Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-79089-0
Historical Romance, 1997
Guinevere Mary Fairchild has a secret. She has murdered a nobleman who tried to bugger her brother when she was somewhat a kid herself. With a price on her head, she flees with her brother and soon reinvents herself as the really brittle and prim Mary Rottenson, housekeeper to one elderly Lady Valéry.
Unlike middle-aged ladies in too many Regency England romance novels where they are dotty and spend their time clucking over embroideries, Lady Valéry is fast and lusty. She also has this unfortunate habit of keeping a diary of her, er, adventures, and now the diary is missing and the thief is blackmailing her for its return. Lady Valéry suspects that those Fairchild scumbags are the culprit, and asks her nephew Sebastian Durant to help her get it back.
And to infiltrate the Fairchilds, what better way that to drag the Fairchild pariah, Mary, along as a decoy, right? Charles knows Mary’s father, and he recognizes her as a Fairchild. Mary doesn’t want to go back to the family that left her to fend for herself and her brother alone after her father’s death, but what can she do? A good housekeeper always obeys her employer, and Lady Valéry is coming along too. What can go wrong?
Plenty. For one, the Fairchilds are a nest of vipers willing to butcher and sell their own grandmothers for a lollypop. Two, Sebastian lusts after Mary. He doesn’t like it, neither does she, but oh, they will burst into flames, those two, if they don’t do anything about it soon. Sebastian will have to deal with the fact that Mary is a Fairchild, while Mary will have to confront her own demons before they can reach a happily ever after.
Where shall I start? I know this book garnered some controversy when it came out, because Sebastian’s first love scene with Mary is pretty much an outright (non-violent, but still…) rape. When he says that her tears are gold, worth more to him than her maidenhead (and thus enraging more readers into wanting castration back in norm again), well, I get it. But I’m not offended in the least.
See, Sebastian and Mary are neurotic, even psychotic nutcases. She is so brittle and proper and icy, Sebastian has no way to chip at her defenses except by his drastic action. He, on the other hand, is a control freak hiding all his insecurities behind his arrogance that he is close to breaking point without his knowing it. Each of them is the other’s destruction, come to think of it. Mary will have to realize that she doesn’t have anything to fear from her Fairchild blood and that eugenics are rubbish concepts, while Sebastian will have his control shattered to shards.
And it’s fascinating to follow these two. They are dark, flawed in so many ways, and they display some really dark, morbid humor that I love. The chemistry between them are hot enough to singe the pages, and the love scenes really burn. But there are also some startling moments of romanticism, glorious dysfunctional style, where codependency is made the sexiest thing ever.
When Lady Valéry heard their voices, she snapped open her bedchamber door and stepped into the corridor. As she expected, Sebastian held Mary as if she were fragile and might melt like a confection in his mouth. Mary hugged his neck as if he were an angel who might at any moment spread his wings and fly away.
When I factor in the fact that the declaration of love is made while Mary was bleeding from a gunshot wound, I am charmed. Really, I am. Dysfunctional people need love too, people. With Mary and Sebastian finding each other and realizing that they rock together, screw the rest of the cruel world, in such explosive chemistry, twisted drama, and dark humor, it can’t get any better than this.