My Lady's Dare
by Gayle Wilson, historical (2000)
Harlequin Historical, $4.99, ISBN 0-373-29116-7


Oh my. When I have finished My Lady's Dare, I feel as if I'm just been thrown off my equilibrium and darn if it doesn't feel good. A great, complicated, and tormented hero and a strong, tormented heroine that resonate with nobility - my favorite type of characters - in a story that manages to remain free from the usual hackneyed contrivances many romances have nowadays.

Valentine Sinclair, is a British spy who, while in a mission against that fat shortie Napoleon (he wants to ferret out a traitor amidst the ranks of British Intelligence), encounters Elizabeth Carstairs, an alluring high-price madam (or some whisper) in a gaming hell ran by the nasty Frenchie Bennet. He is struck by her beauty and the pain she tries so hard to hide. Who is she? Bennet's mistress?

No matter. He wins her favors in a game and sets her up as his mistress. He isn't sure what he wants to do with her, but soon they bond over stitching bullet wounds and spy intrigues.

At the surface, My Lady's Dare sounds like a thoroughly hackneyed story - British spy, experienced heroine with the obligatory bad sex bad ex past to make up for her experience, the French spy, bedside nursing... - but what makes this one special is the fact that the story never takes the easy way out of things. The author takes time and effort to carefully carve out the intricate dynamics of the relationship between Liz and Val. Val slowly works his way through Liz's pain and low self-esteem, convincing her that she has indeed won his affections and that she, to him, is indeed worth more than anything to him. Val is a man who has seen and suffered much in his spying days, and hence he values this fragile emotion he feels for Liz. God knows, he doesn't feel much for anything or everything else. A dangerous man, one who could kill, his protectiveness and affections for Liz only make me go Awww.

The love story in My Lady's Dare is exquisite, tender, poignant, and even bittersweet. Sweet because it is so heartwarming to savor the little quiet moments between these two people, and slightly bitter because these two have been through so much in their lives. So much pain, so much angst, it only seems right that they find their happy ending.

Now I just can't wait for the next two books in the trilogy of which My Lady's Dare is the first. This story is indeed a fabulous keeper. Will I sound like an incoherent MTV junkie if I say "I like, I like, I like, I really like!"?

Rating: 92


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