Secrets of a Perfect Night
"Scandalous Lord Dere" by Stephanie Laurens
When Adrian, Lord Dere, finds himself lost in a snowstorm he barely manages to make it to the front door of Abigail, Abby, Woolley. Adrian had ruined Abby eight years beforehand, granted at her insistence, and then left to lead his scandalous life in London. Abby had believed Adrian would shortly return for her, but her hopes were crushed a year later when Adrian fought against a marriage their parents had arranged between them. But now Adrian wants to give up his dissolute lifestyle and quickly after reuniting with Abby he realizes that she is the only woman he could ever marry and intends to make her his bride. For reasons Adrian cannot fathom Abby refuses his offer, but cannot resist him when it comes to his skillful lovemaking. He has no idea how much it hurt Abby that he did not want to marry her all those years ago and believes that his actions now should make up for what happened in the past. He slowly and carefully sets out to woo her but his past and reputation in London could end up hurting his chances with her at a crowded ball room where Adrian lays his heart on the line.
Laurens certainly manages to pack a bunch of steam into this 150 page novella, but unfortunately much of it just ends up frustrating and not because of Laurens typical flowery prose. It quickly becomes apparent that everytime Abby voices a concern for their future, or an opinion or idea that differs from Adrian his idea of a solution is to sex her up. When Abby first says no to his marriage proposal- he seduces her, when Abby thinks he is continuing an affair with a mistress he (after briefly briefly briefly trying to explain to her the truth) seduces her. As the longest of the three short stories one would think these characters would have enough time to work out their problems instead of just seducing them away. I liked the little bits of angst between the two of them although I quickly got tired of Adrian's- he was unhappy with his life because all the bored rich ladies of the ton were using him for his sexy prowess and none of them really cared for him as a person. It was more than a tad bit tiring to read about a man sick of being used for sex. And I didn't care for Abby as a person as, despite her sassiness, she is definitely a pushover when it comes to Adrian and lets him off the hook far too easily. Surprisingly enough my least favorite of the three stories.
"The Last Love Letter" by Victoria Alexander
Ten years ago Jason Norcross and Rachel Gresham had been madly and passionately in love with each other, and equally determined to run away to America to marry and escape her domineering father. But Rachel's father interferes in their plans leaving Rachel believing Jason had run off to America without her and Jason believing that Rachel had taken her own life. When Jason's cousin, George, Lord Lyndhurst, offers to marry Rachel she accepts and is determined to move on with her life. After his death he writes the two of them similar, but not identical letters informing each of them of the truth of the matter and letting them know that he regrets the situation and hopes both of them can leave the past behind them and find love again. Their reunion is strained but Jason quickly realizes that his feelings for Rachel have never faded and believes that she feels the same. However Rachel is terrified of trusting Jason again, even though she knows his abandonment wasn't his fault, and fears that the woman she has begun isn't capable of loving Jason the way that she had as a young girl. Determined to win her back and prove that their love has and can continue to endure Jason sets up one perfect night to make up for the one that went awry so many years ago.
The first half of this 120 page novella is chock full of flashbacks and indeed long sequences take place ten years ago as we watch Rachel and James make plans that are then dashed. These flashbacks are more interesting than the parts that take place in the "present" day as the the real-time parts are full of Rachels worries and, while they are definitely worthwhile and something that makes sense for one to be worried about, they do bog and slow down the pace of the novel. Her feelings about the girl she once was vs. the woman she know is were also a little wierd to read about- everyone changes as they grow up but it wasn't like she had become a completely different person; what made Jason fall in love with her was still present. I enjoyed how George, while obviously a flawed character, was far from being the villain and it was clear that both protagonists had deep feelings for him and "forgave" him for his secrecy after he had discovered the truth. The book has a decent amount of steam for one so short including a hot one in a stable and certainly has plenty of wonderful angst, mostly on Rachel's part. I liked the first half better; once Rachel and Jason reunited and he "forced" his way rather ham-handedly into her house I lost a little of my love for the book- still good overall.
"Now and Forever" by Rachel Gibson
Brina McConnell is terrified of attending the ten year reunion of Galliton high school even though she is no longer the short skinny wallflower anxious to fit in, but is now a successful, and sexy, private investigator. Part of her is hoping that she runs into her childhood friend Thomas Mack, whom she briefly dated their senior year before dumping him to go to Winter Prom with Mark Harris the High School Golden boy. She is surprised, and happy for him, when she discovers that Thomas has grown up, filled out, and made his fortune in the software/ computer biz. Both of them find themselves immediately taken in by the people who wouldn't have had anything to do with them back in High School, and despite his hesitancy to have anything to do with Brina, Thomas quickly finds he enjoys her company far more than that of the head cheerleader. When the two of them revisit childhood hangouts they find that they cannot keep their hands off each other which terrifies both of them. After a short lived attempt to pretend neither of them is bothered they give in to their feelings for each other, but a wrench is thrown in when Thomas is unexpectedly called away and Brina begins to worry if they have a chance together. No worries though as Thomas spends the time thinking about how important Brina is to him and how he wants to spend the rest of his life with her.
Their is very little angst on his part about the whole being dumped before prom thing for someone better than me and from her about being so eager to fit in that she hurt her best friend. However there is a good bit of it when Brina is jealous of Thomas spending time with Holly, the aforementioned head cheerleader. After reading this I realized one of the best things about regency romances is that I never read them and cringe at clothing descriptions and the same cannot be said about modern romances. Unfortunately contemporary romances that are more than 5-10 years old inevitably contain cringe worthy clothing descriptions and this was no exception, but something I can live with as I am not exactly fashionable myself. Surprisingly enough this book has the hottest, and yet smallest, amount of steam of the three in the book- Gibson is very good at this. I felt like the book moved a little fast-although they've known each other for years their reunion and falling in love takes about 4 days (plus a few extra while he's out of town) and then he's asking her to marry him (not really a spoiler people). Overall it was really good, but not perfect and certainly better than the first novella.