Friday, December 2, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Unmasking the Duke's Mistress By Margaret McPhee

 Harlequin Historical  November 15, 2011

 288 pages      By Margaret McPhee


With trembling hands Arabella dons the mask of Miss Noir for her first night at Mrs. Silver's House of Pleasures. Thinking of her young son, she prepares to smile prettily at the next gentleman who enters….
Dominic Furneaux, Duke of Arlesford, is stunned to see that the woman who shattered his heart has fallen so low. He offers her a way out—by making her his mistress!
The temptation to reacquaint herself with Dominic's body is hard for Arabella to resist, but Dominic needs only to look into the Furneaux-blue eyes of her son to uncover Arabella's deepest secret…

I utterly adored this book! For a Harlequin historical, this story sizzled. A true erotic romance in every sense of the word, but not full blown erotica if you catch my meaning.

Dominic Furneaux, the Duke of Arlesford is your typical aristocratic rake in his late twenties who indulges in drink and gambling and women. His dealings with women had been discrete, but he soon find himself accompanying his friends to a brothel. The women are paraded out for the men to select, they wear feathered masks and go by the french names of colors. Miss Noir catches Dominic's interest.
The mysterious Miss Noir reminds him of a long ago lost love, a love that left him angry and broken-hearted. As painful as those memories are, the pain in his groin is greater. He must have her.
Miss Noir insists on keeping on her face mask. That is fine with Dominic, he can pretend this whore is Arabella Stokes, the woman who left his heart shattered.
After a searing bout of sex, Dominic stands to dress and sees Miss Noir has turned her away from him. He sees a familiar birthmark on her lower back. No. It can't be. Arabella.

Arabella Stokes is a penniless widow with a small boy and a mother depending on her for survival. It is these desperate straits that cause her too seek employment at Mrs. Silver's House of Pleasure. Arabella was stunned when she saw Dominic enter the room on her first night. Hate and lust intermingled with other emotions. This heartless man abandoned her six years ago. He now stands before her and makes her a shocking offer, become his mistress.

Dominic and Arabella are wonderful characters. Arabella is proud, but she must protect her mother and son. Becoming Dominic's mistress would ensure they would not starve in some hovel. She has no other choice. The various layers of emotions in play here is great. So much perceived hurt and anger, yet they cannot deny the desire that still exists between them.

Arabella takes Dominic up on his offer. She hides her son  and mother when Dominic comes to call.  The awkwardness of their emotions and the situation itself is well done. Each thinks the other to blame for their situation. When the two finally speak in depth, it is revealed what really happened to drive them apart. The last third of the book is not as strong as the first two thirds. When the book focuses exclusively on Arabella and Dominic, the story crackles. However it gets bogged down in a subplot on blackmail and other outside forces which I believe lessens the intimate impact of the two main characters. It also kept me from giving it a perfect score.

That aside, this was a great read. Sizzling hot for a Harlequin, deeply felt emotions and memorable characters all came together to pack a solid erotic romance punch.

3.75 out of 4

Heat level Sizzling!

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