2000, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $7.50, 374 pages, Amazon ASIN 0380805707 Part of a series
How do you feel about romance novels where one of the parties is in disguise? Stephanie Lauren's A Secret Love has two distinct parts. In the first part, which lasts for about two hundred pages, hero, Gabriel Bar Cynster falls in love with a mysterious disguised woman, who is, in reality, an old friend, Lady Alathea Morwellan. In the second part, a besotted and obsessed Gabriel must convince Alathea that she should spend her life with him. The result is an incredibly romantic book which almost deserves two grades. My grade for Part One, which contains The Big Secret, is C+. My grade for Part Two after the secret is revealed is A+! My advice? Read A Secret Love and if you get impatient in the first part have faith, things are going to get really good.
A Secret Love is the story of two childhood friends, Lady Alathea Morwellan and Gabriel Cynster. When Alathea and Gabriel outgrew childhood games and became teenagers, they developed a strong sexual attraction. Neither one knew how to show it or even what it meant. So, they fought and picked on each other. By the time the two hit their respective ages of 29 and 30, a pattern had become ingrained. Alathea was even convinced that Gabriel disliked her.
As A Secret Love opens, Alathea is in the uncomfortable position of needing Gabriel's help. Her father, an earl, has invested in a gold mining scam and the family fortune is at risk. But how to ask for Gabriel's help when the two have not managed a civil conversation in years? Alathea's solution is to disguise herself as the heavily veiled "countess," supposedly a young widow. In this disguise she goes to visit Gabriel and enlists his assistance in exposing the scheme.
Gabriel is intrigued by "the countess" and demands her kisses in payment for his help. Together he and the disguised Alathea manage to find the swindler and begin to unearth information on the company. Gabriel becomes intent on seducing the countess. In a series of absolutely sizzling love scenes he soon has her helpless in his power.
I've got to take a moment to talk about these love scenes because they are spectacular. Stephanie Laurens has a way of making the sexual attraction between two people both loving and incredibly erotic. Maybe it's the disguise but Alathea responds to Gabriel by denying him nothing. In one scene she is completely naked while he remains clothed. Gabriel is almost hypnotized by this, not only at the time but later whenever he thinks about her. This love scene simply surpasses anything I've read in ages not only because it so sensual but in the way that the characters personalities are revealed in their love-making.
But as wonderful as these scenes were they posed a problem. How could a man not recognize a woman whom he has known all of his life when he is making love to her and all she has on is a mask and a veil? Alathea is six feet tall. She'd be rather hard to miss under any circumstances.
Unfortunately Gabriel doesn't recognize Alathea for two hundred pages and, except for the love scenes, this stalls the love story. When they are not making love, "the countess" and Gabriel have only one topic of conversation, which is the exposure of the gold mining company. In the meantime Gabriel is bickering with the undisguised Alathea at various social functions. Alathea seems unaffected by the fact that she is having these torrid scenes with Gabriel in disguise. It is almost as though she has developed at split personality to deal with the sitution.
When Gabriel finally realizes that the countess is Alathea, A Secret Love becomes one of the most compelling and romantic love stories that I've read this year. The scene where Gabriel confronts Alathea absolutely crackles and I was as nervous as she was. Gabriel is beside himself and so sexually aroused as to be barely in control. Furthermore, he has fallen deeply in love. Though he realizes this, the thought of risking all by declaring himself is terrifying. How Gabriel solves this problem and Alathea comes to realize that she is loved makes for a gloriously joyful story.
One more thing I should mention about this book is that it is pure fantasy and history is of the "wallpaper" variety. The world in this book is fantasy - not history. Alathea has lots of freedom and gives up her virginity with barely a thought. I didn't care. Once the mask came off, Alathea and Gabriel had a wonderfully moving story. I was sorry to see it come to an end.
-- Robin Uncapher
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