All of Regency London knows that no Cynster male would ever walk away from a lady in distress...but their protection can come at a tantalizingly high price. And now, Stephanie Laurens has created her boldest Cynster yet--Gabriel--a man who has known the pleasure of many women, but who has given his heart to no one.
A Secret Love, the fifth book in the Bar Cynster series, is well worth the wait. For those of you that have never read any of this novel's predecessors, let me give you the Cliff Notes version update: "Bar Cynster" is the term that has been bestowed upon six handsome, rakish men of the haute ton's Cynster family in Regency era London. All six gentlemen have vowed never to marry. When Devil Cynster, the Duke of St. Ives, falls in love with and marries Honoria
Anstruther-Wetherby (Devil's Bride), the men of the clan fear that Devil's curse will catch up with them. And of course, it does. This time around, the curse catches up to Gabriel.
Thirty-year-old Gabriel Cynster is intrigued by the mysterious, veiled countess from the moment they first meet, so when she calls upon him to aid her in a quest that will keep a cutthroat swindler from bilking away all that remains of her family's estate, he is powerless to deny her, or the attraction he carries for her. Wanting the mystery woman to reveal her identity to him of her own volition, Gabriel allows her to skirt around the issue of who she really is while he expertly entangles her in a Cynster-spun web of seduction.
He will do as the countess asks and find the pieces of information she needs to clear her family of its debts, but each time Gabriel unravels a new piece of information, he will also exact a payment from her...in the form of innocent kisses at first, but more intimate acts as their relationship progresses.
Gabriel can't understand what it is about the countess that sets her apart from the women in his past, but he quickly realizes that, unlike any of his previous mistresses, she can stir his emotions as well as his body. In fact, there is only one other woman that has ever been able to get under Gabriel's skin, and she was more of a pariah than a blessing; she is a prickly spinster named Alathea who has been a close friend of the family for years, and Gabriel's longtime nemesis. Thankfully, the countess is nothing like Alathea, or so Gabriel tells himself...
At twenty-nine, Lady Alathea Morwellan is the matriarch and backbone of her father's earldom. The earl has an unfortunate propensity for getting himself into financial straits, so he's lucky to have a daughter with a proclivity for getting him out of them. Only this time, Alathea fears she won't be able to save the family's finances. There is only one man she knows of who is powerful and connected enough to stop the Morwellan family's inevitable ruin, but her pride and fear of being turned away keep Alathea from accosting Gabriel Cynster directly. Instead, she concocts an elaborate charade and reveals herself only as a mysterious, shrouded countess to the man whose presence has plagued her for years. To Alathea, it seemed the perfect, harmless scheme -- until, of course, she discovers what it feels like to be seduced by a Cynster...
I have always been a sucker for the nemeses-turned-lovers scenario penned by an author who truly knows her craft. This is probably because the protagonists' initial relationship sets the stage for humorous dialogue, witty exchanges, and love scenes that can, when properly developed, turn your brain to mush. A Secret Love does not disappoint. Gabriel and Alathea are a very entertaining and endearing couple, and their long history together adds a poignantly emotional element to the mix.
Another plus for A Secret Love is that the mystery angle of the novel is interesting, believable, and well executed. Far too often in romance, readers are obliged to endure extremely boring "who dunnit" subplots that every writer weaves into their stories these days (whether or not they happen to be any good at them). This is not the case with Gabriel and Alathea's quest to save her family's estate...Ms. Laurens did an excellent job of adding a little intrigue without going overboard and focusing too much on the mystery.
The book's ending points to the fact that Lucifer, the sixth and final member of Bar Cynster, will get caught by the curse next. But who will come after Lucifer? It looks like it will be Chillingworth, the handsome rake of an earl who plays a minor but titillating role throughout the entire series, and a tellingly significant role in A Secret Love. So don't lose hope Bar Cynster fans...it looks as if there are still a few more stories to come.