Seducing an Angel by Mary Balogh
Seducing an Angel is the 4th and final installment in Balogh's Huxtable series and features Stephen Huxtable, the young Earl of Merton who came into his inheritance later in life- I believe he was ten or so. Because of this he differs from many of the young men of the ton and remembers what it is like to grow up with love as the only constant in life. Cassandra, Lady Paget, moves to London with her nurse Alice, who has stayed with her for nearly 30 years, her friend and cook, Mary and Mary's illegitimate child, Belinda. Cassandra is destitute, since her stepson took her jewels and refuses her her widow's portion, and decides the surest way to rectify this situation is by finding a wealthy protector who can provide for her and will require her sexual services. Unfortunately getting out into society will be difficult as rumors have surfaced in London that Cassandra had killed her husband, Lord Paget, with an axe to the head. Cassandra crashes Stephen's sister, the Countess of Sheringford's ball to find her protector and chooses Stephen because his youth and angelic good looks have lead her to believe he will be easy to control.
Despite knowing that Cassandra set out to seduce him Stephen is shocked when, after the deed is done, Cassandra confronts him and basically demands that he pay her and keep her as his mistress. He agrees to her terms, and offers an extravagant salary, but is none to happy about it and insists that the money he pay her have nothing to do with her ability to "satisfy" him. At the ball, Cassandra had endeared herself to Stephen's family members and they invite her along with them to plays, on picnics, to parties, etc... and Stephen decides to "court" Cassandra despite her resistance. She is determined never to marry again after enduring physical abuse from her previous husband, but Stephen is equally determined to change her mind when he realizes how she has been wronged by her husband, her husband's family and her own brother. When the two are caught at a ball in a compromising position Stephen announces their betrothal, but Cassandra is determined that she will eventually break the betrothal. When Cassandra finally decides to stake out on her own and demand what she is owed from her dead husband's estate, her stepson races down to London and the truth about her husbands death and her own life are revealed. This causes her to confront what is currently happening around her and evaluate her feelings toward Stephen and her towards him.
This was a nice change from the first three books in the Huxtable series which, to be honest, all seemed remarkably similar- thus why I only refrained from reviewing the third one. Almost everything I said about the first two could have been transferred to the the third as well. Balogh also, for the most part, avoided the pitfall that befalls many in her other series; the showcasing of happy endings. While we do get to see Vanessa, Katherine, and Margaret's happily-ever-after's, it is not shoved down our throats in the manner of "Simply Love." There are two wonderful side plots in the novel, one between Alice and a gentleman who is absolutely perfect for her and it is so heartwarming to read. The other centers around Mary, as a man from her (and Cassandra's) past reappears to whisk her and Belinda away to a happy life. William is Cassandra's stepson and it was his announcement that he married Mary that caused his father to go into a drinking spell and in the ensuing struggle he ended up dead. I can not entirely get behind this plot though as William did proceed to abandon Mary and Belinda, not to mention Cassandra, leaving them to deal with the consequences of death and illegitimacy.
As in many Balogh novels the steam is subdued, to say the least, but I found myself genuinely confused while reading the two sex scenes in this book. While Cassandra enjoys them both there is no mention of, and no reference (i.e. convulsion, earthquake, stars, etc...) to her actually having an orgasm. This is especially confusing as Stephen definitely does so it's not like Balogh just glossed over both of their enjoyment. Balogh novels seem to have an overall feeling of calm and serenity over them, even when the characters get angry or argue. Feelings seemed drawn out and are described in, oftentimes, excrutiating detail. Even the angst is drawn out to the point where it's scarcely angst. My main problem with this was the way that Cassandra has, despite all evidence to the contrary and testimony from other people, decided that her husband's death is her own fault. She basically plays the martyr the whole time and uses it as an excuse to avoid future happiness with Stephen. Even after the truth is revealed she has a hard time admitting that she can be happy. But I was happy that she stood up for herself when she demanded what was due her from her stepson and did not back down and that the book did NOT end in a happily ever after with everyone, even those who didn't deserve it, being forgiven (i.e. "Simply Love").
Rating: A nice change from the other Huxtable novels and a great idea to have the woman take control and be the seductress. I would have liked to have had her for sure enjoy the sex and not be quite so martyr-ish. It was sweet, but really not much more than average, especially when compared with her other novels.