The illusion surrounding Nigel Arundham, Lord Rivaulx, is that he mourns his mistress, that he is responsible for her death, that he is debauched, a libertine, a scoundrel. The illusion surrounding Frances Woodard is that she is the exotic mistress of Lord Donnington, that her “training” in an Indian harem has made her a wanton.
So when Rivaulx suspects Donnington is a traitor against the Crown, he plans to use this wanton to gain what he needs, which is information to help the British against Napoleon. But the plan goes awry when Rivaulx is poisoned and Donnington killed at an orgy of Rivaulx’s making, at the very orgy Rivaulx had planned to make Frances his own. It is at this very orgy that Rivaulx urges Frances to protect herself against him, and at that very orgy where she nurses him through a near brush with death after being poisoned.
Suddenly he is Frances’ protector, and the two, along with a friendly whore, and two spy friends of Rivaulx’s, are off to France to determine who killed that dead mistress, and to stop Napoleon, if they can. Little do they know, however, that events have been planned by a deadly duo, and that each move our heroic group makes has been predetermined.
Meanwhile, Rivaulx and Frances are fighting against their terrible attraction for one another. And, at the same time, their true selves are becoming apparent to the other – Rivaulx is not at all the rogue he seems. He wears the mantle, however, because he blames himself for every wrongdoing that occurs during his watch. As for Frances, this virginal courtesan hides behind her training; whenever Rivaulx is close to having her really feel love (and he tries everything, it seems), she finds a way to turn the tables and remains unfulfilled, and so untouched.
The slow burn these two suffer is erotic and romantic, and had the author focused on this, Illusion would have fared far better. As it was, the spies, the dastardly duo, and the historical panorama are distracting – if you like more than a smattering of history in your historical romance, this will likely appeal to you. But if you prefer to focus on the love relationship, these elements will prove an annoyance. Beyond these small distractions, however, was a far larger problem – the tendency toward whiny behavior. Rarely have I read such a whining, sniveling male character in a romance as Lancelot Spencer, Rivaulx’s friend and fellow spy. Put Lancelot and Frances together, and the hand-wringing, self-pitying, angst-fest became unbearable. As such, Frances was a heroine too-tortured-to-be-true.
As the truths are revealed, some will come as a surprise, but others will seem self-apparent. The true surprise is how well the author crafted the character of Rivaulx, who is a wonderfully dark, tortured, and surprisingly layered character. Being misunderstood has rarely seemed so sexy.
The love scenes border on purple.
“What do they call it?” he asked. “This woman’s flower?”And yet, they generally work in the context of the story, although the eroticism of hot tea on nipples alludes me. The allusions to the Kama Sutra and the philosophy surrounding it are intriguing, and the explanation of Frances’ behavior makes sense, although a more thorough examination of her past would have helped. No doubt she is a tragic figure, but her tragedy is so overwhelming that she barely escapes it. This is a deeply sensual story, and it had great possibilities. Even though it told Rivaulx’s story, he deserved a better show-case, and perhaps, a better soul mate. Ultimately, this proves a frustrating read.
“Yoni,” she said, aching with desire.
His fingers stroked, over and over. “And may I suckle there, at this lotus yoni?”