Desert Isle Keeper
Captives of the Night
For me, there are keepers, then there are keepers. Those in the first category have some element(s) which resonated with me upon first reading, and while I don’t necessarily re-read them from cover to cover, I have favorite scenes I like to revisit once in awhile. But the books I cling to most zealously are ones I consider works of art, sheer perfection holistically or when consumed in bite-sized portions. Such is Loretta Chase’s Captives of the Night, where an interesting mystery, two fascinating protagonists, complex interrelationships and escalating sexual and emotional tension combine to intrigue, entertain and engage.
Leila Beaumont is a talented portrait painter residing in London with her profligate husband, Francis. Once the hero who had rescued and wed the orphaned, 17-year-old Leila, Francis’s hedonistic lifestyle and complete amorality have weakened his body and garnered him legions of enemies. When he turns up dead in the Beaumont townhouse, a quiet investigation is initiated by government officials, who fear the fallout from Francis’s numerous blackmail and extortion schemes could do irreversible damage to the ranks of statesmen and aristocrats alike. For such a delicate operation, they call upon Comte d’Esmond, a man of many talents who not only moves easily within the highest levels of society but has also spent the past ten years as one of the government’s most trusted and discreet covert operatives.
Neither Leila nor Esmond are particularly happy about his involvement in the case, as their relationship, since he orchestrated a meeting in Paris the year before, has been a tug-of-war between attraction and resistance. Some five years into her marriage with Francis, Leila had given up any idea of redeeming him, and they had settled into an arrangement whereby she fulfilled her role as nominal wife, but devoted her time to forging a name for herself in the art world. His function in her life was primarily as a buffer against the many men interested in pursuing her. Where she had been totally oblivious to other men, she finds the beautiful Esmond’s seductive charm dangerous to the latent sinner she ruthlessly hides behind her cultivated demeanor of propriety.
Esmond is a man with a dark and treacherous past (some of which is told in Chase’s The Lion’s Daughter) who utilizes his vast array of skills to aid the government that gave him a second chance, and, in so doing, make reparations to those who had suffered from his actions in his previous incarnation. He’s a fascinating character, neither vain about nor unaware of his beauty or his ability to mesmerize and bend people to his will (Francis Beaumont likened him to “human laudanum”). But Leila threatens the control he has fought so long to perfect; in her he recognizes a woman who speaks to his soul, silently urging him to reveal the very secrets that will turn her away from him.
The investigation promises to be lengthy and tedious, since there are no obvious leads and scores of people with good reason to want Francis dead. Throughout their regular, late-night sessions, the tug-of-war between them escalates. Esmond subdues the desire to give into the temptation Leila represents, but is simultaneously driven to know and understand her, to provoke the passionate nature she conceals even while recognizing that it will lead to his own undoing. Though Leila is strong and alert to his calculated persuasiveness, his finesse and her long-suppressed sensuality combine to undermine her best intentions.
Captives of the Night makes for an intelligent mystery, with plenty of viable and interesting suspects and secondary characters, and the kind of scandalous secrets that can bring down governments and incite murderous intent. But my primary pleasure in this book is the breath-taking dance of seduction between Leila and Esmond. While he is the absolute master of seductive manipulation, Leila is a worthy partner in the dance, with her innate cleverness and an artist’s eye for detail enabling her to see more than Esmond intends. It’s utterly delicious. Esmond’s comments are rife with innuendo, sometimes downright suggestive, but can also be strictly evasive, such as when he outrageously pretends that his English is not so good. He is the ultimate charming rogue, and even when you know he’s up to his usual shenanigans, you’re simply too charmed to care, at least in part because he is as driven by his desires and emotions as Leila is.
And Leila gives as good as she gets, calling him on his attempts to make her tell all while revealing nothing of himself. She surprises him with her fascination for the bits he does reveal when he expected her to react with shock and disgust, thereby winning a small chunk of his soul by recognizing the emotional cost he has paid in carrying out the necessary, but often dirty, business of the government. She is complex, at times violent-tempered, and so much stronger and more savvy than the frightened girl introduced in the prologue. And it is because she is so clearly Esmond’s match in passion, both of body and mind, that their inevitability as a couple with a satisfying HEA stretching out before them became a given for me, while the passionate tenderness of their story earned it a permanent spot on my DIK shelves.
If you enjoy the lushness of complex characterizations and verbal interplay that is, by turns, seductive, yearning and satirical, if you’re seeking a love story that is tenderly sensual and compellingly romantic, take a look at Captives of the Night. And prepare to be wowed.