Desert Isle Keeper
With one hand of cards Alden Granville-Strachan, Viscount Gracechurch, has lost everything: his estates, his money, even his clothes. He has nothing left to lose when he’s offered a wager by Lord Edward Vane: if he wins he regains all he’s lost, plus five thousand pounds. If he loses he not only loses everything, but must forfeit a prize to be determined later. His wits surprisingly muddled by drink, Alden agrees. The wager? As a notorious rake with a reputation for never being refused a woman’s favors, he is given one week to bed a widow infamous for turning down suitors. To prove that the deed has been done, he must take the locket she wears and give it to Lord Edward.
Alden has been forewarned about the widow Juliet Seton’s prickly nature and her abhorrence of strangers, particularly men. He takes a risk when she spots him standing in her garden and allows a bee to sting him. Alden is highly allergic to bees, but with nothing left to lose figures it worth the risk if it’ll gain him sympathy.
Juliet is not thrilled to find the handsome stranger in her garden – neither is she cruel enough to send a man very obviously ill away. Instead she sits with him until the effects of the sting start to subside, and then because of rain she invites him into her home. Alden spots a chessboard and challenges Juliet to a game. During the course of their play he offers a wager: if he wins the game then she must play chess with him once a day for a week and forfeit a prize of his choosing. Juliet agrees only after he agrees to do a chore to make up for the time she’ll lose playing the game. And so the game of seduction begins. Unfortunately for them, it is merely a part of a larger game of revenge carefully set in motion long before Alden gambled his future on a hand of cards.
Alden seems an unlikely hero. A man who agrees to bed a woman for his own personal gain is not very heroic, not to mention the fact he apparently dresses more colorfully than a peacock and wears more lace than the average bride. But Ross skillfully portrays him as a complex and completely masculine man. He’s torn between honor and necessity where Juliet is concerned. He wants to walk away from the wager, but he has a responsibility not only to those who work for him, but also to Sherry, an illegitimate orphan boy in his care. Through Alden’s love for this boy the reader sees a man devoted to his duty and not quite as cynical as he’d like the world to think. Slowly, through the course of the book, Alden’s layers are stripped, starting with silk and the lace, to reveal the true man at the core, the passionate romantic who despite himself comes to love Juliet.
Juliet is a bit harder to like because of her bitterness. But as her past is revealed and her reasons for fighting her feelings are made clear, the reader can’t help but sympathize. Juliet accepts that she made mistakes in her youth and tries to learn from them, sometimes going to extremes to follow the rules society sets forth. Juliet transforms over the course of the story from an embittered cynic to a woman who can trust in love again. By the end she almost seems younger than the woman we first meet: a rare, but enjoyable, contrast with so many historical romance novels, where heroines need to mature before the reader can identify with them.
Besides the characters, what makes this novel shine is the language. One really has a sense of the time period, and although the pacing is faster, for me it had the feel of novels written in the early 19th century. The descriptions are detailed to the point where one can get a clear picture of the clothes, the carriages and rolling countryside of England. The dialogue is quick and witty, and Ross is clever in using the frequent chess games as a metaphor for the battle of wills between Alden and Juliet. Even though there are few bedroom scenes and even limited kissing, the level of sexual tension is passionate and sizzling throughout the novel.
I wish I could say more about this book, but I don’t want to give away anything that will spoil it. Though the ending isn’t quite as powerful as the beginning, it makes up for it with a sense of hope and contentment. On the last page of The Seduction, the reader knows Alden and Juliet have found their happily ever after as well as earning it.