A Seduction in Scarlet by Sara Bennett 424
Portia Ellerslie has spent the last several years of her life as England's favorite widow. Her husband was the hero of the nation and the people, and Queen Victoria, expect her to portray the "proper" behavior for the widow of such a man. She knows she can never remarry, never allow her control to slip, and basically never express any of the needs any woman has. She runs to Aphrodite's Club and enlists the help of the madame to find a man for just one night's pleasure to last her for the rest of her life. What she finds is Marcus Worthorne, the boy she had secretly been in love with years before when she was just the vicar's daughter and he never spared her a glance. It is not long before she realizes one night cannot be enough so she arranges what she believes will be just one more night. But Marcus has a plan and this time he hires and investigator to find out who this wonderfully intriguing woman he cannot get out of his mind, is. He decides to surprise her at an event in public in the hopes that she will be forced to confront her feelings for him.
But Portia cannot just throw away the expectations that have been placed on her by society and the Queen and she refuses to make anything public so Marcus arranges a trip for the two of them to the beach. Although things do not go quite as planned, it makes it clear to Marcus that these furtive meeting are not enough and he knows he wants quite a bit more from this woman. He finally proposes to Portia, but she is too scared to let go of what she has worked for for so long and Marcus decides that he can wait Portia out. Unfortunately, Portia's maid, is worried about how her scandalous behavior could end up hurting her behavior and Hettie runs to tell Portia's stepdaughter and her husband. When the two of them threaten to lock up Portia's mother in an asylum she is desperate to find a way to save her- even if it means turning to the man who could prove fatal to her reputation. But Arnold is a member of a secret organization to assassinate the queen and he will do anything to bring about Portia's destruction. Together Portia and Marcus must save the queen and relieve themselves of their worries.
Although I did completely respect Portia's feelings about going against the wishes of basically everyone in the nation, I felt as though she should have succumbed awhile earlier. Despite references being made to all these people depending on her, I never actually read details and sometimes it seemed like the person she was really trying to protect was herself. It went on and on even after Marcus had helped save her mother and I really couldn't help but feeling that, if she really wanted to protect everyone, she would have just married Marcus and avoided quite a bit of the mess. I loved reading about the change that Marcus undergoes as he starts at with not a care in the world and then he starts to want to impress her, followed by some brief jealousy, and then finally to the realization that he does want to make a life with her. And he does this so wonderfully as he tries to show that he can do this for her by finally taking on the responsibilities he has been neglecting for so long. He is so earnest as he tries to tell her all the things he can give her and the scene where she turns down his marriage proposal is just so heartbreaking.
Portia was also interesting in that she gathered the courage and went after what she wanted despite the threats to her reputation. Romance novels involving brothels are always so intriguing to me. Unfortunately the sex was not all that steamy and was jam backed in the first 150 or so pages, with the later offerings really being only alluded to before a new chapter begins. I also really liked that this book portrayed Victoria as a flawed, selfish, far too puritanical woman and not as some mythical God. She was well-liked by the people, but I was glad that she was not held up and revered by them as I am not a great fan. The plot to kill her was a bit of a waste, but I guess that having Arnold be an ass was not enough- he also needed to be into regicide. The book also had a great example of a family struggling with a member slowly giving way to Alzheimer's (before it was really known) and it was quite interesting. Lara was a very interesting character as she was hateful and awful, but her motivations were well explained and she was easy to understand in a rather odd way.
Rating: I liked the first two-thirds of the book the best as it really did just drag near the end as the author tried to get to 370 pages by adding in an assassination. However, Marcus was GREAT!