The Handmaiden's Necklace
Kat Martin was a favorite of mine during my first days of reading romance. Although her plots usually proved to be rather formulistic, her domineering heroes and acquiescent heroines appealed to me and I knew I could count on her for a pleasurable reading experience. However, my interest in her books has waned over the past few years and I don’t know if my tastes have changed or if her writing has lost the edge I once found so intriguing. When I chose to read Martin’s latest for review, I hoped to find some of her old magic within its pages but found I had to endure so many pages of overused plot lines that by the time the magic did appear, it was too late to warrant more than a qualified recommendation.
Rafael, Duke of Sheffield, believes he was terribly wronged five years ago when he discovered a man in his beloved fiancée’s bed one weekend at a country party. The Duke never stopped to consider just why he conveniently found a note prompting him to visit her room late that night, nor did he bother to listen to her repeated claims of innocence. After all, he was the one betrayed and refused to give the time of day to the worthless woman who made a fool of him. By abruptly ending their betrothal, he proclaimed to the world that Danielle Fuval was a scarlet woman and his failure to defend her increased the rumors of scandal, causing society to totally shun her.
Yet Danielle knows she is the one who was grievously wronged. Her life was shattered when she was erroneously accused of flagrant misconduct after awakening one night to find a man in her bed and her fiancé standing in the door. Banished from polite society, Danielle retired to her aunt’s estate in the country with no friends to speak of and certainly no chance of a decent marriage. She suffered greatly from the loss of her cherished fiancé and the fact that he had ultimately betrayed her when he chose to believe the worst of the woman he supposedly loved.
Determined to reclaim her life, Danielle accepts a proposal of marriage from an American who cares little about her disreputable past. Prior to leaving for America, Danielle reluctantly agrees to accompany her aunt to several social functions and, as she fears, she encounters her former fiancé for the first time since that awful night. Rafael can’t help his show of bitterness and he forces her to listen as he makes accusations and demands answers to the questions he should have asked years ago.
Since Rafael callously viewed Danielle’s humiliation as her due, the agony she initially felt over losing him has mercifully lessened with time and, therefore, his anger cannot inflict the pain it once did. She has no unresolved thoughts of love towards Rafael and truly does not want to see him again. She abhors not only his presence, but also the power he once had over her and I, as the reader, could easily sympathize with her.
Surprised at Danielle’s bitterness and thorough dislike of him, Rafael decides it may be time to consider the events surrounding her act of unfaithfulness and hires an investigator. It doesn’t take much time to discover that she was entirely innocent of any indiscreet behavior and had, in fact, been set up. Believing he must make amends, Rafael immediately sails to America in pursuit of her, assuring himself that he has no designs on her whatsoever.
Danielle is genuinely horrified to see Rafael in America since she believes he will soon destroy her chance for a new life. When he apologizes for his past foolishness and subsequent ill treatment of her, it only serves to confuse Danielle. She can find no comfort in his presence and is especially alarmed at his declaration that he is staying until he is certain that she will be happy with her future life.
I wavered greatly in my opinion of Danielle as I felt great sympathy for her at times, while at other times I wanted to tell her to stand up for herself. Little is seen of her personality for the first half of the book other than the fact that she loves children and is dedicated to her work with orphans. She spends an inordinate amount of time trembling throughout the book and, apparently, is cursed with the inability to concentrate since she often has no idea what a person has said to her.
As for Rafael, what heroine would not be gravely concerned when faced with such a hero? A ruthless man who has judged her so harshly in the past can hardly inspire trust and feelings of love and commitment. Rafael is domineering by nature and, although his behavior remains suspicious and callous despite his repentance, there were bursts of compassion and understanding as well. It was a confusing yet effective combination in that I believed this man capable of destroying Danielle’s life again with a snap of his fingers and yet saw him struggling to make things right.
I so looked forward to Rafael’s comeuppance and equally relished the thought of Danielle developing some backbone despite her well founded fears that my interest in their story remained high throughout. And both of these things do happen as the Martin I remembered from those early days of romance reading returned to provide the reader with a heart-wrenching final three chapters. Despite the clichéd story lines, I found The Handmaiden’s Necklace to be an enjoyable book in the end, even if I did have to work for it.