Don't you just hate it when you get all your children assigned to different TV's and multimedia devices so that you can snuggle up with a book you're looking forward to, and you start reading only to realize that you've read the book before?
Apparently I REALLY like this cover, because I bought the book twice, both times for the cover. (If I had read the back blurb carefully the second go around I might have clued into the fact that I had already read it.) What's a little odd is that I remember just barely glancing at the blurb and thinking, "Hmm. A house surrounded by a swamp? Kinda like that other book I just read?" No, you ignoramus, EXACTLY like that other book you just read.
You know, maybe it's a good thing, cause I did like Deception by Terri Lynn Wilhelm. So here's a chance to say so while self-deprecatingly making the "L" mark on my head.
OK, so Fox Tremayne has been run out of the British Army and rumors now swirl in polite society that due to his cowardice in battle many lives were lost. His father refuses to have anything to do with him. So, being a good romance hero, he surrounds himself with loyal men and begins to swindle various members of the English gentry out of their fortunes. He targets those who richly deserve to lose their fortune. Isabel Millington lives in a country manor which is run by her uncle.
Somewhat necessary spoiler ahead as I cannot figure out how to get her involved with Fox unless this bit is known. She finds out late one night after sneaking into her uncle's study that he is not running the estate well. Uncle finds her in his study, throws her down the stairs and tells her that, yes indeed, he is ruining the estate, AND she is in grave danger now that she knows.
Remembering the name of a prominent investor from her uncle's papers, Isabel leaves in the middle of the night to track the investor down. Turns out the investor is one of Fox's many disguises, and when she turns up (sporting bruises under an assumed name) at his door looking for the elderly banker, Fox gets his feathers ruffled.
Fox decides he needs to keep a very close eye on her, mostly because she seems to know something about one of his swindles, but also because he wants to know who did that to her face. He befriends Isabel and eventually hires her to act as a tutor for his younger sister, Catherine, who has just recently expressed an interest in helping Fox in his various deceits.
So now we enter the Gothic portion of the novel. Fox lives in a rambling manor with secret walls and twisting corridors, which was built in a swamp. (In England? OK, it's a marsh. But I love that the backcover blurb refers to a swamp. Still, a boggy manor? OK, OK. He has to keep her at the manor. Funny construct though. Tee Hee.)
Now the fun begins. Everyone has a secret in the house. The secondary characters are well-done (Not all are convincingly fleshed out, but there are a lot of them). Isabel starts taking care of Fox's servants, Fox starts caring for Isabel, Catherine keeps trying to figure out who Isabel is. There's pink silk knitted underthings and a duck. There's forgery and fraud. There's flirtation and sex. Walls revolve at inopportune times. A blustery uncle from Scandanavia shows up to rescue Isabel.
That's a lot of balls to keep in the air, and Wilhem does a very good job of it. She eventually takes this roiling mass of plot threads out of the house and into Society balls where a Happy Ever After can finally happen.
I think I must have read this when I was in a reader burnout, because I genuinely enjoyed it. I just don't remember having read it or bought it! What a horrific thing to say about a book! I admire Wilhelm for keeping the many many people and plot threads twisting. I don't remember being *particularly* engaged by Fox's and Isabel's relationship, but that may have just been me at that point in time. Isabel I liked. I remember feeling as if Fox stayed a little too long in his mode of: "Oh pity me, I have been woefully dishonored." But then he shook it off. Good book. Can recommend it for more than its cover.