The Perfect Desire
Leslie LaFoy wraps up her Perfect trilogy in winning style, pairing the slightly reckless, danger-seeking private investigator Barrett with his “perfect” feminine counterpart. The result is a thoroughly engrossing relationship between two equally strong and self-sufficient characters.
Barrett Stanbridge awakes one morning to find himself the chief suspect in the murder of Mignon Richard, who was found brutally beaten to death in the alley behind his home the morning after they enjoyed a one night stand. Mignon’s cousin, Isabella Dandaneaux, a widow from Louisiana, visits his office the next day with a story he cannot believe, but an offer he cannot refuse. The cousins’ grandmother was once the lover of the pirate Jean Lafitte, whose aid to the American forces during the War of 1812 was generously rewarded by the American government. Through the grandmother, the girls inherited the proverbial treasure map, which was torn in half, a piece given to each. Mignon then high-tailed it to London, following a clue. Isabella is sure that Mignon, whose rooms were ransacked, knowing she was being followed, left her half of the map in Barrett’s home.
Yes, I can hear your eyes rolling now. Mine did too. And so does Barrett’s. He even asks sarcastically, ”Does X mark the spot?” But Isabella is sincere in her belief, and in exchange for his permission to search his house, she will tell the authorities her story as well, giving them another motive and suspect for Mignon’s murder, even though she knows she would most likely be the next prime suspect.
When they arrive at his home and find that his bedroom has been ransacked as well, he starts to pay more heed to Belle’s suspicions. Fortunately, Barrett and Mignon spent a good deal of “quality time” elsewhere in the house – there are many places she could have hidden the map. They begin to retrace his lascivious (and quite impressive, stamina-wise) steps starting in the carriage, to the back door, to the dining room, both on top and beneath the table, to the study…. These scenes are very funny and Barrett is endearingly embarrassed at having to confess all this and search each place he and Mignon “paused” while on their way to the bedroom. Belle is quite amused, barely holding in her laughter at his discomfiture, and a bit envious. At least, she thinks, Mignon died a happy woman.
Knowing that whoever killed Mignon will be after Belle next, and that finding the real killer is the best way to exonerate himself, Barrett decides to stick with Belle. When the police arrive to arrest Barrett for the murder, they escape and go into hiding, working on solving the clues, getting to know each other.
Belle is a terrific character. An American Civil War widow who survived the war and the occupation of New Orleans, she is a tough chick. She is also well-armed, pragmatic and shows hidden depths and talents which Barrett recognizes as belonging to someone who is used to subterfuge. He suspects her of having been a Confederate spy, but her story is more interesting and complex than that. She is no stranger to the thrill of danger, and Barrett sees a kindred spirit in her, as he has been known to be a thrill junkie as well. One of the benefits of his job, he says, is that once or twice a year he gets to throw himself into the teeth of danger.
The book’s title is apt as these two are perfect for each other; a strong sexual tension runs between them and both know almost immediately they will eventually become lovers. Mignon’s shadow stands between them for a bit. She is a vivid character as they retrace her steps and her life. But Barrett very quickly sees that while Mignon was a beautiful, overtly sensual and shallow creature, there is much, much more to Belle.
The focus of the novel is definitely on the relationship, and I very much enjoyed this character-driven story. The whole treasure map device and a further slightly paranormal element did result in some eye-rolling, but the relationship and the characters LaFoy created got me past that and kept me furiously turning pages to see what they would say next. Belle is one of the best female characters I’ve read in some time and brought to mind a mix of Anne Wilder from Connie Brockway’s All Through the Night and Vivian Swift from Taylor Chase’s Heart of Deception – a fascinating combination. And Barrett delights in all of Belle’s layers, while being gorgeous, sexy and supportive. What’s not to like?