An Heir of Deception by Beverley Kendall

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A man devastated by love After three years of carousing and debauchery, Alex Cartwright, heir to the Duke of Hastings, has put his life back in order. Having embraced sobriety for two years, he has no intention of revisiting the past or risking his heart again. But the return of the very woman who introduced him to the darkest side of hell brings not only the painful, haunting memories of bittersweet love and abandonment, but the son he never knew he had… A woman silenced by secrets Threatened by the revelation of a secret that could destroy her family’s place in society and forever tarnish a dukedom, Charlotte fled England on her wedding day five years ago. Now, although it appears that secret is safe, when Alex discovers her other secret-their son-Charlotte has an altogether different battle ahead. She must now fight one love to hold onto the other-the man whose touch still makes her burn, for the child who is her very world.

Rating: B-

An Heir of Deception is the third book in Beverley Kendall’s Elusive Lords series. While I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to have read the previous books in the series, several of the characters from those books appear in this one and it might be useful to have a rough idea of who is who in advance of reading.

This entry in the series centers around Alex Cartwright, Marquis of Avondale, who, at the beginning of the story, has just arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral for his wedding to Miss Charlotte Rutherford, the illegitimate sister of James, the hero of the first novel in this set, A Sinful Surrender. The problem, however, is that while the groom has arrived, the bride has not. Alex has been abandoned at the altar without explanation, and his life falls apart.

We then jump forward five years, and Charlotte reappears completely unexpectedly at her brother’s country house. We discover that she had fled to America on her wedding day and that she has returned to England only because she has received (false) news that her twin sister Catherine is seriously ill.

We also learn that Alex spent three years attempting to drown his sorrows in copious amounts of drink and tried to forget about Charlotte by screwing his way through loads of women; but no amount of debauchery could cure his bitterness or heartache. After a traumatic experience, he claws his way back onto the straight and narrow, and has been on the wagon for the two years immediately preceding Charlotte’s return.

But when Charlotte arrives, she is not alone. She has brought her four-year-old son with her, and although she tries to keep the truth from Alex, it is not long before he realizes that the boy is his son. He is devastated all over again. Not only did Charlotte abandon him, she kept the existence of his son from him and deprived him of the first four years of the boy’s life.

He is determined never to let Charlotte near him emotionally again. She ripped out his heart and stomped on it once, and he isn’t prepared to risk that kind of pain and humiliation at her hands once more. When she finally tries to explain her reasons to him (she was being blackmailed), he doesn’t want to know. While I can’t blame him – he went through hell after she left – I do hate a story that relies too heavily on artificial drama. While Alex’s view is that it’s too late for explanations and that whatever Charlotte tells him won’t make a difference, I do find it hard to believe that he could have had no interest in hearing what she had to say, given the effect her desertion had on him.

The one person who can get through Alex’s barriers at this point in the story is his son, and I thought their relationship was very nicely developed. Alex is determined that Nicholas be recognized as his heir, but he is illegitimate, and even if Alex and Charlotte were to marry, it would not legitimize their son.

So Alex hits upon another idea, which, for me, was a big problem in terms of the plot. Alex decides to let it be known that he and Charlotte had actually been married a week or so before they were due to have their big society wedding, and that she’d run off as the result of some disagreement or other, already pregnant with their child. Alex brings several other people in on this deception as he needs to falsify a marriage license and parish records saying that a marriage took place when it did not.

That strikes me as a dangerous ploy –exposure could mean ruin – and for his cousin (a vicar) and his two closest friends to put their signatures to it involves them in the forgery, and would surely mean a similar penalty for them as well.

Muddying the waters even further, Alex’s mother later suggests that he and Charlotte really should get married, as despite the acceptance of the false documents, they have never actually stood before God and this congregation to make their vows. That makes sense, but what doesn’t is that Alex went to all the trouble of falsifying a marriage licence in order to make Nicholas legitimate –but he agrees to marry Charlotte very publicly at St. George’s, Hanover Square (the favored location for Regency society weddings). They could have easily have had a private ceremony and otherwise maintained the fiction that they had been married at the time of Nicholas’ birth. But surely a public ceremony as good as announces the fact that they weren’t married before and brands Nicholas a bastard. It seems odd to me that one of Alex’s overriding concerns was to present his son as his legitimate issue and heir, that he perpetuated a risky deception to ensure that he was acknowledged as such, and then he blows it completely by having a public wedding.

I thought that Alex was by far the most strongly drawn and most relatable character in the book. He spent a lot of it being cold and unpleasant towards Charlotte, it’s true, but in my opinion, that seemed quite realistic. She ran off without explanation, didn’t tell him he was a father, and deprived him of his son’s formative years. (I freely admit that I may be sympathizing more with Alex on this issue because I’m a parent myself and I know how much he would have missed.) And when Charlotte is finally able to get Alex to listen to her reasons for leaving, he is shattered yet again at the thought that she didn’t trust in his love enough to believe that he was prepared to weather whatever scandal may have ensued as a result.

While she continues to make revelations that cause Alex more pain and upset, Charlotte makes it very clear that she still desires him physically and wants them to try to have a real marriage. It’s no wonder the man tries to keep his distance!

Although he is determined not to let her in again, Alex finds himself fairly climbing the walls with sexual frustration and eventually decides he might as well give in to his desires and takes Charlotte to bed. Repeatedly. But even then, Alex is adamant that the sex all they can have. However, their physical intimacy encourages an emotional intimacy and it’s not long before the atmosphere between them begins to thaw and both of them start to believe that things can work out between them.

Running alongside the story of Alex and Charlotte and their rekindling relationship is a secondary romance between Charlotte’s sister, Catherine, and the American businessman, Lucas Beaumont, and the search for the mysterious blackmailer who had sent Charlotte the letter which caused her to run away to America. I felt that this part of the plot was the least successful element of the book. Even though it is mentioned often, and I was genuinely surprised when the identity of the letter-writer was revealed, I don’t think it was adequately supported and it felt a little too out of the blue.

There are another couple of road-bumps along the way to the HEA, however, one of which is the fact that Charlotte, realizing she is pregnant and remembering Alex’s insistence that he didn’t want more childrenwith her, begins to withdraw from him, which makes him instantly suspicious and afraid that she is going to leave again. I thought that her fears over telling Alex about the pregnancy seemed rather out of character for her, as for most of the book she has been quite strong-willed and determined. It just felt like a late attempt to introduce another “will-they, won’t-they” element into a story that really didn’t need it.

The writing, despite a somewhat anachronistic feel at times, was fairly good – although I was mystified by the author’s persistent use of “a’ tall” when she meant “at all” – and the characterization was, for the most part, consistent. Alex was the character who changed most of all, from a cold, almost unreachable man overwhelmed with his fear of betrayal, to someone who learns to trust and to love again. Charlotte was more problematic for me, because although she freely admits that everything she’s done was wrong – running away, not telling Alex he was a father, staying away for so long – she doesn’t seem to understand how deeply she hurt the man she purports to still love, and frequently manages to hurt him afresh.

I would, however, still give An Heir of Deception a qualified recommendation, as despite the inconsistencies I’ve pointed out, I found it to be an entertaining read. Alex was a wonderful hero who had to work hard to get his HEA; and even if I felt the heroine didn’t really deserve him, I was glad to see him get the girl and get the life he’d longed for.

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