This second book in Laurens' Bastion Series opens with a meeting of the Bastion Club. These seven men who have survived War and Spyhood find themselves with a need to marry, but are unfamiliar with the ways of the ton. They formed this Support Group to filter information and find a match with the perfect woman on their own terms.
Anthony Blake, Viscount Torrington, is our hero du jour. He is half English, half French, and it seems that his main motivation for marrying is to get his French mother and godmother off his back. No one is as relentless as French women, apparently.
Mrs. Alicia Carrington is a wealthy widow squiring her beautiful younger sister, Adriana Pevensey, for the Season. However, the ladies have concocted an elaborate ruse: Alicia is not a widow, but their parents are dead, there are three younger brothers who need to be educated and no money to do it. Adriana is stunningly beautiful and it is her job to snare a rich man who will be willing to take care of the family.
Mr. Ruskin, the Toad, somehow learns of Alicia's secret and threatens to expose her unless she marries him. When she finds Ruskin's dead body in a garden, her problems in one area are over, but even more crop up. Rumors begin to circulate that Ruskin was a shady character, that he had some nefarious doings during the war and that his partner in crime was someone with the initials "A.C." Suspicion immediately turns to Alicia. Of course, she can't tell everyone that her last name does not begin with a “C”.
To Tony's credit, he never believes any of the rumors; he knows her to be completely innocent, even when he finds her hovering over Ruskin's dead body, the bloody knife in her hand. He enlists his formidable godmother and her cronies to help repair Alicia's reputation even as he is called in to investigate the murder and Ruskin's possible treasonous activities.
Tony knows very early on that he has found his future wife. Alicia intrigues him to no end. She is a sensible, and a grownup – not at all like the dim, giggling children thrust upon him everywhere he goes. And while Alicia finds herself just as attracted to him, she knows that viscounts do not marry widows – they make them their mistress. She does, however, find herself amenable to this role, while wishing for more. Tony, knowing his intentions, lets everyone know he will marry Alicia – everyone but Alicia, of course. This is such a Dumb Guy thing to do, and will come back to bite him in the butt, but he does a fairly creditable grovel.
Tony was a likeable guy, though. He has been restless since the war ended. He wants to marry and start a new life. As an only child, he finds the relationship Alicia and her siblings enjoy to be very attractive, and finds his restlessness easing in their company. He also is very good about keeping Alicia informed about his investigation. He is probably as Beta a hero as Laurens can write.
There were some annoyances with the book, however. The murderer/traitor identity is really pretty simple to solve, but Tony and his fellow Bastion Boys go to elaborate lengths to ferret out information, following torturous paths to find out who "A.C." is. They know he is a member of the ton and is currently in town. But it never occurs to them to simply make a list of all the people in town at the moment whose initials are "A.C." Duh! My other complaint is that Laurens wrote the boys far too young. They are 8, 10, and 12, but act more like 4, 6, and 8. Writing realistic children is difficult, and while I liked the boys, I would have liked them better if their chronological age matched their behavioral age.
But, the Good News is that the sentence fragments Laurens has over-employed for several books are almost nonexistent here. O Happy Day! Add to that, likeable characters, plentiful sexual tension and love scenes, and the enjoyment to be found in this book outweighs the annoyances.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, October 3, 2003