A Lady’s Secret Weapon (Nexus #3) by Tracy Devlyn

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Seduction is His Duty to King and Country

Ethan deBeau has charmed his way into the beds of countless women, enticing them to whisper all kinds of state secrets in his ear. But his latest assignment is completely different: find a missing young boy. It’s practically child’s play for a master spy such as Ethan. Until Miss Sydney Hunt threatens to unravel all his carefully laid plans. Who in the world is this woman?

But Tempting Her is All for Pleasure

Sydney has worked hard to maintain a facade of respectability—all while keeping a network of contacts among London’s underground world. When she hears of strange activities at a local home for orphans, she’s determined to find out what’s really going on. Until she runs headlong into a notorious rake eager to expose every inch of her…

Rating: B-

This is the third book in Ms Devlyn’s series about the agents of the Nexus, a secret arm of the Alien Office that fields networks of couriers, informants and spies who work to keep England safe from its rapacious enemy across the English Channel.

I really enjoyed the previous book in the series – Checkmate, My Lord – and consequently was looking forward to reading this one, but I’m sorry to say that I came away from it feeling a little disappointed.

The hero of A Lady’s Secret Weapon is Ethan deBeau, Viscount Danforth – whose chief usefulness to the Nexus appears to be his ability to gather information by seduction and in his talent for seeking out and rescuing captured agents and other important prisoners. Ethan has been finding his job as a “boudoir spy” increasingly unfulfilling and distasteful; and is looking forward to a promotion. He’s been working hard for the last ten years with a view to stepping into the shoes of his mentor and guardian, Sebastian Danvers, Earl of Somerton (hero of the last book) when he steps down from his post as head of the Nexus; and Somerton’s impending marriage means that he is about to do so. Unfortunately for Ethan, he is not his mentor’s first choice – and he must struggle to hide his bitterness and disappointment, even as he continues to work with both Somerton and the new incumbent (his best friend) on their latest mission.

The Nexus is trying to discover the whereabouts of Lord Latymer, Somerton’s former friend and chief, who we discovered in the last book, had been working for the French. Somerton has also undertaken to discover the whereabouts of a missing boy, and the course of their investigations has led Ethan to the Abbingale Home for orphaned boys. It’s while he is watching the home that he comes across Miss Sydney Hunt, who he soon learns is touring the home posing as a feather-brained and wealthy widow who plans to make a sizeable donation.

When she isn’t pretending to be someone else, Miss Hunt runs a selective employment agency that specialises in finding reliable, well-trained staff for the aristocracy. She has quite a modern outlook; she makes sure that the servants she places will be fairly-treated and fairly-paid and also, in a less well-publicised aspect of her work, finds situations for servants who have been badly treated by their employers and provides (i.e, forges) references for those who have been unfairly dismissed and will be unable to find another position without a recommendation.
Sydney is also a part-time spy who has, on more than one occasion, helped Nexus agents (unbeknownst to them) and acted as an informant.

Ethan and Sydney are immediately attracted to each other – and both of them are tied up in knots because of it. Ethan’s career as a man who uses sex to elicit information has prohibited him from forming any real attachments; and there are hints from early on that there are things in Sydney’s past which have caused her to be wary of men. Neither is sure where they stand with the other. Ethan knows that Sydney cannot be all she seems because of the deception she is perpetrating in order to gain entrance to the Abbingale Home, and in fact wonders if she might also be a member of Nexus, while Sydney is well aware of Ethan’s involvement with the super-secret spy ring and of the methods he uses to extract information from the women who are only too delighted to spill the secrets given to them by their husbands and lovers.

Knowing that, Sydney is doubly distrustful of Ethan, who is quite the most handsome man she’s ever seen, and she is determined to keep her own secrets. But she can’t deny that he’d make a useful ally in her investigation of the home, so they team up to try to find the missing boy. As the story progresses, they foil a kidnap, discover the true purpose of the home and uncover a child-exploitation racket, all while they are gradually losing their distrust of each other and growing closer.

I feel I should point out that not all these plot elements are resolved by the end of the book and I imagine this is because Ms. Devlyn plans to pick them up again in future novels in the series.

There’s no question that A Lady’s Secret Weapon is an engaging and well-told story, but … it never really came to life for me. The writing was generally good (although the ARC I read seemed to have quite a few grammatical errors which I hope have been fixed) and I enjoyed the repartee between Ethan and Sydney. That said, however, my problems with the book related mostly to the romantic elements. Almost from the moment they set eyes on each other, both Ethan and Sydney are consumed by lustful thoughts about each other, to the point I began to wonder if they were ever going to be able to do or think about anything else! I have no problem with characters feeling a strong physical attraction to each other, but here, it felt like too much too soon which, to my mind, threw things off balance. That meant I never got the sense that I was reading about two people who were making a deep emotional connection – so much time was spent by each of them in contemplation of the gorgeousness of the other (and, in Ethan’s case, what he’d like to do to that gorgeousness!) that I thought their relationship lacked depth.

I admit that I tend to dislike stories where one of the protagonists has some sort of past experience which has led to a distrust of the opposite sex which magically disappears when they meet the love of their life. It’s not the first time that’s happened in a romance novel I’ve read, and it annoys me every time. If your heroine is wary of men and sex, finding her “one true love” isn’t suddenly going to cure her of her fears and/or turn her into a woman who is comfortable enough with her own sexuality to play the seductress with her partner.

On the plus side, however, I did like that Sydney was honest with Ethan about her past and her fears; and the way that she was able to accept and see past his less savoury actions to the honourable man he truly was beneath.
Even though I was somewhat disappointed in the book, that’s not to say it doesn’t have things to recommend it. There was an intriguing mystery plot, a sweet secondary romance and plenty of sexual tension between the hero and heroine. If you like your romance mixed up with a good dose of mystery and intrigue, handsome aristocrat heroes and gutsy women, then you could do worse than give A Lady’s Secret Weapon a try.

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