In society circles she’s known as the Watching Wallflower—shy, quiet, and certainly never scandalous. Yet beneath Lady Sarah Frampton’s demure façade hides the mind of The Lady of Dubious Quality, author of the most titillating erotic fiction the ton has ever seen. Sarah knows discovery would lead to her ruin, but marriage—to a vicar, no less—could help protect her from slander. An especially tempting option when the clergyman in question is the handsome, intriguing Jeremy Cleland.
Tasked with unmasking London’s most scandalous author by his powerful family, Jeremy has no idea that his beautiful, innocent bride is the very woman he seeks to destroy. His mission must remain a secret, even from the new wife who stirs his deepest longings. Yet when the truth comes to light, Sarah and Jeremy’s newfound love will be tested. Will Sarah’s secret identity tear them apart or will the temptations of his wallflower wife prove too wicked to resist?
Having featured a female newspaper editor (Forever Your Earl) and a female playwright (Scandal Takes the Stage), this final book in Eva Leigh’s Wicked Quills of London, takes as its heroine the author of a number of highly successful erotic novels. Each of the books in this series has explored what it might have been like for women making their way in a man’s world and has taken an insightful look at the everyday prejudices they had to contend with simply because of their sex and their class. And Ms Leigh has wrapped all that up in some deliciously witty and sensual romances, matching each of the heroines with a hero who understands, appreciates and supports her unique talents.
Lady Sarah Frampton may be the daughter of a duke, but she’s firmly on the shelf, having refused numerous offers of marriage from men she knew only wanted her money. Known as “The Watching Wallflower”, she is frequently disparaged by the male members of the ton and has resigned herself to never knowing the sort of passion to be found in the pages of the erotic novels she pens under the pseudonym “A Lady of Dubious Quality.” It’s incredibly risky; should she be exposed, the scandal would ruin her and her entire family – but for Sarah, writing is as essential to her as breathing and something which gives her life meaning. Only when she writes does she feel as though she’s truly the person she’s meant to be, even though it means she has to invent reasons for the amount of writing she does each day and face her mother’s constant disapproval.
We met Jeremy Cleland (and surely, his last name is an homage to John Cleland, author of the infamous Fanny Hill) briefly in the previous book in the series, when he paid a visit to his cousin Cam, Viscount Marwood. Jeremy is the third son of the Earl of Hutton and has therefore been expected to make his own way in life, but only in the profession chosen for him by his autocratic father. As ordered, Jeremy entered the church and now possesses a small living in Devonshire, but of late he has become more and more frustrated with his situation. He doesn’t doubt his calling and enjoys helping people, but he finds village life somewhat limiting. But he is financially dependent on his father and, as he reluctantly admits, still asking “how high?” when the earl tells him to jump.
The Earl of Hutton is regarded – and regards himself – as the moral arbiter of society and has summoned Jeremy to London to discover the identity of the Lady of Dubious Quality, denouncing her as a vile scribbler whose immoral writings undermine the very fabric of English morality. Personally, Jeremy can’t see the harm in it, and in fact admires the author for the courage and determination she displays; but the earl will not be gainsaid and makes it very clear that he expects Jeremy to do exactly as he is told, or else.
Sarah knows she is living vicariously through her fictional creations, but the truth is that she has never met a man who induces the sort of desire in her that her fictional heroes induce in her heroines. But when she meets Jeremy, she experiences a real coup de foudre. There is an instant and almost overwhelming attraction between them, both of them sensing a kindred spirit and recognising that here is someone else who has to hide a naturally sensual nature beneath a surface veneer of utmost propriety. But a duke’s daughter and a country vicar can never be more than casual acquaintances, so they each try to resign themselves to that fact, even though it’s obvious to both of them and to the reader that they are perfect for one another. This could so easily have come across as a relationship built on insta-lust, but it is so much more than that; the depth of the emotional connection between the couple leaps off the page from their first encounter and the longing they feel for each other is palpable.
When Sarah learns that someone is close to discovering her identity, she realises that the best way to protect herself and her reputation is to marry… but there is only one man she could ever consider marrying and she knows that her family will object strongly to his lower station. But Sarah is of age, and doesn’t need her parent’s consent to wed; desire and fear of discover are strong inducements and she and Jeremy marry by special license.
The romance between the couple is full of smouldering sexual tension and is very well-written. Their first sexual experiences are both hot and suitably awkward; Jeremy isn’t a virgin, but is just about the closest thing to it there is. Fortunately though, with a bit of help from “The Highwayman’s Seduction” (which he of course, has no idea was written by his wife!) he is nonetheless able to show Sarah a damn good time on their wedding night *wink*. Jeremy is delighted with his wife’s willingness to be adventurous in the bedroom (and just about anywhere else!); indeed, they are both refreshingly open about that aspect of their marriage and their lack of experience is never an issue as they are happy to be learning together.
But while he is delighted at the openness and honesty between them, Sarah is all too aware of the secret she is keeping… clearly, there are some difficult choices looming.
Sarah and Jeremy are very engaging characters, and even though I had to suspend my disbelief somewhat at the idea of a sexually inexperienced woman being able to write convincing erotica, the author gets so much right in the story that it wasn’t difficult to do. She also addresses some interesting themes about the nature of writing – all three of the heroines in this series are authors by profession and by nature and all agree that not writing is completely unthinkable – and also about sex and romance when Sarah’s current project evolves into a story about a relationship and a romance. And with Jeremy as inspiration, I can’t say as I blame her, because he’s absolutely delicious-off-the-charts-sexy.
Together, he and Sarah both find the kind of freedom that comes with being able to be oneself with someone who understands them and treats them as an equal. Ms. Leigh writes with insight and wit, imbuing her story with a wonderful latent sensuality that is perfect for the subject matter; and all in all, Temptations of a Wallflower is a book I’m happy to recommend most strongly.
PLUS – You can also find my interview with Ms Leigh at AAR’s blog.