When Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave, was forced to flee after killing a man in a duel, he expected Brilliana Trevor to wait for him. Seven years later, Niall has returned, disillusioned and cynical – so being blackmailed by the government into helping his former love catch a counterfeiter connected to her father doesn’t improve his mood.
The now widowed Brilliana wants nothing to do with the reckless rogue who she believes abandoned her to a dreary, loveless life, but she will do anything to save her father. Yet as their fake engagement brings long-buried feelings to the surface, can she let go of the old hurt and put her pride aside? And will the pleasures of their renewed passion enable them both to rediscover love?
The Pleasures of Passion is the fourth book in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors series, and it brings to a close the plotline that has run through all the books so far, that of Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave who, seven years before this book opens, killed a man in a duel and was forced to flee the country as a result. Because parts of Niall’s story were revealed in the other books – most notably book two, The Study of Seduction – there will be spoilers in this review.
Before the fateful duel took place, Niall had met and fallen in love with seventeen-year-old Brilliana Payne, but because she was not yet out in society they kept their relationship a secret. Niall planned to ask for her hand as soon as he could court her openly, but because of the duel, he instead asks her to leave with him that very day as he cannot afford to linger in England. Brilliana – or Bree, as Niall nicknames her – is distraught and confused as well as concerned for her mother’s failing health and in the end tells him she can’t go with him – but they part with a sort of vague agreement that she will join him as soon as it’s possible for her to do so.
When, just a few months later, Niall learns that Bree has married someone else, the suspicions planted by his father before he left – that she didn’t want to accompany him because she would then be unable to enjoy her position as a viscountess and move about in society – took root, and over the years of his exile he became accustomed to thinking of her as having wanted him for his rank and fortune rather than himself.
For her part, Bree hears the rumours that quickly begin to circulate after Niall’s flight – that he and his opponent had duelled over another woman – and believes he had been merely toying with her affections. Nonetheless, she can’t stop loving him, and rejects other offers for her hand, until her father promises her to Reynold Trevor as payment for the large gambling debt he owes the man’s father.
Seven years later, Bree is a widow with a young son, and Niall has secured a pardon thanks to the intervention of a high-ranking Home Office official, Lord Fulkham, the spymaster for whom Niall had worked on numerous occasions while living abroad. We witnessed the first, awkward meeting between the former lovers in the previous book, The Danger of Desire, and at the opening of this one, they are still wary of each other and labouring under the misapprehensions fostered by Niall’s late father and society gossip.
Even though Niall and Bree are linked by ties of family and friendship, they are determined to keep away from each other and not to fall under the other’s spell once more – a plan which is destined to be unworkable when they are asked by Lord Fulkham to help him to track down a counterfeiter. Bree wonders what that can possibly have to do with her, when Fulkham explains that his main suspect is her father, and that he needs her and Niall to pretend to be betrothed in order for Niall to get close to Oswald Payne and ferret out the truth. Not sure she will be able to withstand being so close to Niall without falling for him all over again, Bree refuses, but when Fulkham explains that counterfeiting is tantamount to treason and thus punishable by death, she relents. She has no great love for her father, but doesn’t want to see him hang, and, deciding they might as well get started at once, she and Niall announce their engagement that very evening.
The book utilises some tropes I’m fond of – the fake relationship and the second-chance romance – but sadly, both fall flat because there’s little chemistry between the protagonists and for at least the first half of the story, we’re in Big Mis territory – a plot device I really dislike. Niall and Bree think the worst of each other based on no more than seven-year-old assumptions and make hardly any attempt to look beyond them, even though they are still desperately yearning for each other. Ms. Jeffries does begin to unravel the web of lies surrounding them by around the half-way point, and I’ll give her credit for that; but by then my interest in them as a couple had waned and I couldn’t bring myself to care very much whether they got together or not. Bree was hung up on the fact that Niall wouldn’t tell her the real reason he fought the duel and continued to mistrust him because of it; and trying to explain that away by having Bree suffering from abandonment anxiety – her mother left her (died) her husband left her (committed suicide) and her father didn’t care for her much (that’s true) – didn’t wash.
Niall is a fairly colourless chap, really, when all’s said and done. He believed what his father insinuated about Bree being a fortune hunter in the absence of other information, and her marriage so soon after his departure only seemed to confirm it. He’s determined not to fall in love with her again, but he can’t help it, especially once he uncovers the truth about her marriage and his father’s deception. He desperately wants to tell Bree the truth about the duel, but gave his word never to tell anyone so as to protect Clarissa; and I found Edwin’s request that Niall continue to conceal the truth from Bree strange – and ultimately, it’s just another way of prolonging that particular plotpoint.
The mystery plot is weak, and the identity of the villain is obvious from the moment he steps on to the page; and while there is nothing especially wrong with either Niall or Bree, they are bland and their romance is uneventful and unmemorable. Because they’re so obviously already in love there’s no romantic tension or looking forward to the first kiss – and more – and the fact that Bree succumbs so easily doesn’t say much for her resolve not to let Niall into her life again.
I’ve enjoyed other books in this series, most notably The Study of Seduction, which remains one of my favourite novels by of Ms. Jeffries. Unfortunately, The Pleasures of Passion lacks both pleasure and passion and I can’t recommend it to anyone other than die-hard fans of the author’s or those following the series who simply must read every book for the sake of completeness.