Twice Tempted is the fifth instalment in Eileen Dreyer’s Drake’s Rakes series, and follows neatly on from book four, Once a Rake. During the course of that book, twin sisters Fiona and Mairead Ferguson learned that their brother, Ian, had been killed following his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Duke of Wellington. Disgust and fear of the scandal likely to ensue prompted their grandfather – never the kindest or most tolerant of men – to disown them and throw them out. When, a few weeks later, Alex Knight and his friend and colleague, Lord Charles Wilde (Chuffy) return to the Marquess of Rayburn’s estate to advise him and Ian’s sisters that he’s still alive and very much innocent, it’s too late. The ladies have gone and nobody knows where they went.
Fiona and Mairead Ferguson-Hawes are no strangers to homelessness, having more or less grown up on the streets of Edinburgh following the death of their mother when they were girls. They slept rough on the streets, with Fiona working hard to keep body and soul together, and they can do it again if necessary. Disappearing in a big city like London is easy to accomplish, and while Fiona works out what to do next, they take temporary refuge at the girls’ school in Blackheath that’s run by a friend.
Alex and Fiona actually met four years before, as told in the novella It Begins with a Kiss. Fiona was just sixteen, yet it was apparent that she and Alex were attuned to each other, and she has carried a torch for him ever since. They shared just one passionate kiss – but Alex was married and far too honourable a man to attempt to take anything further. Now he’s a widower and even though his attraction to Fiona has never abated, he doesn’t think he’s deserving of her love or dare to think they might have a future together. Alex might have been dubbed the “White Knight” by his fellow Rakes because of his drive to protect those he loves, but he doesn’t see himself that way at all, dwelling instead on the times he has let others down or failed to save them. In the last book, he had to make an impossible choice between duty to his country and to his friends when he was blackmailed by a group of traitors called the Lions – and he continues to be haunted by his actions. Still under a cloud, he is sickened to hear from the Lions again, this time accusing his beloved step-father and his late wife of treason, and threatening to reveal all if Alex doesn’t lead them to Fiona and Mairead.
Weighed down by self-doubt and fear for his stepfather’s poor health, Alex’s mind reels at the idea that Fiona and her sister are being targeted by the Lions and knows he has to get them to safety while he works out what that traitorous organisation could possibly want with them.
The story that unfolds is complex, well-researched, and full of romance and intrigue. Fiona is a terrific heroine – strong, resourceful, and clever, she’s more or less devoted her life to caring for her twin. While readers have met Fiona before, we haven’t been introduced to Mairead, and it’s been hinted that there is something a bit different about her. Her entrance into the story is really quite astonishing; the assumption has been that she’s a quiet and shy little mouse – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Mairead literally blazes into the story, full of vitality and enthusiasm, a mathematical genius with a passion for astronomy – while her understanding of people and everyday life is somewhat tenuous. Today she might possibly be diagnosed as autistic. She’s vibrant and extraordinary; brilliant, yet strangely childlike about some things, and her “special-ness” is the reason Fiona has fought so desperately to shield her from public view.
Fiona shares her sister’s passion for the stars and her affinity for mathematics. The fact that she long ago pin-pointed Orion as the one constant in her life is terribly poignant, and speaks of her longing for something she’s never had – someone to rely on and to share her burdens. She thinks that perhaps she has found that person in Alex, but as the Lions begin to close in, she realises that perhaps her presence – and that of her sister – is a burden he should not be asked to carry.
Alex and Fiona make a great couple. Well-matched intellectually, and kindred spirits when it comes to their desire to protect those they love, they have great chemistry, and Ms Dreyer writes and develops their relationship extremely well. There’s the added bonus of the rather sweet secondary romance that blossoms between Mairead and Chuffy, and I was very impressed by the way in which the author writes Fiona’s mixed feelings on seeing her sister starting to move away from her dependence upon her. The relationship between Alex and his stepfather is also very well written; Alex’s love and deep respect for the older man just leaps off the page, and Sir Joseph’s pride in and care for his adoptive son is strongly evident.
Twice Tempted is a well-paced, compelling page-turner that boasts a secondary cast every bit as strongly drawn as the central couple. The one reservation I have is with the way that Alex has to keep putting off telling anyone about the fact that he’s being blackmailed. He’s treading a really fine line – one that could see him accused of treason, yet each time he decides he needs help, something happens which means he has to delay asking for it. It’s a fairly small thing, but each time it happened, I wanted to punch something!
Overall, though, it’s a terrific read, and one I have no hesitation in recommending strongly to fans of romance/espionage stories. It’s just about possible to read it as a standalone, but I’d suggest reading the previous book in the series first.