Friday, December 10, 2010
Verity Durant is the most famous chef in England, both for her decadent food and for the affair she had with her employer, Bertie Somerset. At one time Verity had hoped to marry Bertie, but he believed he was too good for her and refused and she stayed on as his chef anyway. When Bertie dies, Stuart Somerset inherits the estate even though he had been born a bastard. His father had married his mother and he had become legitimate but his relationship with Bertie had been strained recently and Verity knew that they disliked each other. In flashbacks we learn that after Bertie refused to marry her, Verity decided to get back at him by engaging in an affair with his brother. But that one night turned into so much more and by the end of it Stuart knew he wanted to marry this woman whose name he didn't even know. Verity is shocked at how deep she has fallen and knows that if she cares for him she must leave him alone as marrying her will ruin his promising political career and the two don't meet again for ten years.
For ten years Stuart had been trying to forget the woman he spent one glorious night with and he finally decides it is time to marry a good young woman. But the first time he tastes the food that Verity prepares he is transported and he begins to think thoughts, lustful thoughts, he had never imagined thinking. Verity tries to hide her identity from Stuart and the two only meet in the dark or when a face is covered and it still so obvious that there is something amazing between the two. But there is still the difference in their station with her scandalous past and his future, and of course there is the problem of his fiance. Lily, Stuart's fiance, is spending more and more time with his secretary, the disowned son of a marquess, and the two of them have their own little fling going. Verity has a few dark secrets about her past and when Stuart finally discovers that she is the young woman from years ago he is horrified and despite his feelings for her he throws her out, determined to finally get her out of his mind. Of course that is impossible and he realizes that it is worth risking scandal, even his career, in order to be with the woman he loves- even if it means a few more secrets need to be revealed.
The first half of the book goes back and forth between the time around her first encounter with Stuart and when he inherits the estate and meets Verity again. In addition the book also has numerous references to things that had happened even before then and it takes a while to piece everything back together and really discover all the different secrets in the book. While at times I like to have everything just presented at once, Thomas is a master at weaving together intriguing time sequences and I liked slowly putting everything together until I had a complete picture. The secrets are also what make Verity such an interesting and enjoyable character to read about as she is older than the typical romance novel heroine and has quite a past. She is definitely not a virgin, definitely not naive or innocent, and yet she still holds out hope, even if she denies it, that one day a prince will come along who loves her. She is a superb cook and while normally descriptions about food (or clothing) don't really interest me, Thomas again blows me out of the water and made me really want to try the food. The food was really a character in itself and made the entire book very sensual in tone.
I also very much enjoyed Stuart's character and how he was trying so hard to fit into the elite political order at the expense of his own enjoyment of life and Verity is really the answer to that. It is her food that really brings him back to the living and causes him to rethink his priorities and believe that there is something worth more than becoming Prime Minister. Her whole life she had been thought of as unworthy by her family and Stuart came along and proved to her that she was special and he was willing to risk so much for her. The entire book was sensual even when nothing overtly sexual was occurring, but when there was it was almost explosive because it had been building up for so long. I really enjoyed the side romance between Stuart's assistant and his fiance because it was a good counterpoint to the complications surrounding Verity and Stuart's relationship. My biggest problem was the ending of the book because there had been so many problems about Verity and her family and yet in 15 pages or so everything was solved and made to rights. I felt like it didn't fit with what had happened in the story and made everything a little too perfect for the heartbreak that came before.
Rating: An amazing well written book with two mature and perfect for each other characters, that kind of went out with a spit at the end.