This is an older title (2001) from Carlyle that I stumbled upon at my local UBS. Reading it—and enjoying it—reminded me that somehow, I managed to leave off “Read Carlyle Backlist” from my To Do list. I know I read my first Carlyle title last year. And I know that would have prompted me to read everything she had ever written. As it did this time. Hmmm.
At any rate, A Woman Of Virtue is the story of Lady Cecilia Lorimer and Lord David Delacourt:
In the months since her husband’s death, Cecilia, Lady Walrafen, has hidden her emptiness by devoting herself to a charity mission for the poor women of London’s slums. But when the man who once tried to ruin her reputation turns up at the Nazareth Society, Cecilia is outraged.
The womanizing Lord Delacourt is vain, vindictive, and merciless. But he’s a man who honors his wagers. And when one of them goes wrong, landing him in a charity mission for prostitutes, he comes face-to face with the young woman whose reputation he once nearly ruined—and whose lips he has never forgotten. Soon, however, evil is stalking the women of the Nazareth Society, and only Delacourt knows how to guard Cecilia from the consequences of her own principles.
What I like most about Carlyle is the emotional depth of her heroes. They suffer very real insecurities and that underlying lack of self-assurance draws me to them. Delacourt is another excellent example. He harbors a desire for Cecilia that even he cannot define or understand. And her previous rejection (twice) cuts deeply. When they are thrown together again, he battles that desire in the name of bloodlines. His is not a pure bloodline—something he and very few others know—and he believes Cecilia to be worthy of better. He also believes that she despises him—given her past avoidance. Watching him act against, or in spite of, his own fears was interesting and even a little painful. I feared her rejection almost as much as he did.
In Cecilia, Carlyle creates a partner to Delacourt that is equally well drawn. Cecilia is intelligent, independent and not without her own emotional regrets. She is much more pragmatic than he however, and that makes her end of their exchanges a bit less emotional than his. Carlyle hides Cecilia’s insecurities behind a common sense demeanor and a surprisingly optimistic outlook. She is very likeable.
Cecilia’s no nonsense take on life provides one source of this book’s humor. Delacourt’s self-deprecating witticisms provide another. And his valet serves up the rest, with a personality that matches his sharp tongue. I laughed out loud. Often.
I also like Carlyle’s ability to create an element of danger that is genuinely dark. It is not contrived merely to put the damsel in distress. In A Woman Of Virtue, the criminals and their victims wrap around the hero and heroine in a very believable sense. Carlyle involves nearly every character, deftly casting suspicion and innocence at every turn. Her final twist involving a potential villain was superb.
Inspector de Rohan plays a pivotal role in this book and we see a fair amount of Bentham Rutledge as well. I’ve read both of their stories (apparently out of order) and enjoyed seeing them here. This is also the book in which George Kemble is introduced—as Delacourt’s valet. Although he does not get his own book, he does feature prominently in his sister’s story—another I read out of order. I really enjoyed the company of these characters again and plan to finish off Carlyle’s backlist ASAP—if only to spend time with more familiar faces.