In The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, Mary Alsworthy feels as if she has been demoted in stature as her sister Letty accidentally wound up marrying the man her older sister was attempting to snare as a husband in the previous entry,The Deception of the Emerald Ring.
Being at the age where another season of husband hunting may not do the trick and hating the fact that Letty and her new brother-in-law would be the ones to sponsor such a move, Mary is frustrated and willing to take whatever chance she can to escape her current situation.
Oddly convenient timing brings Lord Sebastian Vaughn into her path with a strange offer: become the bait to catch the deadly French spymaster known as The Black Tulip for the price of a full Season. Mary is naturally suspicious of a trick but Vaughn is not the type of man to play foolish games and at first, he does not seem entranced by Mary's beauty, although they are on nearly equal footing when it comes to snark laced wit:
Despite his better judgement, he is attracted to Mary and even has a bout of jealousy in cold shoulder form when she receives the attentions of Mr. St.George, a known French sympathizer and rather handsome fellow they both run into while working to get the attention of the Black Tulip.
Another complication arises when a woman from Vaughn's past shows up to demand his aid and things get even more complicated as Mary finds herself full deep into the spy game,finding it to be more dangerous than she ever imagined. Once the Black Tulip crosses her path, the stakes are high indeed and could cost someone their life, particularly Vaughn, as they make their moves on that sinister spy chessboard:
Rather unexpectedly, she runs into Dempster during her first official date with Colin Selwick(her source of info about the Pink Carnation) and the mutual mistrust between the two men is readily apparent.
Eloise soon learns that Dempster has ambitions to publish a cheesy expose on the Pink Carnation and willing to go to any lengths to snoop into the Selwick stash of letters, including an underhanded romance with Colin's quite vulnerable younger sister. It's a good subplot that doesn't take the easy misunderstanding twist that many a sitcom would. Instead, it leads to a further development of Eloise and Colin's relationship and a delightful comeuppance:
As for Mary and Vaughn, their relationship,built on sarcasm and a shared disdain for general society, is one of the best ones in their series. Their reluctant romance is a nice breath of fresh air from the regular set of spy crossed couples in these books.
Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy Letty and Geoffrey's love connection in the last book but this clash of wits was wickedly entertaining to watch unfold. So far, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose is one of my favorites in this series and if they ever turn these books in movies(particularly BBC made for TV films), this will be one to stop everything and watch.
For the moment,however, I will be returning to Jane Austen territory as Stephanie Barron's Jane and the Genius of the Place is next on my SR list. For this adventure,Jane visits her brother Edward at Canterbury and gets involved in a murder mystery that involves horse racing, a story line that wouldn't be as Gothic as mystery reader Catherine Morland might like yet she might find some engaging intrigue to it as I expect to: