-Read and excerpt: here
After a mysterious advertisement is placed in the paper by a man known only as 'Domino', directed towards her recently deceased father, Audrianna Kelmsleigh feels compelled to follow its instruction and show up to a meeting at the Two Swords Coaching Inn in the hopes of clearing her fathers name. After a damning mishap with some tampered gun powder that failed some soldiers on the front lines erupted, blame was left on Audrianna's fathers door and scandal and social scorn traveled in its wake. He took his life, which further implicated him as the one responsible, and left his family in tatters. Friends stop calling, fiancee's begged to be released of their duties and melancholy mothers proved to be almost too much for Audrianna to bear.
At the invitation of her angel of a cousin, Daphne Joyes, a widower due to the war, Audrianna find herself on the outskirts of London, in a makeshift haven for women who prefer not to talk about their past. The house doubles as a livelihood for the woman who make use of the large greenhouse and grow flowers; the business is called 'The Rarest Blooms'.
The story begins with Audrianna arriving at the Inn and requesting a room from a skeptical inn-keeper. She tells him that if anyone inquires about a Mr.Kelmsleigh then to send them up to her room. Sebastian Summerhays, the brother of a now handicapped Marquess of Wittonbury, whom suffered his crippling injuries as a result of the war, took a special interest in the whole tainted gun powder debacle. After coming across the same mysterious advertisement in the paper, Sebastian takes it upon himself to investigate. He makes his inquires about Mr.Kelmsleigh once he arrives at the inn and is directed to Audrianna's room. Suffice to say, when he stumbles across a beautiful woman, he has to rethink his game plan and figure out why she is there and what connection she has in all this. There is a scene where he gets a little too close for her comfort and she brandishes a pistol at him. He seduces the gun from her grasp with a kiss, and unknowingly distracts himself from the real purpose for their both being there. 'Domino' walks in on them, thinks its a trap and wrestles with Sebastian for the gun. Domino escapes but not before the gun goes off and Sebastian receives an injury to his arm. This brews up a large scandal that leaves Audrianna's virtue and Sebastians honor in question.
Reluctantly, Audrianna accepts Sebastian's proposal for marriage after the scandal ensues and is pleasantly surprised that it isn't as unpleasant as she imagined. The passions of the marriage bed sustain her for a little while, but soon she finds that she want more from Sebastian, who continues to pursue the matter of the tainted gun powder and keeps her at a distance. Although she is still determined to prove her fathers innocence, Audrianna realizes the 'scab' her tenacity on the subject is making on her marriage and the endless poking and bleeding is weighting on her happiness.
Through Sebastian's investigations, he finds his brother may be at the center of the crime and fights with the decision to preserve his familial loyalties and satisfy his duty to justice. And all the while, his resistance at the notion of being in love with his wife begins to lose it's potency.
At the end of the book, revelations are made and justice will be served, but more importantly, husband and wife accept the bonds that will hold them together and a love that they equally and unconditionally share.
My favorite part of the book: Is in the beginning, when Sebastian kisses Audrianna to distraction and eases the gun from her grip. Actually the entire scene (and chapter) are among the favorite I've read in a while. It was exciting, sensual and compelling. What a wonderful way to start off a book. It drew me in at the start and refused to release me until I found all the pieces to the puzzle.
This is a good piece of writing and the first I have read by Madeline Hunter. What an introduction to an author I feel will captivate me more and more as I move through her works. Although I did feel it started to go flat during some of the scenes involving the investigation and questioning of key witnesses', it still held me and ranks up their with some of the more passion-filled novels I liked. It was as much mystery as romance and should be enjoyable to any fan of romance!
*Also check out 'Provocative in Pearls', Grayson's story (a minor character in 'Ravishing in Red'), which also interlocks with the tale of another one of the 'women who prefer not to talk about their past' at 'The Rarest Blooms'/ My Review can be found: here