I've now read a number of Nancy Butler's novels and, thus far, this one is the very best. A story of a mature woman and a rake with a sad and bad past is always a pleasurable plot for me. But this one was certainly one of the finest I've read and put me in mind of Heyer's Venetia and her beloved Damerel.
Jemima Vale - mature, intelligent and strong is missing something in her life - love, true companionship and (unbeknownst to her) sexual fulfilment. She meets, through the subplot of intrique and espionage, Mr Beecham Bryce - rake, reprobate, fallen angel with a hardened heart. Of course, in this sort of scenario, the H/H are never quite what they seem. Jemima is wise and caring but eager to love a man who, superficially at any rate, appears to be totally inappropriate. Bryce is a man who has willfully brought on his own downfall yet retains strong family ties and yearns to find love and completion with Jemima, a woman who proves to be his true "other half".
This is a tightly plotted story with wholly believable characters (and some brilliant secondary characters) and the story is enlivened by some of the wittiest dialague I have read in a regency novel for a very long time. Just one tiny example:
Jemima looked up at the sky, assessing the position of the sun. "I see that it is past noon. And that your innuendoes have returned, right on schedule."
Bryce's mouth drew up into a crooked grin. "I don't flatter before lunchtime; innuendo I can furnish round the clock."
Butler handles her mature heroine and flawed hero with great skill and gusto in this novel. Both are characters who come bursting to life for the reader. It's definitely a keeper and it's made me realise it is time to re-read Heyer's "Venetia" again. Very highly recommended for its plot, characters, dialogue and high levels of emotion and sexual tension.