by Anne Stuart, historical (1993)
Avon, $4.50, ISBN 0-380-76740-6
It says a lot that Nicholas Blackthorne, the hero of Anne Stuart's first full-length historical A Rose At Midnight still remains one of the most seductive heroes I've ever read in a romance. Dissolute, dissipated, and utterly without conscience (or so he thinks), in the end the knight in tarnished armor more than meets his match in Ghislaine de Lorgny (call her "Gilly"), a woman who wants his death and gleefully plots for it.
Once, Ghislaine was a happy, pampered daughter of a French nobleman. She overheard one day her father begging a visiting young British blue-blooded Nicholas Blackthorne to spirit her and her brother away from the brewing terrors of the Revolution. He refuses.
Gilly lost her family when the Terror struck, but her burning need for revenge sustains her. When she saves a British lady from committing suicide, she lets herself be persuaded by Lady Ellen to return with her to England to be her companion and cook.
Guess who the black sheep in Ellen's family is. When Blackthorne drops by one night, seeking sanctuary after a duel, and Ellen flees for the safety of her brother's home, Gilly is left alone with Nicholas upstairs. You can hear Gilly sharpening the meat cleaver already.
Okay, so the plot relies on one large lucky coincidence, but all is forgiven when I delve into the powerful, emotionally draining pages of A Rose At Midnight. Don't expect easy resolutions - Gilly and Nicholas are truly at the opposite sides of the ring when the story starts. When Gilly fails in her attempts to poison Nicholas, he kidnaps her to come along with him in a trek across Europe to avoid the law. He plans to seduce her, break her, and then abandon her. And they both know what Gilly wants.
However, Gilly and Nicholas have more in common that they thought. Both are very damaged people. Their romance isn't the sweet love-at-first-sight thing, but more of a power struggle. Things could get really ugly and messy, but the author is too skilled to let things degenerate into a I hate you, come boink me farce.
Instead, what I get is an intense, often moving story of healing. In Gilly, Nicholas learns to love and care for someone apart from his self-absorbed self. And in Nicholas, Gilly learns to forgive and let go of the past. I have to hand it to the author - she actually convinces me that these two people will be okay in the end.
Nicholas Blackthorne is a really wonderful tormented rake. He's bad, really bad. He has seduced, abandoned, used, and broken, all his thought and conscience forcibly suppressed. And Gilly is amazing as a heroine who has to live through hell to survive, sustained only by hatred to carry her on.
For a story about enemies falling in love, there's surprisingly no loud screaming big misunderstandings. Instead there are dramatic yet moving scenes such as Gilly drawing Nicholas' blood (trust me, these two take the phrase "bloody courtship" to new heights) only to break down in cathartic tears of anger and despair. Or Nicholas fighting Gilly's dragons when he wasn't even cognizant with the concept of selflessness. Or the most moving scene of all, the final scene right down to the epilogue that lets it that these people are okay. They aren't sweet, they never would be (thankfully), for they are just healing inside, but hey, they'll be okay.
Oh, I almost forgot the secondary romance between Ellen, plump and practical, and her brother's best buddy Tony. Their romance, taking place as they chase after Nicholas to rescue Gilly, is light to the darkness of Gilly and Nicholas' romance. I adore Ellen who once had a crush on Tony but tells herself that she is now over it. Or so she thinks!
A Rose At Midnight is really one of the great books that grab me from page one and never lets go even after I have long closed the book. Rereading it still remains an amazing experience. For a dark, stormy journey into love and redemption, A Rose At Midnight more that fits the bill.
This book at Amazon.com
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