by Mary Jo Putney, historical (2003, reissue)
Signet, $7.50, ISBN 0-451-20910-9
Dancing On The Wind is a fun story of deception and masquerade. It also has a very compelling hero in Lucien "Lucifer" Fairchild, the Earl of Strathmore and cool head honcho of the Intelligence people in England.
Lucien is on a mission to discover the identity of the some spy for the French. He has an amiable dandy facade, but readers see through that at once in an introduction scene that sees him kicking the butt of some lowlives like a bowling ball knocking down some pinheads. Cool, I say. His quest leads him to infiltrate the Hellfire Club, whose political agenda has been whittled down in this book to "sex, sex, sex". While on his adventures, he encounters a young woman whose many disguises intrigue him. First she was a flirtatious barmaid who knows how to take care of herself. Then she is a maid at a debauched lord's home. And then she's a B&E babe crashing in on his nitrous oxide celebration party. Who is he? He is intrigued, attracted, and maddened all at once. He must find out who she is.
Imagine his dismay when he finds who seems to be her proper twin sister Kira. It seems that adventurous Kit Travers is the one he is looking for. Wait, is Kira pretending to be Kit? Is Kit the actress and Kira the bluestocking feminist or is it the other way around? (If you are an old pro in romance reading and is familiar with the conventions of the genre, this question is a no-brainer.) One of the twin sisters is missing and the other twin is trying to find her. The first half of the book is all about Lucien's search for Kit - let's just call her Kit for the purpose of this review - and the later half sees them joining forces and together with Lucien's buddy Michael, they kick some serious Frog-loving British scum butt and rescue the other sister. Along the way, we learn that Lucien is also a twin and his twin sister died. Lucien collects mechanical toys - cute.
Lucien is so cool in that he can kill villains in a blink of an eye and makes no apologies about it - just doing his job ma'am. Kit isn't too bad - she's an adept B&E mistress of disguise who would have pulled it off if Lucien isn't too good to see through her many disguises. In fact, she almost fooled him at one point of the book.
What makes this book work really well are Lucien, of course, that lovable vulnerable blond hunk who can be really nasty if he chooses to at the ones who make him mad and the sexual tension that is really potent. It is a blast reading about the cat-and-mouse game of disguise and chase that these two play with each other. Perhaps inevitably, the story starts to sag once Lucien and Kit have sex in a very contrived set-up, but all's still really good. It is only towards the end when Kit's trust issues become really tedious and almost ruin the story for good.
Lucien isn't as dark as some other heroes holding his job in other romance heroes, but he's a well-written character nonetheless. Dancing On The Wind is a good book to start if one is new to Mary Jo Putney. Apart from the really tedious last few chapters and a few moments of too-sweet episodes (that scene where Lucien hears Kit's sad story and tells her how admirable he finds her, his eyes glistening - oh puh-lease, what kind of wimpy out-of-character behavior is that?), there is really nothing to hold this book back from being a fine read.
This book at Amazon.com
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