Beguiled by Her Betrayer
Louise Allen makes excellent use of both an unusual setting and some interesting historical detail as the backdrop to this enjoyable romance between an English spy and the widow of a French army officer.
Beguiled by Her Betrayer is set in Egypt in 1801, shortly after Bonaparte’s departure from the region and his return to France. His expedition to Egypt – ostensibly to protect French trade interests and undermine Britain’s access to India – also included a large number of scientists and academics, known as “savants”, many of whom remained to continue their work. But the political situation is precarious, and with only a few French garrisons stationed in the region, the continual advance by the British army on the one side, and the Turks on the other, it is becoming increasingly dangerous for the savants to continue with their excavations and experiments.
One member of Napoleon’s scholarly entourage is an Englishman, Sir Philip Woodward, whose daughter, Cleo, was briefly married to a captain in the French army. Although both her parents are English, Cleo has never actually been to England. She has lived all her life traipsing around the world in pursuit of her father’s scholarly interests, and has never had a stable home or known much love or affection. Her mother, depressed and exhausted by the constant travel and the strain of having to look after her selfish, demanding husband, died when Cleo was young, leaving her to bear the brunt of her father’s self-absorption and to become his unpaid slave.
Cleo is incredibly resourceful, but has become increasingly disillusioned with her life over the years. She resents her father for many things – not least of which is the fact he has no interest in her other than as it relates to his own comfort. She puts on a brave front, but inside she’s brittle and close to breaking point, wary of trusting anyone – but especially men, given that the two (father and husband) who should have protected her and had her best interests at heart have done nothing but use and abuse her.
Lord Quintus Deverall is acknowledged as the fifth son of the Marquess of Malvern, even though he is actually the son of his mother’s lover. Being a younger son, he would have had to make his own way in the world anyway, but when, at the age of eight, his father informed him of his true parentage and then told him he didn’t expect Quin to amount to anything, it made him determined to be his own man, independent of the grudging acceptance of the curmudgeonly marquess. He is making himself a name and career in the diplomatic service, and is not best pleased at his latest assignment, which is to locate and bring home the granddaughter of the Duke of St. Osyth. The duke is an imposing gentleman who has his finger in a number of government pies, not least of which is the Foreign Office. (And this made me smile – St. Osyth is a small village a few miles along the coast from where I live!)
So Quin travels to Egypt and duly tracks down Cleo and her father, but is attacked on the way and arrives at their encampment feverish and barely conscious. Cleo’s ruthlessly efficient nursing soon has him back on his feet, when he tells her he’s an American engineer with an interest in dam-building. But he soon discovers that Cleo and Woodward are mixed up in something more than an archaeological expedition and that they could be spying for the French.
Even though she’s suspicious and reluctant to trust Quin, Cleo can’t help the rush of attraction that washes over her whenever she sees him. He’s handsome, kind and capable, and the common courtesies he offers her are something she’s never received from anyone else. Very soon, she’s falling for him in spite of her suspicions, and I thought this was one aspect of the book the author explored very well – the way in which the heart and the body can so easily overrule the head. Cleo thinks that finally, she has found a way to escape her life of drudgery and hopes that Quin will help her to leave Egypt and go somewhere she will be able to make her own way in life.
Quin will certainly help her to leave, but his orders are to return her to grandfather’s home in London. As he comes to know Cleo, and to admire her courage and spirit, he feels more and more uncomfortable with the actions he will have to take – but he needs the good-will of the duke in order to further his career and is determined to stick to his guns and tread the path he has laid out for himself.
Cleo is a very relatable heroine – someone who puts on a brave face because there really is no alternative, but who is on the verge of despair, slowly dying inside for the want of a little kindness and affection. And while there were times I wanted to smack Quin because of his wrong-headedness and failure to see that he was treating Cleo in much the same way as her father and husband had – he nonetheless makes an attractive hero because of the way he looks out for her. He truly is kind and honourable and does, at last, come to see that taking care of the woman he loves is far more important than ambition.
Beguiled by Her Betrayer is a quick but compelling read which features a strongly characterised pair of protagonists whose imperfections make them feel all the more human. Quin and Cleo have great chemistry and their romance develops naturally and at a sensible pace. The historical detail is fascinating and well deployed and I enjoyed the book very much indeed.