Imagine yourself a young boy trapped in a wretched existence. A demon appears and offers you a hideous choice. A choice so vile that if you did what you knew was morally right, you would be left behind to surely decay and die. But, if you sold your soul and chose your own life over that of another, an innocent would suffer in your place.
So you chose life, and you survived. But what would happen if that experience was so emotionally intense, the guilt so great, over the ensuing years it caused your survival instinct to flame into a searing obsession, an addiction so powerful you had to keep living on the edge just to feel alive at all? You didn't have a heart anymore, or a soul, so what difference would it make if you turned to ashes? No one would care, least of all you.
What then if you met your nemesis, your feminine counterpart, a woman with matching pain and a similar addiction to danger. And like the poles of two magnets, you were both profoundly repelled and fiercely attracted at the same time?
If these things were all true, then you'd be Jack Seward and Anne Wilder, and the game of sexual and political cat-and-mouse has just begun. There is only one rule to this game - win. Win at any cost. Thwart the other, for all is at stake here.
Colonel Jack Seward is a cold, unremitting spy, and the only man in England who can capture the thief who's been wrecking havoc on the nobility of London. Anne Wilder is a gentle widow who has taken to the life of a chaperone - so she can dress in black and run along fog-shrouded rooftops to climb in windows and steal from the same wealthy nobs Jack is trying to protect!
These two meet when Jack has Anne cornered in an upstairs bedroom as she, masked and disguised, is caught in the act of helping herself to some glittering goodies. The only way Anne can escape is to use the element of surprise - so she rubs her breasts against Jack's chest. Momentarily startled to realize the notorious thief is a woman, Anne further throws him off guard by offering her body to him right then and there, as the price for her escape. Jack is further shocked - at himself - when he abruptly decides to go for it and prepares to extract the offered price.
But Anne escapes before Jack can gets very far, turning a routine capture into a personal vendetta. He's never lost a "man" before, so now his reputation is stained. Further, he wants the woman - he wants her with an intensity he has never known before. In his mind, Anne has now become "his" and he's going after her with a vengeance.
The focus of this book never leaves these two characters. They are both wounded emotionally, almost beyond repair, and the only person in the world who can heal one is the other. This is a tense, moody, shadow-filled study of a man and a woman who each think they have nothing to live for, nothing to offer, nothing good, until they find each other. Connie Brockway has done a stunning job keeping the intensity of this steamy cat-and-mouse thriller moving along page after page. The writing is lyrical in some places, the imagery clean and sure, and the pain Jack and Anne carry with them is tangible. No lighthearted romp here - but I wouldn't have missed a word of it.
And, oh, the last page; the last line. Oh, the last line. Thank you, Connie.
-- Marianne Stillings
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Don't miss Connie Brockway's DIK review of Love and the Loathsome Leopard by Barbara Cartland