Lady Anisha Stafford and Rance Welham, Earl of Lazonby, meet years after the attempted hanging when Rance is sent to collect Anisha from the ship that she, her two sons, and her younger half-brother have taken from India to England to live with her oldest brother Lord Ruthveyn following the death of both Anisha's father and her husband. They have an immediate awareness of each other and yet a full year passes off the page as the two of them develop a close and treasured friendship. Each is attracted to the other but they are unwilling or unable to act on this attraction. Rance is consumed by finding out the real murderer and clearing his name once and for all and feels he cannot sully Anisha with his reputation or with the sordidness of the quest. Anisha just wants to be seen as a grown woman who is capable of making her own decisions and not be protected and coddled.
In addition to the mystery of who would have had reason to frame Rance, there is a touch of the exotic in this tale as Anisha is bi-racial with a Scots father and an Indian mother. This fact makes it hard for her to be seen as acceptable in the eyes of English society and so her closest friends and confidantes are all members or related to members of the St. James Society, which is a genteel front for an ancient organization of people possessed of second sight and those sworn to protect them. Anisha herself can read palms and has a basic understanding of astrology thanks to her mother. Rance, while more properly a Guardian (or protector), himself has extraordinary insight into people and their emotions. But despite their gifts with others, neither of them can read each other.
As is often the case when sexual tension is high and being denied, they bicker with each other and dig their respective heels in on their decisions no matter what. Rance is tortured both by his inability to keep his hands off Anisha and by the dead ends he finds as he tries to uncover the real murderer so he sinks himself into the dangerous depravity that is absinthe. Anisha, meanwhile, tortures Rance with the threat that she will look elsewhere to fulfill her needs if he's not willing to share her bed. But ultimately they must partner together in all ways to have the life they want to lead.
There are a plethora of secondary characters in this novel and often they are only on the page fleetingly, leaving the reader to wonder at their purpose. Perhaps as this is one in a series, their presence is necessary to prior or future books. Rance as a character spends a lot of time wallowing (in a crystal glass filled with a cloudy green liquid) in his unsuitableness for Anisha and the sordidness of his past rather than actively pursuing a resolution. But the two characters had good chemistry and their scenes together sizzle. As an escapist read, this definitely fit the bill.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.