Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Mary Balogh - Seducing an Angel

In her magnificent new novel, New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh sweeps us into a world of scandal and intrigue—glittering Regency England—and introduces the youngest Huxtable: Stephen, the only son. Here Stephen will risk his reputation and his heart as he enters a scandalous liaison with the infamous beauty intent on seduction. But when passion turns the tables on them both, who can say who has seduced whom?
He must be wealthy, wellborn, and want her more than he wants any other woman. Those are the conditions that must be met by the man Cassandra Belmont chooses for her lover. Marriage is out of the question for the destitute widow who stands accused of murdering her husband and must now barter her beauty in order to survive. With seduction in mind, she sets her sights on Stephen Huxtable, the irresistibly attractive Earl of Merton and London’s most eligible bachelor. But Stephen’s first intriguing glimpse of the mysterious, alluring Lady Paget convinces him that he has found the ideal woman to share his bed. There is only one caveat. This relationship fueled by mutual pleasure must be on his terms.
As the two warily circle each other in a sensual dance of attack and retreat, a single night of passion alters all the rules. Cassandra, whose reputation is already in tatters, is now in danger of losing the one thing she vowed never to give. And Stephen, who wants Cassandra more than he has ever wanted any woman, won’t rest until she has surrendered everything—not as his mistress—but as his lover and wife. . .

Comment: This is the fourth story in the Huxtable quintet series by Mary Balogh, which I've been reading lately.

This is the story of Stephen, the earl of Merton. His older sisters have been the protagonists of the previous three books and now it's his turn to find happiness. Stephen is very likable man, not only because of his behavior and status since he got to be heir to the earldom but also because h is a genuine person and treats others in a fair and polite manner.
Stephen believes he isn't ready yet to marry but he can't dismiss the fact he is aware many see him as a potential good catch, an idea he doesn't mind either. Therefore, he lives his life with all the comforts and the politeness his status provides while still maintaining the simplicity and friendliness of the years he didn't have as much money.
Considering his life but also his approachable personality, he is indeed a little surprised by meeting lady Paget, a woman some people have accused of murdering her husband, and to see how unafraid she is of letting him know she wouldn't mind having him as a lover. However, after their first night together he realizes his expectations regarding the seduction that took place aren't the same as lady Paget's. Will these two find common ground and happiness anyway?

One of the best features of long series where the focus isn't on just one couple is the potential for development of the protagonists and the secondary characters throughout the stories.
Thinking this, it can be obvious one of the subjects that had some importance in these stories was how Stephen, who in book #1 was only seventeen if I remember correctly, has grown up to be a very good man, a good friend and peer. It was very reassuring how he didn't change his personality with the money and the means his new status allows. In fact, I really liked seeing in a page here, another there, how gentle Stephen has become a very worthy and reasonable man.

That is why, I suppose, I feel a little bit irked his heroine has turned out to be someone like lady Paget. You see, I have imagined in my head a possible heroine for Stephen and although I didn't envision him with a wallflower type of woman nor someone too much like him that they wouldn't have any visible sharing of passion, I must say I also didn't think of someone with lady Paget's personality. 
From a human POV, I can totally understand why lady Paget behaved the way she did but from the perspective of reading a romance novel, I felt she was a little too cynical to suit Stephen's temperament and personality.

Said like that it can look as if I'm criticizing the woman and putting Stephen, the guy, in the pedestal. That is not my intention but the reality is that lady Paget decided to act a certain way, she decided to seduce Stephen because she is in financial difficulties and doesn't want to let go of those she is caring for. I'm not bothered she felt like relying on her beauty and sex to be able to pay bills and feed those under her care; in fact that can be admirable. The problem is her attitude, the almost cold and impersonal way she approaches Stephen. Yes, the reader knows her reasons but she treats Stephen poorly in the beginning.
It's also true I wouldn't know how to behave if I were in her shoes, during an historical period when women had practically no rights, especially regarding finances. But from the POV of this being a romance novel, I can certainly imagine the author would have had the talent to choose a different way of letting us know of lady Paget's struggles.

When we learn (it's always suspected anyway) of the reasons behind her attitude, they are certainly clear and justified and she does get to be friendlier as the novel moves along. I can also say I'm glad she and Stephen found common ground and found traits in the other that made them fall in love and find happiness. But then I remember how their first meeting was, I think about the way her money problems were solved with a few scenes of coincidental events and it sort of keeps being a bit of a let down how their relationship went through those situations.

In real life, I wouldn't be as judgmental and of course people have every right to behave in the way they feel like at the time if they aren't hurting anyone but despite her reasons lady Paget did hurt Stephen occasionally, from an emotional POV. It has nothing to do with the fact she is a woman and he a man, it could very well been the other way around and I'd think the same but... I wish she could have demonstrated her anger and sadness and hopelessness in a different way, that's all.
The plot ends well, of course and with everyone happy. That is what matters after all.
I do hope the last story, cousin Constantine, will end things in perfection, though.
Grade: 6/10

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