This second book in Hern's "Merry Widows" series is a very good – and sexy – read.
Beatrice Campion, the Countess of Somerfield, is a trustee for The Benevolent Widows Fund. All the trustees are wealthy widows in their thirties who don't wish to remarry. They've made a pact to consider taking a lover this Season – something several of them had never before dreamed of doing – but the idea is intriguing and, after all, they are widowed, not dead.
Thirty-five year old Beatrice attends a masquerade ball dressed as Artemis and there she has a shocking, anonymous – and exciting – intimate encounter with a masked maharaja. She quickly leaves afterwards without revealing her name, but while stunned by her actions, she cannot help but dwell on it and look for her dark-haired maharaja at other society functions.
Beatrice is busy chaperoning her incredibly beautiful, but arrogant, niece for the Season. Emily has set her cap for Gabriel Loughton, the Marquess of Thayne and heir to a dukedom – the biggest Catch for many a Season. Gabriel, who has an adventurous soul, made a deal with his father that he could travel to his heart's content as long as he returned and did his duty by the time he is thirty. Now 29, he is in London and on the hunt for a bride, but finds himself searching for his elusive Artemis instead.
When Beatrice and Gabriel meet again, each is sure that the other is not their mystery lover; both are so staid and proper in their public faÃ§ades that they don't recognize the other. However, since Emily is pursuing Gabriel, they are often in each other's company and discover that there is a frisson of awareness between them. Then, when Beatrice has accident with her glove and Gabriel recognizes her bare arm – Gabriel has a thing for arms – he confronts her, calling her "Artemis" in a delicious scene. Now he is determined to make her his mistress and, after her initial horror, Beatrice is happy to oblige. But what will happen to Gabriel's bride hunt and Beatrice's independence when they find themselves compatible in areas other the bed?
I love older woman/younger man romances and it turns out that Beatrice does too. Watching her revel in her young, virile lover is a lot of fun. I also really liked that she didn't turn into a self-sacrificing martyr to her niece when she discovered that her secret lover is her niece's prime marriage candidate. Once they are reunited, Gabriel immediately sets out to depress Emily's plans and Beatrice, knowing that Emily's heart is not engaged, is just fine with that as she has no plans to share Gabriel with her niece.
Gabriel's delight in Beatrice, her mind, her character – and her mature body – is fun to read. He has his work cut out for him to convince Beatrice to become more than a lover, for she has legitimate concerns, though it takes him some time to accept that. I admit to a bit of frustration with him in this area; Gabriel is so used to getting what he wants that he behaves a bit badly – and, I'm afraid that his immaturity rears its head here. But, you know it will all work out in the end.
I can see the set up for the next book in the series, and while sometimes this foreshadowing for future books very often annoys me, in this case, it's an intriguing match up that I'm quite looking forward to it. Candice Hern rarely disappoints, and I am pleased to say that she is right on her game with Just One of Those Flings.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, August 19, 2006