A Lady's Pleasure by Renee Bernard
When Julian Clay, the Earl of Westleigh, calls Merriam Everett a whey-faced widow she decides the best way to get a small measure of revenge is to secretly seduce the man. She enlists the help of a famous Madame, learns many different tricks of seduction, and attends a masquerade ball intent on seduction. She knows that Julian is dressed as Merlin and lures Merlin into a shadowy alcove where the two engage in a very heated tryst that spins Merriam's world on its head. Never with her husband had she even imagined that sex, the world, could be so pleasurable. She has lived her entire life as "Merriam the Mouse" and this one naughty foray is supposed to last her the rest of her life. She is horrified when she discovers that it was not Julian she had seduced, but Drake Sotherton, Duke of Sussex, certainly is not. He can not get his tempting seductress out of his head and goes to great lengths to find out her identity and who she had intended to seduce. Although Julian had once been his best friend, Drake believes that Julian slept with and then killed Drake's wife before Julian turned around and convinced the ton that Drake had done the deed.
Thinking that there is something going on between Merriam and Julian, Drake decides to take care of two things as once: he will take Merriam as his mistress both to slake his lust and to keep Julian's pawn in his sights. Merriam is at first reluctant to give up her respectable life as a widow, but she can not deny the very powerful attraction she feels for Drake so she agrees to his proposal. They agree to spend a "decadent Season" together, going to opera's, buying fancy clothes and jewelry, hosting a ball, and spending a lot of time with their hands all over each other. Merriam regrets that she has not been entirely honest with Drake over her original intentions at the masquerade ball while Drake feels guilty that he has embroiled Merriam in his plans for revenge. The more time they spend together the more they realize that one decadent season might not be enough for either of them, but it gets ardour and harder to reveal the truth. On the night of their ball Merriam plans to to reveal her feelings to Drake and Drake plans to bring his plans to fruition. Both of them will have to come to grips with their pasts, their enemies, and love each other.
I absolutely loved Merriam because she was so well written as a woman torn between her past and being this staid, predictable, and repressed widow and giving in to her desires. She goes through passion, embarrassment, pride, power, anger, and happiness during the book as she takes these immense risks and really becomes such a different person than she had been her entire life. Drake as well underwent some really amazing changes throughout at the book, and it was made even better, because he changed so much because of Merriam. So obviously character development deserves an A+. The romantic development in the story was a little less well developed as, while the two certainly had hot sex going for them, I would have liked more of them getting to know each other outside the bedroom. Reading the parts from their points of view made it obvious that they will both very lovable, but I felt there should have been more about what each of them liked about the other. As usual I would have preferred a bit more of the story told from Drake's point of view, but what was there was certainly very good.
I really enjoyed that the plot with Julian was integrated so well in to the romance and the relationship between Drake and Merriam. I know it took up a lot of room in my synopsis, but it was not at all overwhelming and served as a great plot point for some brooding on Drake's part. I was admittedly expecting more of a blow up at the end, especially when Merriam discovered what Drake had believed her role in the whole thing was. The sex was smoking hot and very inventive, and it was also interesting because it was an integral part of the romantic development and Merriam's amazing transformation. There's sex in a carriage, sex in a shadowy alcove, some mild spanking, self-pleasuring, and a very fun little menage fantasy. My only complaint about the sex would be the frequent use of the word creme to describe Drake's sperm: I don't know what it is but that word just really jolts me and is not at all sexy. An interesting note of this book was that there really was no outright "villain" and nothing was black and white- even those who were "bad" had reasons and were portrayed with a very deft hand.
Rating: I really enjoyed this book, especially Merriam, and it really could have been perfect with more romantic development. I think this book deserves 3 1/2 heart, but I will give it 4 because it really was more than a middling book.