My Lady's Pleasure
I was a little worried when Julia Justiss introduced her main characters in the first chapter of My Lady’s Pleasure. They are very familiar types: the handsome rake and the widowed virgin. This is one of those books, though, that manages to take familiar elements and transform them into something wonderful.
Valeria is the nearly-penniless widow of a nobleman, Lord Arnold, who was killed in the Napoleonic War. She has lost everyone dear to her, including her husband, who didn’t care enough about her to consummate the marriage before he died. Now Valeria is facing marriage to a depressing neighbor, but she longs for excitement, adventure, and for the pleasures of the flesh she has never experienced. When Teagan Fitzwilliams, an incredibly good-looking rake with a shameful reputation, comes to stay on a nearby property, she is tempted to have one fling and doesn’t bother to hide it from him. The two share a single, passionate afternoon before they go their separate ways.
Several weeks later, Valeria’s fortunes seem to have turned. Her husband’s lonely grandmother, Lady Winterdale, has summoned Valeria to London, where she wishes to present Valeria to the ton. Valeria embraces the scheme because she craves adventure, not because wants to do the husband-hunting that is expected of her – and she secretly hopes she will see Teagan again. Teagan, too, has been thinking about Valeria constantly during his unending round of gambling and carousing. When they chance to see each other at a ball, Teagan cannot stay away from her, though he knows he should.
What makes this book special is the characters, and the way the conflict between them springs from their personalities. Valeria is a wonderful heroine – she is brave, intelligent, and determined without ever being spunky. Her first tumble into bed with Teagan struck me as unlikely until I got to know her – how her life has been shaped by one tragedy after another, until she has come to a rock-solid determination to live her life on her own terms. She takes into account what others might think, but she doesn’t live according to their rules. She is also deeply insecure about her own attractiveness – just the right touch to make this almost-perfect heroine endearing.
Teagan is the only Regency rake I’ve ever read about who bitterly repents his wicked ways but is trapped by his own reputation. The half-Irish grandson of an Earl, his family connections provided him with an Oxford education but no family affection or support, and he is penniless and unskilled in any trade. His rakish actions have had serious social consequences, which humiliate him. He makes a living by playing cards with the obnoxious idle rich whom he despises. His reputation is so poisonous that he dares not approach Valeria openly – just meeting her at a party could be ruinous to her prospects. But when she is willing to continue to see him in spite of what the ton might say, how can he resist?
Although the love scenes in this novel are quite mild, the sexual tension that grows between our two characters is not. Through all the ups and downs of their relationship, Justiss made me believe, not only in the characters, but in the passion that they shared and the very real problems that kept them apart. The book ends on a slightly uneven note, with a misunderstanding that went on too long and then was wrapped up too neatly. That misunderstanding, though, seemed natural, given the insecurities and expectations that they both brought to the relationship.
I came within a hair of granting this book Desert Isle Keeper status – it just missed due to the slightly unsatisfying ending. Nevertheless, My Lady’s Pleasure is by far the best historical romance I’ve read so far this year. For a very touching, passionate, and character-driven romance, I strongly recommend it.