Monday, October 25, 2010

Just One of those Flings

The Merry Widows are thought to be among the finest ladies of society... Though secretly, their thoughts are quite unrefined.

With the comforts of wealth to replace the absence of their husbands, the Merry Widows need not trouble themselves again with marriage. But that doesn't mean these five friends must deprive themselves of their most basic need - physical pleasure. So they each agree to seek out a lover...

Beatrice, Lady Somerfield, is too busy chaperoning her headstrong niece and overseeing her own young daughters to take a lover - until one night at a ball when a masked stranger makes her realize the delights she's been missing. When she learns his identity, however, an affair seems impossible.  He is Gabriel, the Marquess of Thayne, just returned from India, the catch of the season - and the one man half the debutantes of London (including Beatrice's niece!) want for a husband.

But Thayne is thoroughly captivated by Beatrice, and their attraction leads to several mutually satisfying encounters. As he searches for a bride among the Season's young ladies, he finds himself increasingly drawn to the beautiful, sensual, more sophisticated Lady Somerfield, and suspects his mistress might make the perfect wife.  But will Beatrice's deepening feelings for Thayne be enough to overcome her vow never to marry again, and the scandal once their relationship is revealed?

A great read by a new (to me) author!

So, I was introduced to Candice Hern by way of her short story in The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance and I was so delighted with Just One of those Flings, I can't wait to continue the series.  Of course, I bought all three books and started reading Book 2 first - I'm totally blaming a bad cold for this!  I kinda wondered about it but it didn't seem like a glaring issue as the books are meant to stand alone too.  But I'm a sucker for reading series books in order and I goofed.  Oh well.  

Anyhoo, we start off by meeting Beatrice, Lady Somerfield at a masquerade ball dressed as a Grecian huntress.  Gabriel Loughton, Marquess of Thayne, dressed as a maharajah, eyes her from across a crowded ballroom... fireworks go off, butterflies flurry... ok, not really, but Thayne is drawn to her like a mosquito to a bug light.  Beatrice feels the awareness to this mysterious stranger in return but she's certain she's just becoming more aware of how men look at her because she's been widowed for three years and is starting to yearn for the physical intimacy she once had. 

Now a bit about Beatrice... she belongs to a group privately known as the Merry Widows, but society knows the group as proper and respectable trustees of the Benevolent Widow's Fund, a charity aiding less fortunate widows and their families.  But when one of the Merry Widows recently took a lover, it was suggested they all should do the same, or at least try.  So with all this fresh in Beatrice's head, she's bound to be a bit more alert in the gentleman department.  And the maharajah's attention towards Beatrice does not go unnoticed.  Finally he asks her to dance... then out to the terrace for some fresh air.  An impromptu tryst ensues leaving Beatrice stunned at her own wanton behavior, while leaving the masquerading maharajah wanting more.  Much more.  But they didn't exchange names.  Can he find this woman, this Artemis?

Now a bit about Thayne... He's just returned from working in India for the last eight years and surely making an appearance at a masquerade is an easy way to survey the new blood in society without making his presence known just yet, right?  With his thirtieth birthday around the corner and to keep up his end of the bargain with the ducal parental units, Thayne needs to find a bride this season to settle down with and beget an heir.  Since he's a marquess, heir to a dukedom, that makes him easily the most eligible target of the season.  But when this woman, Artemis as he affectionately calls her, flees without even telling him her name, Thayne is on the hunt for his Grecian huntress when he should be on the hunt for a young, debutante bride.

The story gets interesting when Beatrice and her freshly launched niece visit the Duchess of Doncaster to inquire about the use of their ballroom for one of the Widow's Fund Balls.  Suddenly the Duke and his son, the Marquess of Thayne appear, with his friend Jeremy Burnett in tow.  Beatrice's niece, Emily, instantly captivates them all with her young, fresh beauty, sending glances - or rather, ballistic missiles - of interest to Thayne.  But Thayne is really not in the mood for simpering misses when he's still on the hunt for his unknown huntress...

Beatrice and Thayne made a great story, and with the mystery of their identities and a bit of a love triangle, this story had all the workings of a fun and enjoyable Regency romp.  I was a little worried about the tryst at the beginning of the book because it was a bit, umm, bold to say the least.  But I was pleased with the rest of the story and how things came together in the end.  Emily does become a bit of a shrew... she's a beauty and she knows it and everyone else does too, but its well written and she does get a bit of a subplot of her own which added a nice garnish.  The Merry Widows are a fun, wicked bunch and stick together to protect each other, which was a nice touch and really made this book a delightful read. 

My only small complaint about this book was that there were a LOT of references to India, including some vocabulary. While I don't mind learning new things about a foreign place or finding vocabulary or phrases sprinkled into the story, I kinda felt like this book became a billboard for showing off the author's research skills.  Ms. Hern no doubt researched thoroughly, but I got to a point where it just felt like too much.  Totally my opinion here, and it would never stop me from re-reading this book, but it was my observation. 

I really did enjoy this book, and judging by the steady ratings of Ms. Hern's books, I am sure to enjoy her others as well. In the Thrill of the Night (book 1) tells us Marianne Nesbitt's story, which is mildly touched on in Just One of those Flings but does not leave a gaping hole making you wonder too much about what you've missed. Book 3, Lady Be Bad, is Grace Marlowe's story. Ms. Hern has also penned a novella for a fourth Merry Widow which is included in the It Happened One Night anthology.

My rating: 7 - I really enjoyed it

The Merry Widows Trilogy, plus one novella...

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