To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt
Helen Fitzwilliam has been the Duke of Lister's mistress for 14 years, since she was 17, and has born him two children, yet when she realizes hse is nothing but a mere possession to him she takes the children and runs. With a note from her friend, Lady Vale (from "To Seduce a Sinner") she heads up to Sir Alistair Munroe's dreary Scottish castle to be his housekeeper. Alistair was left deeply scarred, including a missing eye and two missing fingers, after the French and Indian War, where he was taken prisoner after being betrayed at Spinner's Falls and tortured by the Indians. He is none too happy to have Helen, Abigail (9) and Jamie (5) join him in his self-imposed exile. Nevertheless he is enormously attracted to "Mrs. Halifax," Helen's assumed name, who is regarded as one of the most beautiful women in London. Helen, her children, and Alistair, really begin to bond when Alistair's long-time pet, Lady Grey, dies and Alistair gets a replacement puppy nicknamed "Puddles."
The two begin an intimate relationship and Alistair is desperate to keep Helen coming to her bed, but is convinced that she will eventually leave him because of his scars. Helen has been hoping that the Duke of Lister will be unable to find her away in Scotland, but Alistair's disgruntled ex-employee leads him straight to Helen. He kidnaps Abby and Jamie and Helen is forced to reveal the truth about her past to Alistair who is understandably horrified by her revelation. Nevertheless he agrees to help her regain her children and the two head back to London. Despite his anger he cannot keep his hands off of her and she beins to realize what a great man Alistair is. Unfortunately Lister is not willing to give the kids up unless Helen comes back to him, not because he loves her but because he regards her as his property and he does not want to lose her. Alistair is terrified she will choose the duke, but luckily, with the help of Vale he is able to ensure that Helen never have to worry about the Duke again. However, despite the seeming happy ending Alistair is still terrified to give his heart to Helen because he is convinced she will leave him eventually. It takes a visit from his sister to set him straight and ensure our HEV.
As with Hoyt's previous book this was is plenty steamy. Amazingly steamy really. And she certainly does not shy away from the less savory aspects of sex, including a graphic blow job scene, an interrupted masturbation scene and a hero who admits to being obsessed with her breasts. But what I found really intriguing was the use of a small lemon as birth control, as opposed the usual romance novel staple, the ever effective "pulling out." I found it odd that she had apparently never enjoyed sex with Lister. I thought that having a former mistress for a heroine would mean that she would at least not be innocent in that, but, despite knowledge in other areas, she is innocent in pleasure. And like Hoyt's previous book our hero apparently finds said pleasure hilarious as both Lady Vale and now Helen throw back their heads and laugh during orgasm. This confuses me and an adequate reason behind this odd behavior is not given. Pushing the envelope even further was an implied lesbian relationship between Alistair's sister Sophia and her compoanion Phoebe MacDonald. Although not explicitly stated, her speech to Alistair at the end makes it clear she is certainly not spending her life without love.
The mistress as heroine isn't precisely new and unusual, but it is not exactly common in historical romance novels, yet I still found it interesting to read about a woman who had taken control of her life and decided to start out completely on her own. Helen was a heroine I found incredibly easy to like as she managed to hold her family together and grapple with her own burgeoning emotions. Her children were realistic and perfectly written as well as being an asset to story and the romance between Alistair and Helen. Alistair was a great tortured hero who managed to be both angst-ridden and yet, despite his wishes, remains hopeful that he could make Helen love him. The book also had wonderful and brief little bits of humor as Helen attempts to put to right the drafty and long neglected castle which Hoyt writes wonderfully. I also like the brief, and not at all overwhelming, glimpses of the Vales', our heroes from "To Seduce a Sinner." Throughout the book we are given brief glimpses of Vale and Alistair's attempts to figure out who betrayed them at Spinner's Falls, but this is not explored all that much. I am sure this will be different in Hoyt's next book, "To Desire a Devil," which I am definitely looking forward to.
Rating: This is so much better than most of what I have read recently, but I feel like it is not quite as good as "To Seduce a Sinner." I would give it 4 1/2 hearts, but since I can't I will give it 4 to show that her previous book is better.