role she plays in the story, I experienced a little frustration in trying to figure her out. What wasn’t hard to figure out was the person behind all the mischief; that portion of the plot was pretty transparent to me.
If you’re on the lookout for Laurens’s trademark hot love scenes, you don’t have to go very far. They are more numerous than in the average romance, and are somewhat longer, too (the wedding night alone takes eighteen pages – asbestos gloves and a glass of cold water recommended). The reason these scenes work is because Laurens understands the importance of describing the emotional transformation of her characters as well as the mechanics of their actions, and does a darn good job at both. With its engaging characters, terrific dialogue, and lush descriptions, I have no hesitation in recommending All About Passion to old fans of the series, and I bet the book will garner the author a number of new fans, too.