Desert Isle Keeper
To Beguile a Beast (#81 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on February 23, 1999
Yes, it’s now six in a row. All of Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances have received DIK status here at AAR. As with many readers, I have followed the author since she appeared on the scene in 2006 and read each book as it was published. Two of her previous books earned places on my personal DIK shelf, but my favorite of the lot by far is this, Hoyt’s sixth gift to readers, To Beguile a Beast.
As a civilian naturalist, Sir Alistair Monroe traveled across the American Colonies, often as an attachment to His Majesty’s army, in his quest to discover new plants and animals. Tragedy struck the regiment with which he was traveling years earlier when it was attacked and the survivors tortured. Alistair left behind an eye, two fingers, and his pride in the woods of North America and returned home a prematurely aged man. His badly scarred face frightens almost anyone who looks his way and he now lives a solitary life tucked away in his crumbling castle. He’s now famous for his book on New England’s flora and fauna and is satisfied with his studies, his hills and stream, and the companionship of his old deerhound.
Helen Fitzwilliam is running with her two children, five-year old Jamie and nine year-old Abigail, as far and fast as she can from the Duke of Lister, knowing he will take her children if he ever finds them. The duke is a cruel man who considers Helen, his mistress of fourteen years, and their children his possessions and he’s not the type to relinquish anything that belongs to him. In an effort to protect Helen, a friend sends the little family to Scotland to a rundown, isolated castle to hide, begin a new life, and, a first for Helen, to work as a housekeeper. It’s up to Helen to convince the reclusive owner of his need for her as she bravely pushes her way into the surly, scarred, unwilling owner’s life and home.
Alistair isn’t looking for a housekeeper and certainly doesn’t want one since an unkempt, rundown castle is a small price to pay for his privacy. Stunned by the pronouncement that this beautiful woman has come to supervise his home, Alistair gruffly dismisses any such notion – repeatedly. In no time however, he not only has a housekeeper and a cook, but several other servants as well. He strongly suspects that Helen has no domestic experience and, as he questions her in an attempt to find the hole in her obviously fabricated tale of past service, the fun begins in earnest. Although he won’t admit it to himself, he delights in flummoxing the woman.
It is difficult to play the part of housekeeper when one has no experience and, to prove worthy to the task, Helen works side by side with the servants to clean the grimy rooms. However her lack of experience is not her greatest problem, but rather the manner in which she is attracted both emotionally and physically to the master of the house.
My enjoyment of a book is often gauged by the number of re-readable passages – appealing dialogue between the leads that I must experience again either with a smile on my face or a bit of a dropped jaw – and these episodes are sprinkled liberally throughout the book. Alistair’s internal dialogue is almost as delectable as that with Helen – he is a kindhearted man beneath his beastly façade and a bit of wicked humor often shines through his seemingly ill-tempered nature.
Alistair is the star of the book, although Helen is a very attractive supporting heroine. Both his dedication to his dog and his interaction with Jamie and Abigail provide many touching moments. He is active in the children’s lives – insisting they are present at meals, taking them on outings, teaching them to fish, or the details of natural science. At times I felt like I was reading a warm family story. But then there were other times that I felt as if this was definitely “adult only” content as the chemistry is strong, the sensual scenes hot, and Alistair, despite all of his wonderful qualities, is certainly no push over.
Since many readers have an aversion to mistresses in romance, let me assure you that Helen is not your typical mistress. Her circumstances are slowly revealed within the course of the book and I believe she will find acceptance in the hearts of all types of romance readers.
To Beguile a Beast is the third in The Legend of the Four Soldiers series and continues the search for the traitor responsible for the massacre. The search gets less attention here and I personally greatly appreciated that fact. The series’ final book, To Desire a Devil is scheduled for release in November 2009. And, yes, for the many readers who have speculated about the hero of that fourth book, it is Reynaud St. Aubyn, the Earl of Blanchard.
As I read To Beguile a Beast, I felt one of those old romance highs and was reminded once again that books such as this one are the reason I read romance. My impression was that of liquid velvet with rich writing that flowed ever so effortlessly. Alistair and Helen are adult leads who maturely face the difficulties in their path without contrived conflicts (thank you Ms. Hoyt). My only slight irritation was the continued reference to Helen’s eyes from Alistair’s perspective as “Harebell-blue.”
Without a doubt, I will continue to follow Hoyt to the end of this series and beyond – she is an auto-buy for me. But I don’t know if I will even hope for one to exceed my enjoyment of this book. It’s just about as good as it can get.