Continuing with our Julie Tetel Andresen spotlight we have a darker read.  The difference between SUSPICIOUS HEARTS  & AND HEAVEN TOO is day and night.  I loved them both though. Versatility is really appealing to me.  Ms. Andresen has it in spades without sacrificing anything that I consider important and necessary as a reader.

SuspiciousHeartsRichard Worth has sold his commission in the army and petitioned King George to restore his birthright.  He needs to marry the right woman to help him reach his goals. Ever the soldier he asks his friend Jonathan Wyndham, Duke of Desford, which well-born women are in dire enough financial straits to consider an offer of marriage from him.  Of the three suggested Richard chooses Caroline Hutton.  Meanwhile, the murder of the Duke’s cousin, Gilbert Kenmure, casts a pall of suspicion on Richard and Caroline.

Caroline isn’t a debutante, she’s twenty-three.  Her circumstances are straitened due to her father’s gambling.  However, Caroline doesn’t know just how dire until she travels to London at her Aunt’s request.

Esther Besant, Caroline’s aunt, is no one’s friend.  She’s hatched a plot to help herself by using Caroline.  There’s no love lost between the two and Caroline is well aware of her aunt’s duplicity but unaware of its depths.

Richard joined the army after a scandal of monumental proportions.  He’s done well financially and distinguished himself under Marlborough’s command rising to the rank of Colonel.  He conducts his return to society and quest for a wife like a military campaign.  There is very little softness to Richard.

Jonathan Wyndham, Duke of Desford, served under Richard.  He left the army when, courtesy of a quirk of succession, he inherited the title.  All the eligible women, and many who aren’t, have set their caps for him.  He’s polished, proper, and knows exactly what an appealing package he is.

To Desford’s delicately raised eyebrows, Worth explained, “I’ve been billeted in town less than a week and do not know the terrain. I want a woman of the highest possible birth and the greatest need to be married. Financial need,” he clarified. “Although her case does not have to be desperate, she must be poor enough to have reason to entertain an offer from me.” His voice did not falter over the words. “Her social acceptability is my primary concern. Beauty and temperament are of secondary importance. What I want from you is a list of such eligible women, a report on their financial situation and social position, along with knowledge of any other offers they may be entertaining. I require as well a chart of the possible assemblies where I may meet them, preferably within the next few days. I have but one chance, one offer to make if this operation is to succeed, and dare not risk a refusal. I want no mistakes.”

To this extraordinary speech, Desford murmured, “One chance, one offer and no mistakes.” Then, meditatively, “And it just might work.” He regarded his friend with some awe and a little admiration. “You may have sold out, Richard, but you will never leave the army!”

Colonel Worth did not hesitate to say to one of the most exalted peers of the realm, “I did not ask for your opinions. Do you draw me the list willingly, Captain, or must I pull rank?

Richard is handsome in a stark, almost forbidding way while Caroline is generally considered plain.  Caroline is one of those women whose beauty lies in more than her features.  It’s there for the discerning eye but is often overlooked for the more florid women around her.  Richard and Caroline’s marriage is more contractual and to their mutual benefit. The above excerpt doesn’t leave much room for even affection does it?  However, their first meeting might belie that assumption.

All eyes turned discreetly in the direction indicated by Mrs. Shuttleworth’s fan. Caroline’s gaze was caught first by the magnificent coat smoldering red and gold in the candlelight, then shifted to the man’s face, where it lingered. He was looking out over the assembly, his countenance devoid of expression. His face looked, she thought, like the side of a broken cliff, all distant planes and crags. Or perhaps his face had more the roughness of a cast come from the hands of a strong, impatient sculptor and was awaiting the fine chiseling. The face was certainly striking for its irregular features and high cheekbones. Arresting, even, for its look of implacable masculinity. But not handsome. At once attracted and repelled, Caroline looked hastily away.

When Richard, to her surprise, asked her to dance..

Experiencing a strange spasm in the region of her heart, Caroline looked up and at the man with the unfinished face, the face as stark as the side of a broken cliff.

Richard’s assessment of Caroline whilst they danced the minuet…

Looking down at the woman with the mouth too wide for beauty and a slight smile that was polite and innocent and impudent all at once, Worth thought that Desford might have underestimated Caroline Hutton’s possibilities. He had already rated her higher on one score, at least, than the two other beauties he had danced with this evening. He had thoroughly assessed in bluntly masculine, though flattering, terms Caroline’s shapely feet, prettily turned ankles, her rounded arms and dimpled elbows and, under the fall of lace at her bodice, the deep shadow between her breasts.

If you’re looking for a historical romance with wine, roses, poetry and sighs you’ll have to look elsewhere.  SUSPICIOUS HEARTS is dark and tense, almost gothic but not quite because there’s never a question as to Richard’s innocence regarding Gilbert’s murder.

A realistic romance with a murder mystery, old scandal, and betrayal threaded throughout. There are lighter moments as when Richard and Caroline are on their way to a social engagement.  Leaving their home in St. James Square for Marleybone Richard takes a shortcut.  The ageless, “we’re lost, no we aren’t I know exactly where we are.” a welcome touch of levity and connection for Caroline and Richard.  The characterization is finely done with the secondary characters more than mere reflections for the leads. I would dearly like to know what became of Chief Constable Locke and Caroline’s best friend Martha Sheridan.  These two were the most intriguing and possibly daring characters besides Richard and Caroline.

There’s something gratifying and deeply erotic about a slow burn love built on genuine liking, rapport and respect.  SUSPICIOUS HEARTS is a most satisfying read.

4 stars

Thanks to Sami at JKS Communications I have a digital copy to give to one (1) lucky commenter.  How do you like a hero & heroines love to grow or does it depend on the characters & story?  Giveaway ends @12am est 10-4-13 with the winner announced shortly thereafter. Good luck y’all!