Series: Royal Four
Author: Celeste Bradley
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: August 1, 2006
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Elite spies, secret defenders of the king, The Royal Four are unsurpassed in courage, honor, and daring. Known to his brothers-in-arms as The Falcon, Lord Wyndham is the most secretive and aloof of the four. But when The Falcon meets the impetuous Lady Alicia, he discovers a soul mate whose hidden fire matches his own…
Lady Alicia Lawrence was cast out of polite society and branded a liar for a youthful mistake. When she overhears details of a conspiracy that could affect her country's fate, she turns to the one person who might believe her--Stanton Horne, Lord Wyndham. Posing as Wyndham's mistress in order to root out the enemy, Alicia is drawn into an uneasy partnership…and a wildly seductive liaison.
Lord Wyndham's uncanny ability to detect lies has made him a valuable member of the Royal Four, but in matters of romance it has proven a distinct liability. Alicia is the only woman whose thoughts he cannot read…and the only one whose sensual touch quenches every secret desire. As the mission grows more dangerous and more personal, and each encounter with Alicia more fiery than the last, this daring spy must face his greatest challenge yet--learn to trust the passion in his heart
When Stanton Horne, Lord Wyndham, the member of the elite Royal Four as the Falcon, receives the visit of Lady Alicia Lawrence, the disowned daughter of the Earl of Sutherland, he’s extremely weary of her story about a conspiracy against the Crown. Not because she’s a woman, but because she’s a notorious woman — five years ago she was shunned by Society and labeled a notorious liar.
Stanton’s ability to spot lies and liars, so convenient in his work as the Falcon, fails him, when it comes to Alicia. She’s completely unreadable to him, but her "proof" — the mention of the scarred man — is the one thing that keeps him from completely dismissing the woman.
Since she’s convinced she could identify the man plotting to kidnap Prince George if she heard him, Stanton, very reluctantly, agrees to attend a house party (read: orgy) and bring Alicia along as his pretend mistress.
Their "mission" is fraught with danger. Not only to track and stop the deadly French spy, but Alicia and Stanton might have found their match — she a man that might actually believe her, he a woman to finally melt the ice surrounding his heart.
The prologue itself hinted to a great read as Alicia hilariously opened her first letter to Wyndham with:
"I am writing to you because you appear to be a somewhat lesser idiot than other gentlemen."This one line showed Alicia’s true character and promised a riotous book.
Despite the fact her family considered her dead and Society pretended she did not exist, Alicia didn’t lose her youthful vitality. She was sassy, spunky and had a wicked sense of humor. Granted, she might have appeared bitter at times, but that was understandable attitude adjustment she went through after the hurt and betrayal.
Stanton was portrayed wonderfully as he found himself completely out of his depths with the whole situation and especially Alicia. He too had been betrayed by his own flesh and blood, but instead of enfolding himself in mockery and sarcasm, he chose to lock himself away from the world.
The characterization was absolutely sublime. Here you have two people deeply hurting for quite similar reasons, betrayal by their own family, yet they deal with those feelings in two completely different ways, yet cannot help but be drawn to each other in a last attempt at salvaging what is left of their souls and heal each other in the process.
As is obvious from the epilogue they didn’t change that much (the servants still thought of Wyndham as "inhuman", only in a better way than in the first chapter *wink*), but what little they did change was for the better.
As for the plot, the pacing was utterly to the mark. There was no single dull or breaking moment in the book. The sparring between the two leads was entertaining and cute at the same time, the interaction between characters was splendid, the humor was there, the adventure was there, the drama, the action…What more can one want from a story.
It was a lovely tribute that Ms. Bradley brought back the couples from previous books for more than just a cameo experience. This "reunion" and the just demise of the Chimera brought the entire series full circle.
This book could be read as a stand-alone, but if you want to really enjoy it fully (all the subtle nuances, the relationships between characters, their interaction…), you have to read the series in an order.
Bottom line — this entertaining and frolicking read is definitely a keeper. If you like your romance laced with humor, action, a little drama, a whole lot of sensuality and a pinch of adventure, this is definitely the book for you.
P.S. If it were possible, I'd add half a star to my rating above.