The Danger of Desire
The Danger of Desire is the third release in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors series and it definitely feels like a mid-series book. The storyline is recognizable and includes some of my favorite romantic devices but it never really packs the emotional wallop to push it from a good story into a great one.
Warren Corry, the Marquis of Knightford, has managed to avoid entangling himself with any eligible women despite the best efforts of his cousin Lady Clarissa. His bachelor lifestyle allows him to keep his own hours during the day and spend his nights in whichever club or willing woman’s bed he wishes. When Clarissa all but begs Warren to keep an eye on her good friend Miss Delia Trevor he is sure it’s another ploy to match him with a suitable woman but his honor won’t let him dismiss a lady in need. Miss Trevor has arrived in town with a sizable dowry but apparently no inclination to find a husband and this has Clarissa very concerned. Thinking that perhaps she is being harassed by a fortune hunter or other unsuitable gentleman Warren takes up the cause to protect his cousin’s unconventional friend.
Upon their first meeting Warren is startled by Miss Trevor’s skill at managing the men vying for her attention. She is much more savvy than his cousin gave her credit for and Warren is intrigued enough to corner her on the dance floor to find out exactly why she’s playing the wallflower. Delia’s cryptic response to his question and her suspicious conversation with a servant after leaving the dance puts all of Warren’s protective instincts on alert. That night he waits outside her aunt’s townhouse thinking he’ll catch Delia making her escape in order to attend an assignation. When she doesn’t appear, Warren instead follows the servant and another young man to a local gaming hell hoping to find answers. Inside the hell, Warren discovers the truth about Delia’s suspicious behavior.
Delia cannot believe her misfortune when the Marquis of Knightford sits down at her piquet table to play a set against her. She knows he is is too canny to fall for her disguise as a young man but she hopes he won’t recognize her completely. That hope is dashed immediately as their banter over cards becomes a thinly veiled interrogation about her behavior. Delia causes a distraction so as slip away from the gaming hell; however she knows the Marquis will not relent in discovering why she would risk her good name to play cards in the London stews. Delia is on the hunt to find the card cheat who drove her beloved brother to suicide. Using the clues left in her brother’s suicide note to help find the identity of the cheater, Delia has spent her nights in the same hell where he lost everything, looking for a lord with a sun tattooed on his wrist.
Her mission becomes difficult with Warren insisting on protecting her from what he sees as her own foolishness. His threats to expose her to her aunt seem empty and yet he continually puts himself bodily in her way to keep her from resuming her disguise. It doesn’t help that Warren’s constant presence sparks a need deep within Delia she’s never experienced before. Their push and pull relationship has Warren distracting her through physical seduction while Delia manages to get under his skin by resisting his overbearing nature. Things take a major turn during Lady Clarissa’s house party when Delia tries to help Warren during a moment of vulnerability. What was an innocent gesture is construed by the guests as a clandestine meeting between lovers. Caught between her desire to keep her independence or risk a scandal that would taint her sister-in-law and young nephew Delia accepts Warren’s offer of marriage, but their future together could be more complicated than she realizes.
The Danger of Desire doesn’t break any new ground in how it is plotted, so everything depends on how developed the characters are as they move around the situation. Warren begins the story as the stereotypical rake with the terrible reputation to go with it. What isn’t typical are his reasons for staying out all night or keeping company with numerous women. Ms. Jeffries gives Warren a fairly traumatic experience in his youth from which he has never fully recovered. His family had no idea how to treat a child with a case of what we’d diagnose today as PTSD, so Warren was left to find his own way of dealing with his night terrors. As he grew up, that led to an avoidance of being alone at night and finding distraction through sex or social interactions. We take for granted how PTSD is handled today but in Warren’s time there was no diagnosis of the condition and no professionals with whom to discuss things. Delia’s straightforward approach to confronting his problem may have been bitter medicine for him to swallow but she is correct that if he’s to move forward he has to let go of that past trauma.
I was frustrated that the third act of the book was basically all set-up for the final story of the series. The reveal of the man with the tattoo happens without much build up and his reasons for gambling with Delia’s brother are very convoluted. Readers also learn that Delia’s sister-in-law and Warren’s other cousin have a history they’ve hidden from their extended families but it has unknown ripple effects leading to the current situation. Delia puts the pieces together and all of her brother’s past problems are explained rather neatly; however she also seems to let go of her hurt feelings too easily. It’s all done so that the reader is sympathetic to the main character pairing in the fourth Sinful Suitors book but it’s a disservice to all that we’ve just gone through regarding Delia’s search for justice. People are forgiven too easily and regrets are swept under the carpet just to serve the demands of the plot. From Delia’s moment of clarity we also get the final declarations between her and Warren; however it, too, is a quick resolution and it closes the book with more of a whimper than a shout.
It’s only Sabrina Jeffries talent for creating layered and interesting characters that saves The Danger of Desire from being a forgettable book. The unique nature of Warren’s difficulties and Delia’s skills at the card table make their characters stand out against a weak merging of the woman in disguise and marriage of convenience plotlines.