Monday, March 10, 2008

Secrets and Spies

Distracting the Duchess
By Emily Bryan

Distracting the Duchess has all the elements I like in a historical romance: a strong minded heroine, a hero with a real job, eccentric supporting characters, and a masked ball and wild carriage ride or two. Her Grace the Duchess of Southwycke, Artemisia to her friends, is a young widow and an artist of some renown. Artemisia is in the middle of a series of paintings of the gods of Olympus when Trevelyn Deveridge arrives at her door. Mistaking him for a new model, she tells him to take off all his clothes and try a few poses. Trev is actually there looking for information, but as one of Her Majesty’s intelligence officers he has been trained to roll with the punches. So he assumes one of his many false identities, shucks off his clothes, and becomes gainfully employed as Mars, God of War. Baring all for Queen and country was not what he expected to be doing when he came looking for information, but Trev doesn’t have a lot of options and so makes the best of it.
Trev, however, is not the only one with more than one identity. Artemisia has a few secrets of her own. Since her father became mentally incapacitated after an illness, and her elderly husband died, Artemisia has been managing her family’s business and her late husband’s estate. Unfortunately, she needed to create a male alter ego to do so. And so the persona of Josiah Beddington was created. With the help of a loyal clerk who runs Beddington’s office, Artemisia manages to keep her role in the business a secret. All goes swimmingly until her business prowess attracts attention to the elusive Mr. Beddington, and some very rough customers want to find him. So does Trev. But why?
Unbeknownst to Artemisia, her father was also a spy, right up until a serious illness robbed him of his senses and left him somewhat delusional. His last coherent message, sent when he knew he had an illness he might not survive, was “Beddington holds the key.” So everyone is looking for Beddington, convinced he has the elusive key to a vast network of spies on the Indian subcontinent. But Artemisia is Beddington, and she has no idea what the message means.
So, what can a headstrong duchess and a determined spy do? Well, the obvious things:
fall madly, passionately in love; break into the Russian ambassador’s residence; steal a few things; have assignations in inns; threaten, evade and eventually manipulate a member of the press; get abducted, shot at, and generally beaten up; and above all, find the key. All in a day’s work for the intrepid Artemisia and Trev.
This story is a lot of fun. Though I wouldn’t classify it as romantic suspense, the search for the key and the meaning behind the cryptic message add a strong adventure storyline that serves to throw the hero and heroine together in a variety of circumstances, allowing their relationship to develop. The fact that both are passionate about something other than each other adds a nice dimension to the characters and serves to create conflict. The secondary characters, particularly Artemisia’s father, are nicely drawn and are vivid in spite of making brief appearances. If you like historicals with a dose of humor and a fair amount of mayhem, you will enjoy Distracting the Duchess.

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