Don’t be fooled by its sedate-looking cover. Like other Signet covers, it features the couple leaning into each other, sitting on a bench, Yes, they have a book, but frankly it looks like every other trad Regency cover you’ve seen in recent years. But this is nothing like every other Regency. Not only is it more sensual (note the rating, which is a well-earned hot); it has an older hero and heroine. She’s 37, and he’s 43 – and a grandfather! He’s also, incidentally, a romance novelist. Wow.
Adam Ashworth comes to London to help straighten out his nephew, who he learns has been sharing his home with a young lady. As he finds out, the young lady, Miss Elaine Twyford, is merely painting him during the day. She is chaperoned by Mrs. Fabienne Craigmont, a woman with whom the widowed Adam shares a past. He hasn’t seen her for twenty years, but she is still just as lovely. Adam and Fabienne met when both were young. She had fled the revolution in France with her family, and he was just out of college, sowing some wild oats before he settled down on his country estate. They shared a passionate affair that ended badly, with both assuming they had been spurned. When they meet again, they resolve to be friendly acquaintances, and nothing more.
Meanwhile, Fabienne begins a correspondence with a popular novelist, Mrs. Ravenwood. She knows that Mrs. Ravenwood lives near Adam, but when she travels to the area and attempts to contact Mrs. Ravenwood, Fabienne is told that Mrs. Ravenwood is away from home. During the same trip, Fabienne spends time with Adam’s oldest daughter Babs, and also witnesses a tragic scene. Babs and her children have been living with Adam and hiding from her abusive husband, and while Fabienne is visiting, Babs’ husband shows up and forces her to leave, along with her children. Fabienne tries to advise Adam, but he snaps at her in his grief. When she returns home, she continues to write Mrs. Ravenwood, and the letters become more and more intimate – even passionate.
The reader knows that Mrs. Ravenwood is in fact Adam, and he thinks that Fabienne knows his secret. In actuality, Fabienne thinks that Mrs. Ravenwood is Adam’s mistress, and that he is taking advantage of her. Matters come to head when Adam and Fabienne meet at a London party. She is waiting for Mrs. Ravenwood – and thinks that she has been jilted. Meanwhile, her attraction to Adam continues unabated.
I have barely scratched the surface of all that goes on. Adam belonged to a club in his youth, and his membership has ramifications in the present. He and Fabienne share a secret. Adam’s nephew Luke and Fabienne’s charge (Elaine) are falling in love, but Elaine may be in danger from another party. And all along Adam worries that his secret career as a novelist may soon become public.
What’s most interesting about all this is that Fabienne and Adam are clearly adults who have managed to live full and fulfilling lives without each other. Adam married his wife on the rebound, but he truly fell in love with her and misses her still. He has two children and two grandchildren to worry about, and he loves his country home. Fabienne has had two husbands and currently runs a popular London salon. She’s financially independent and wants for nothing – except perhaps the man she loved long ago. Happily, once they are reunited they don’t waste too much time over anger and bitterness (though it still takes them the length of the book to truly come together in every way).
I liked both of the main characters, but found Adam to be truly exceptional and unique. I honestly can’t recall ever seeing a hero who was anything like him. He struggles with parenting issues, feels somewhat at sea in the current London atmosphere (which has changed since he was young), and thinks about Fabienne – but doesn’t know quite what to do about her. There is an absolutely hilarious scene where Fabienne explains that her first real orgasm was with her second husband (not with Adam). Adam’s response is typically male – and very funny.
Which brings up the issue of sex. It happens – more than once. And the language is fairly frank; to some it would border on graphic. So if you are a reader who prefers Regencies because of their subtle (or non-existent) sensuality, this is probably not the book for you. I didn’t find the sex over-the-top, though. It always fit well into the story and never seemed out of place. Indeed, the love scenes – and the talk about them – were by turns humorous, poignant, and sexy. It’s good stuff.
Dedication was truly a fun read for me. And by fun, I don’t mean “light and funny” fun; rather, it’s fun in the sense that it’s a juicy read you can really sink your teeth into. The writing and the feel of the book is somewhat similar to Julia Ross’ work. I enjoyed it best when the rest of my house was asleep and I could really settle in, abandon myself to the story, and enjoy it without distractions. So, you may ask, why the B? Well, for most of the book I really thought I had a B+/A- read on my hands, right until the bitter end. Then something happens that I can only describe as, well, Whitney My Love-esque. If you’ve read that book, you’ll have an idea of what I mean. At a certain point in all books, the hero and heroine are obviously together with a capital T. When they are too stupid to notice this and persist in lame, last minute fighting, it’s simply annoying.
Happily, this is a small enough flaw that is easily overlooked, and it didn’t sink the book as a whole. Overall, this was a book to savor and enjoy. I’d encourage every Regency fan (except perhaps for sensuality sticklers) to run out and get this book. It’s entertaining, thoughtful, and more than worth your time.