Lord Geoffrey Fitzroy leads a charmed existence. As the second son of the Duke of Breconridge, he has none of the responsibilities of his older brother and all of the advantages, leaving handsome Geoffrey free to enjoy his rakish pursuits. And pursue them he does, leaving hearts fluttering all over London. But one night, at a ball teeming with high society’s most sought-after beauties, only one truly intrigues him: the regal, aloof, and mysterious Miss Serena Palmer.
Magnificently dressed and wearing jewels befitting a queen, the lady is considered the prize of the season, a noble-born heiress raised in India. But even as Geoffrey’s fascination grows, Serena deftly deflects his curiosity—and with good reason: Serena’s exotic past contains a perilous secret that could destroy her. Yet her plan to live in safe solitude is thwarted by her hungry heart, and soon Geoffrey’s passionate seduction finds her blissfully bed—and wed. Will her deception destroy her chance at happiness as Geoffrey’s wife? Or will the devotion of her new husband reveal the only truth worth embracing: her undying love?
I was intrigued by the blurb for this, the second in the author’s Breconridge Brothers series, because the heroine, Lady Serena Carew, is described as being “a noble-born heiress raised in India”, which is a little out of the ordinary for the genre. I will admit to having been slightly underwhelmed by Ms Bradford’s previous trilogy (I rated all three books at between 3 and 4 stars on Goodreads), but was interested enough in this one to be willing to give the author another try.
The story is a fairly simple one of two young people who have their own reasons for not wanting to marry (at all), and whose families would wish other matches for them – but who are drawn to each other so strongly that those considerations become unimportant in the face of their desire for each other. The problem, however, is that I wasn’t convinced that what the hero and heroine felt for each other was much more than desire, and that meant that I came away from the book feeling as though there was something lacking.
Lady Serena lost her beloved father and her half-sister when she was just a child, as the result of a virulent illness which struck their home and killed everyone except her. Rescued when close to death, she was torn from the arms of her dead sister and carried away, almost through the flames, as the house was burned to the ground to wipe out the infection. She now resides in London with her grandfather, an elderly but rather ferocious marquis who is incredibly protective of her, unwilling to accept any suitor but those of the highest pedigree.
Sadly, his list doesn’t include Lord Geoffrey Fitzroy, the second son of the Duke of Breconridge. Breconridge may be a duke, but his lineage is tainted by bastardy, which is tantamount to heresy in the marquis’ book! Still, Geoffrey has nothing more in mind than a flirtation, perhaps some kissing, when he bets his brother that he will be able to get the reputedly aloof Lady Serena to dance with him at a ball. Geoffrey is well aware of the effect his handsome face and form have on the ladies, and is utterly assured of his success. He does indeed manage to persuade Serena to dance with him, and then out on to the darkened terrace and into a surprisingly personal conversation – which is when it hits him that his heart could be in as much danger as the lady’s reputation.
Lady Serena has cultivated an unflappable, aloof persona in the years she has spent in society for what she believes to be a good reason – she has no intention of getting married. Her secret – the one she has kept since she left India – makes her an unfit mate for a member of the aristocracy, and while her more liberal upbringing among Indian society has made her aware of the ways in which men and women can pleasure each other, she doesn’t want to experience it by the only way open to her in English society.
So Serena wants a lover rather than a husband, and Geoffrey, at twenty-five, thinks he’s too young to get married. Yet they are unable to stop thinking about each other, or trying to find ways to be in each other’s company – and eventually are caught in a compromising situation and forced into marriage. Geoffrey is rather surprised to find that he isn’t at all dismayed by the idea, other than by the fact he worries that Serena is being forced into something she doesn’t want. The shine is taken off their honeymoon period somewhat by the recurrence of Serena’s nightmares about her final days in India – but other than that, they spend a couple of blissful couple of weeks bonking like bunnies, and Serena allows herself to forget, for a while, her reasons for not wanting to get married.
I had some serious issues with this aspect of the story – not so much the secret itself, as given the time at which the book is set, Serena’s reasoning is understandable. It’s also understandable that she doesn’t have a conversation with Geoffrey about it before their wedding – she is prevented from seeing him. My problems are with the resolution, because when Geoffrey finally finds out, he pretty much hand-waves it away, as does the rest of his family. In some ways his reaction is commendable – he loves his wife for the woman she is and that’s enough for him. But it’s dealt with so easily that it falls flat and destroys any dramatic tension that has been built previously.
Despite his initial arrogance, Geoffrey is a likeable character who grows up a bit during the course of the story, and his unconditional acceptance and love for Serena after he discovers her secret are admirable. Unfortunately, however, Serena is less engaging, because it seems that Ms Bradford spent so much time emphasising her exotic appearance, language, mannerisms and, above all, her “Indian-ness”, that she forgot to give her an actual personality apart from it. She’s contradictory at the beginning of the book – one minute insisting on maintaining her ice-queen persona, and the next, being bowled over by Geoffrey’s rather obvious attempts at flirtation. In fact, I thought it was going to turn out that Serena was just playing along with Geoffrey and simpering a bit before showing him she was wise to his game and storming off. But no, she really was buying his guff, and came across as too naïve for my taste.
There’s no doubt that A Sinful Deception is a well-written book, and that the heroine’s having been brought up away from the restrictions of English society is a refreshing change. But the ending is rushed, the characterisation is weak and there’s no real depth of emotion to the central relationship. That, together with the fact that deception of the title isn’t particularly sinful – especially as it’s not really anyone’s fault – means that the book was a bit of a disappointment overall.