Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One Night is Never Enough, by Anne Mallory

Charlotte Chatsworth is frustrated. She's trying to come to terms with her father's gambling debts and what, exactly, that means for her marriage prospects. This is her third season on the "mart" and her father, in his quest to up the ante and score a huge marriage settlement, has so far refused every suitor who has  asked for Charlotte's hand. Before you get the idea that this is a light historical romance, full of irreverent dialogue and witty repartee and complete with the bumbling father and the dashing nobleman who is finally brought up to scratch (with pretty words and a marriage settlement), let me assure you that One Night is Never Enough is exactly the opposite. It is a dark, cold look at one woman's loyalty to family and lack of choice and freedom, and the resulting forbidden love affair with a man who is the exact opposite of what a gentleman should be.

When Charlotte first meets Roman Merrick, owner of more than several gaming establishments and other nefarious businesses, he has just finished dispatching a man. As he looks up after the deed is done, he recognizes Charlotte, watching him. She is the woman he has taken notice of around town; the one woman who is so far out of his reach that he decides to cheat at a card game with her father, who unbelievably bets £10,000 against a night with his daughter to the winner of the hand.  Charlotte, resigned to her fate to marry according to her father's wishes so that her sister Emily can be free of his machinations, has no choice but to honor the bet. The evening she spends with Roman changes everything. While they do nothing but play chess and talk, the stage is set for a torrid affair. It's a situation that neither Charlotte nor Roman can resist, despite the threat to her reputation and the possible loss of "value" in her father's scheme to sell her off to the highest titled bidder.

Anne Mallory's style of writing lends to dark, sometimes hard to follow mental dialogue among the characters. There are glimpses into their thought processes, but I had a hard time following the line of reasoning. It wasn't until a scene was over that I realized exactly what the characters were thinking. The actual spoken dialogue between the characters was heartfelt, a bit on the lighthearted side, and revealed the protagonists' thoughts just as well or even better than those silent ruminations.  I would have preferred more of the former and less of the latter.  The scene I found most remarkable was the card game scene late in the novel, when Roman brings Charlotte into a card game that he plays with his brother and his trusted associates. While that evening did not end well for the relationship, it revealed more about Charlotte than any prior scene in the novel. Roman's relationship with his adopted brother, Andreas (I'm assuming the next story in this series will be his), his friends and the orphan boys he puts to work  for him, all reveal a side of him that was hinted at, but not really revealed up until this point. Until now, it was guess work on this reader's part to determine if Roman was really one of the "good guys" or if Charlotte had actually gotten herself mixed up in some very bad business. This uncertainty did make for some tense reading, something not usually found in this genre.

When Charlotte (with help from Roman in an unexpected way) realizes that her sister is not counting on her to "save" her, that her mother is capable of finding happiness outside of her loveless and humiliating marriage, and that she herself is entitled to find happiness of her own, revelations come fast and furious. Charlotte makes a matrimonial choice, yet decides to carry on her affair with Roman. He, in the meantime, has begun to pay off her father's debts, and has a change of heart about his own personal state of being. All in all, the ending, while very neat and tied up in a bow, works. And even Charlotte's father comes around.

I'll admit, at times, I found the writing in this novel just a bit too heavy and long-winded, but at the end of the day, I realized that there was  a reason the author included the details and thought processes I found so ponderous. When the solution to the situation comes about, and Charlotte is free to be herself, you actually feel the weight lifting off of her shoulders, and for a moment, you become the character you've just spent days reading about. No reader  can ask for more than that. I'm looking forward to what I am sure will be the next in this series (Andreas' story) if only to revisit with Charlotte and Roman. This is a new book, just out on February 22, 2011. If you like your romances with a cerebral twist, you'll enjoy this one. When it was done, I did, too.

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