A Lady of Persuasion by Tessa Dare
Sir Toby Aldridge is not at all happy to see that his former fiance and her dashing new knighted husband have returned to London. However he is very happy to make the acquaintance of Gray's half-sister Isabela Grayson who is quite a beautiful lady. While at a ball the two are immediately taken with the others extreme attractiveness and Toby decides a nice way to get a little revenge on Gray would be to seduce the woman right out from under him. By the time Toby finds out that Isabela is Gray's sister, not a lover, he knows that he could never hurt her that way. Isabela has revealed to Toby that she is looking to marry a man of influence so she can be a lady of influence and work her good deeds around the nation (such as the abolition of slavery). When Gray confronts Toby he proposes to Isabela, both because he desires her and because he can't help but like the way she views the world. Isabela says yes in the hopes that Toby can become her man of influence and help her improve the country.
To make Isabela happy Toby agrees to run for MP of his district, even though he has no intention of winning, or trying to do so, but he just wants to keep his new wife enamored of him. Isabela is very excited that her new life with her husband can be filled with good works but she can't help but feel guilty of her new wealth, her husband's spending vast amounts of money on her, and especially guilty of pleasure in the bedroom. Isabela loves what Toby does to her but she fears that she will go mad with love like her mother did for her father. Toby meanwhile is determined to keep up the pretense of running for MP because he wants Isabela to fall in love him. After being jilted by two woman he desperately wants a woman to love him for him even with all his faults. For now Toby knows that Isabela looks up to him and believes that he can do no wrong and he is terrified that when he inevitably disappoints her she will withdraw all affection from him. When everything hits the fan Isabela feels betrayed by Toby and Toby is horrified that Isabela does not love him now that she has discovered his flaws. The two of them are forced to confront their own flaws and work together to make each other better.
Once again Dare writes, with remarkable deftness, two characters that I absolutely love. Both are so flawed and perfect at the same time and work so hard throughout the novel because they both just desperately want to protect themselves and be loved. Toby tries so hard and yet it is the very fact that he's trying hard that makes it so difficult to love him and it's only when he can be fully comfortable with his own faults that Isabela can love him. And Isabela is so amazing as the philanthropic gentle-woman as she is so genuine in her desire to save the world and very principled. Her fear of going mad by loving Toby too passionately is, while crazy, totally believable given her past and it creates some quite interesting steamy scenes. The book sets it up that Isabela has so much passion in her that she's been repressing and is scared to let it out which is why she likes when Toby takes control from her/ orders her/ ties her up in bed. It is also tied in to her desire to please others and do good works. It makes sense and it works in the book and is definitely mild and does not play out for the entire book as Isabela certainly holds her own too.
There was quite a lot of Sophia/ Gray and Jeremy/ Lucy from Dare's previous books but for reasons I'm not entirely sure of it did not bother me. Maybe because their appearance was natural and did not really interfere with or take away from the story of Isabela and Toby. It probably also had to do with the fact that I absolutely loved those characters. In addition there is a little side romance between Joss, Gray and Isabela's half-brother who is half African, and Hetta Osborne, a female physician who is friends with the whole gang. While the book was not exactly fun there were certainly some very fun scenes including those involving judgmental society matrons and mad political candidates who believed the country was still in the midst of the Revolutionary War (where America gained independence). Some of the greatest moments in the story were those where Isabela and Toby were together as they each were such a perfect foil for the other: Toby all light and happy and charming and Isabela intense and charitable and fearful.
Rating: An excellent book that is the best of the three books in the series. Loved the characters and the plot and the wrap up and basically everything.