Lady Margaret Cassidy left a life of nobility behind in Ireland, forsaking her grieving homeland to aid war-ravaged men in England. Still, she never expected a cruel turn of fate to lock her into an unwanted betrothal with one of her English patients—much less one as broken and dangerous as Viscount Powers.
Wrecked by his tragic past, Powers’ opiate-addled sanity hangs precariously in the balance, leaving him poised to destroy anyone who dares to utter the names of the wife and child he still so deeply mourns. So when he is forced to marry Margaret in exchange for freedom, he is shocked by the desire to earn her trust, her body, and—most alarming of all—her heart….
The hero of this, the third book in the author’s Mad Passions series made a really strong impression in me in the previous book Lady in Red, in which he appeared as the best friend of its hero, the Duke of Farleigh. James Stanhope, Viscount Powers is an incredibly charismatic man with a very caustic manner, who, despite being full of self-loathing is somehow ridiculously sexy; and he helped the heroine to battle her addiction to opium even though he was well on the way to becoming an addict himself.
Powers began using the drug after the deaths of his wife and their young daughter some years earlier, but in the year that has elapsed between the ending of Lady in Red and this book, he has become entirely dependent on it and is on a path to certain self-destruction. His father, the Earl of Carlyle, has, in desperation, had Powers committed to an asylum – not because he wants him locked up, but because he doesn’t know how else to prevent his son killing himself.
Lady Margaret Cassidy served as a nurse in the Crimea and has spent years helping men injured, both physically and mentally, by war. Her reputation for successful treatments and outcomes leads the Earl to engage her to help his son, and the book opens on the first meeting between Margaret and James, who wants nothing to do with her. But the earl is desperate – Powers is his only son and the only heir to the title, and he needs him to get well, so he proposes an unorthodox bargain to Margaret. If she will marry James and provide the much needed heir in addition to acting as his nurse, the earl will settle enough money on her to enable her to help her younger brother, who has got himself mixed up in some serious trouble, and to send money home to help her people in Ireland, who are still suffering the ravages wrought by the Famine.
Margaret doesn’t like the idea at all, but the thought of being able to help her brother and so many other people outweighs the distaste she feels at the idea of being bought and her worry over the stirrings of attraction she feels for the badly damaged viscount. James is naturally not wild about the idea either, but realises it’s pretty much his last chance and so the wedding takes place just a couple of days later.
I enjoyed The Dark Affair more than Lady in Red partly because James’ recovery is handled in a manner that felt much more realistic to me than did Mary’s in the earlier book. It seems to happen fairly quickly again, but then I suppose there is a limit to the time an author can spend having a character going through withdrawal symptoms without boring her audience. But at least in this book there are withdrawal symptoms – nasty ones – and we see James enduring them, and then later having to face up to the cravings he knows he will always have.
The focus of the story really is on his recovery, which means that the romance is perhaps a little sidelined, but on the whole, I didn’t mind that because Powers is such a fascinating character. He and Margaret strike sparks off each other right from their first meeting, and I enjoyed their verbal sparring and the way that Margaret won’t let James off the hook, challenging him at every turn. It’s not that she doesn’t have any sympathy for him, but she won’t allow him to wallow; she shows him repeatedly that he doesn’t have a monopoly on suffering, and that happiness can be found by even the poorest people in the meanest circumstances. For his part, James does genuinely want to get better, and as he does, he comes to see that Margaret has demons of her own that need conquering.
The other aspect of the story I really enjoyed was watching the reconciliation between Powers and his father. The pair has long been estranged, and at the beginning of the book, it seems that Carlyle’s desire for his son to regain his health is motivated more by his concern that he has an heir worthy to inherit his wealth and title than any concern for James the man. But that perception changes gradually over the course of the story, and I found the later scenes between the two quite touching.
On the downside, there’s a sub-plot concerning Margaret’s younger brother and his involvement with a group of Irish revolutionaries that is never fully developed and which is wrapped up a little too neatly. And there were times in the middle of the book when I felt that James was still so mired in his grief and guilt that I couldn’t quite believe that he was ready to fall in love with someone else. Once the truth about the tragedy is revealed, the romance becomes more convincing, but I did feel that perhaps the balance between the two – James’ suffering on the one hand, and his growing love for Margaret on the other – wasn’t quite right.
The writing is generally good, although there are a few odd turns of phrase and word choices that jar a little, but I enjoyed the book overall and appreciate Ms Claremont’s desire to write stories that are less fluffy and a bit harder-hitting than normally found in historical romance. I don’t think she’s quite found the right balance yet, but the books in this trilogy have been interesting and well-written enough to have kept me reading them in spite of their flaws.