The Seduction of the Crimson Rose is the fourth novel in the Pink Carnation series and I was pretty excited when I read the plot outline. It features Lord Vaughn, who first appeared in The Masque of the Black Tulip and returned again in the last installment, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, and Mary Alsworthy, whose sister Letty accidentally stole her future husband in the third book. As soon as I read that pairing I thought that this one might prove very interesting!
Lord Sebastian Vaughn has drifted through society followed by rumours. The abrupt death of his wife from smallpox some ten years ago sparked a rash of whispers that he’d murdered her for his own amusement. He was involved for a time with an agent of the Black Tulip and was several times mistaken for a spy, including as being the Black Tulip – mostly due to his preference for dressing entirely in black with just hints of silver. Forced into accepting some assistance from the Pink Carnation in France, Lord Vaughn is occasionally working in partnership with the Pink Carnation in return. After they failed to catch the Black Tulip in The Deception of the Emerald Ring, the Pink Carnation decides they need to attempt to draw him out… bait him with his favourite ‘type’.
That’s where Mary Alsworthy comes in. The laughingstock of society since Lord Pinchingdale accidentally absconded with her sister Letty instead of her, Mary faces yet another humiliating season attempting to secure herself a husband, this one going to be made all the more embarrassing by the fact that it will be funded by Letty and her husband – the man who should have been Mary’s husband. When Lord Vaughn approaches her with a proposition, Mary sees a way out of her mess. She agrees to do what Lord Vaughn is requesting for the price of one season. Using her classic looks of inky dark hair and pale skin, which the Black Tulip is drawn to, Mary will draw his interest and act as a willing operative, all the feeding the information to Vaughn to pass on to the Pink Carnation so that he can be unmasked and apprehended.
What Mary didn’t bargain on was Lord Vaughn himself. Sarcastic, intelligent, enigmatic, the two find themselves equal matches in wit and temper. Lord Vaughn doesn’t fall all over himself at Mary’s beauty like other men and he intrigues her. Mary on the other hand, isn’t daunted by Lord Vaughn’s manner or reputation and her rapier comebacks amuse him. Just as these two like-minded souls are coming to an equal realization, a figure from Lord Vaughn’s past arrives to ruin it all.
I can’t get enough of these books lately. I have enjoyed them so much and this one contained someone who had become one of my favourite characters – Lord Vaughn. Through his mysterious appearances in the previous two novels, where the main characters in each had been suspicious and wary of him, I have grown to love him. He’s definitely different to the sort of dashing romantic hero that populates historical fiction. He’s debonair definitely but he’s also a potential murderer, a potential spy for both Britain and France, a loner who serves his own interest first and foremost of all. Likewise, Mary Alsworthy is a bit different to the demure or well bred heroines – she was actively plotting a marriage to a man she wasn’t interested in at all, she’s rude and she’s just as manipulative and self-serving as Lord Vaughn.
They’re basically perfect for each other, if they could ever actually admit it. Instead they mostly spend a great part of the book pretending to be entirely uninterested in each other – Vaughn has his reasons and even though Mary is desperate to make a match and Vaughn is both an Earl and has a fortune, it seems she thinks that her best choice is someone she can dominate and bend to her every whim, such as she was doing to Geoffrey. Their witty banter is basically foreplay in another form but the reader has to make do with that, because that’s about as far as it goes. This one is actually the most chaste of all the books and there is a reason for it, but I did feel almost a little ripped off in that you don’t ever really get to see Vaughn and Mary go any further than kissing. In a series which has compromised the heroines right, left and centre and with someone as uncaring for propriety as Mary, you’d think that there’d be even just a little action – but no. It’s all clever words and intense looks here. Which although it is slightly disappointing, the cleverness of it all is still rather engaging.
Eloise and Colin are back of course – Eloise is trawling through the archives of Vaughn House, Lord Vaughn’s city house which actually still stands in present day London. No other historians have really connected his papers to the interesting things going on with the Black Tulip and the Pink Carnation so she peruses at her leisure and pieces together the story of Vaughn and Mary, dodging the archivist who has sinister intentions of getting his hands on the Selwick papers. He’s also trying to unmask the Pink Carnation and has had dealings with the Selwick’s before which leads to a moment of tension between Colin and Eloise when Colin realises that Eloise knows him. But this book also moves their relationship nicely forward too – it ends with Colin inviting Eloise down for another weekend to look through yet more papers.
Bring on book 5!
Book #112 of 2011