The Many Sins of Cris de Feaux
Crispin de Feaux, Marquess of Avenmore is one of the four Lords of Disgrace, who were introduced to readers in His Housekeeper’s Christmas Wish; although by the sound of it, he’s probably the least deserving of being called a ‘disgrace’ of all of them. I’m also not sure what his “many sins” are, as he’s a thoroughly upstanding chap who takes his responsibilities seriously, recognises the importance of duty and who is starting to think it’s time he fulfilled that duty to family and title by settling down.
That said, it’s not the first time the title of a book has described a hero as a rogue, devil or just plain wicked when he is really nothing of the sort, so I let that go and settled in to enjoy a book by an author I know can be relied upon to create interesting characters and tell a strong story. Crispin – or Cris – has recently returned from a diplomatic mission to Denmark nursing a broken heart. The object of his affections is married and Cris is not the sort of man to dishonour a married lady or risk a major diplomatic incident, so he has returned to England frustrated and restless – and so preoccupied that a moment’s lack of forethought seems as though it is about to cost him his life.
Barely making it to land following a punishing swim off the Devonshire coast, Cris is taken in by Tamsyn Perowne, the widow of a notorious smuggler, and her maiden aunts. A mistake has Tamsyn believing him to be a mere mister, and it’s a mistake Cris is reluctant to correct once he sees the attraction of being a man unencumbered by title and responsibilities, even for just a short while.
A day or so into his recovery, Cris learns that the ladies have lately been the victims of a number of unfortunate accidents; a hayrick fire, escaping livestock, empty lobster pots – none of which are taken seriously by the local magistrate who puts each incident down to local boys making mischief. Tamsyn, however, is convinced that her cousin Franklin, Viscount Chelford, is trying to force them off the land and from their home, even though she can’t quite fathom why, when he has a large estate of his own, he should be bothered with a small estate bequeathed by his father to his aunt and her companion.
Being the sort of honourable gentleman he is, Cris cannot ignore what he learns, even though Tamsyn is initially reluctant to allow him to become involved. But he won’t take no for an answer; she and her aunts saved his life and the least he can do is get to the bottom of these so-called accidents and ensure their safety, so he starts making enquiries about Chalford in London while also setting about making sure the ladies are protected.
Cris initially wonders if the strong pull he feels towards Tamsyn is merely the result of thwarted desire and not having been with a woman in months, but very soon dismisses that theory. He likes her courage, her spirit and her independent nature, he finds her attractive and he most definitely wants to take her to bed. But that’s all there could ever be between them, as Cris is very well aware that a smuggler’s widow is not a suitable match for a man in his position.
Tamsyn is equally smitten. Not only is Cris stunningly gorgeous (and I have to applaud the cover designers here, because that model is perfect. Day-um!) – but he’s solicitous for her aunts’ comfort, he’s charming, and makes her feel safe. That he’s infuriatingly close-lipped about himself is something not so completely in his favour, but Tamsyn wants him desperately, and thinks that a short-lived affair won’t do any harm, provided they’re discreet.
I rather liked Tamsyn’s determination to go after what she wants, which she does in a way that is direct without being out-of-character or completely implausible for a woman of the time. She’s gutsy without being TSTL or purposefully contrary, capable and clever, and knows when to accept help, which is always important in stories when the heroine is in a fix. So often authors seem to think that having a female character accept help from a man makes her appear weak whereas the opposite is true; knowing when help is needed and when to ask for it is a sign of strength and intelligence.
The romance between Tamsyn and Cris is lovely. They share a strong emotional connection, and there’s tenderness, humour and an underlying sensuality to their interactions which makes their developing relationship a joy to read. In fact, it’s so well done that I’d have given the book a higher grade had the final section not felt rushed and boasted a couple of obvious contrivances. In addition, Ms Allen makes use of a rather stock-in-trade ‘I can’t marry you because…’ on Tamsyn’s part which is one that almost always makes me want to roll my eyes and shout “but how can you KNOW?!”
Apart from the last one, those issues didn’t really bother me or spoil The Many Sins of Cris de Feaux, which is a terrific romance, and one I very much enjoyed. As I was reading, I was reminded of Michelle Mills’ comments in her recent blog about Harlequin titles to the effect that sometimes readers want a romance that’s all about the romance – and this book fulfils that criteria admirably. The subplot concerning the supposed accidents and the further nefarious schemes of the evil cousin is entertaining and well-written, but the romance is front and centre, and a very good one it is too.