A SECRET AFFAIR - Mary Balogh
The Huxtables , Book 5 of 5
Betrayed at nineteen by her betrothed and her family, Hannah almost immediately married the elderly and enormously rich Duke of Dunbarton. Hannah learned a lot from her duke in their ten years together before he died. But now, after a year of strict mourning, Hannah is free to do as she pleases, and if wealth, beauty and determination mean anything, she has the resources to get what she wants. And what she wants is an affair for the Season...preferably with the dark, dangerous Constantine Huxtable.
Though the eldest son of the Earl of Merton, Con Huxtable is a plain Mister owing to his being born two days before his parents wed. The title passed to his brother for the short while Jon had left to live, and thence to a remote cousin, the only one among four children of a country vicar he'd never met. Con is resigned to enjoy life and is considered something of a rogue. Soon after coming to Town for the Season, he realizes the scandalous Duchess of Dunbarton has designs on him. Now Con takes a different mistress every Season but hasn't chosen one yet. He's quite sure, however, he doesn't want the duchess, though every other man who sees her does; he considers her spoiled and shallow.
Hannah is a consummate flirt and begins to lure Con with an alternating entice and reject method. Against his better judgment, Con is intrigued. The affair is just supposed to be for the Season and end cordially when they return to their respective country homes. Will it? Or will they discover the real persons who hide behind their public masks? Meanwhile, their lively interactions are highly enjoyable.
A SECRET AFFAIR is intensely character driven. Con and Hannah have overcome hurts that have left them both strong and vulnerable and somewhat alone. Hannah has only one person left from her first nineteen years and no good friend among the ton . Surprisingly, her marriage was not an unhappy one and not what people supposed it to be. Con has surprises in store for him and so does Hannah. (And so do readers.) The more we learn of Con's and Hannah's characters, the more fascinating they become, though they are not static; they evolve as the two interact.
Important minor characters are Hannah's good friend from childhood, who has come to stay for a few weeks with Hannah before her own wedding. She is the only one who knows the real Hannah. On Con's side, we have the large Huxtable family, the new earl and his three sisters and their respective spouses and children. Con wanted to hate his Huxtable cousins who moved into his home, but found it impossible. Con has another cousin with whom he is estranged through sheer stubbornness. All these people help further the plot and our understanding of Con and Hannah. Ms. Balogh brings them all to life.
There are no real villains, physical dangers, or major mysteries to solve, but there is a side plot concerning a miscarriage of justice toward a minor character that is very moving. The major focus, though, is on people whom we will enjoy knowing and come to care about.
The first four tales about the legitimate Huxtables, the new earl and his sisters, are told in the earlier books in the series, FIRST COME MARRIAGE, THEN COMES SEDUCTION, AT LAST COMES LOVE, and SEDUCING AN ANGEL. All through those books, Con was a tantalizing character in the background. I am so glad Ms. Balogh found just the right woman for him...so glad that I awarded A SECRET AFFAIR's hardcover edition a Perfect 10. It is in the running for RRT's Best Historical Romance and Best Book of the Year for 2010. Truly, I am stingy with those, yet this is not the first awarded to a book in this series. Mary Balogh fans will understand this; those not yet fortunate to have found this superlative writer should check out her website at www.marybalogh.com .