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Ian Blake has a promise to keep to Lady Eva Carin and he has returned to do so -- only to discover that the lady is no longer at home but locked away in an asylum, after being driven mad by her husband's and the her son's death.
Ian could not believe what has come of his beautiful, vivacious childhood: laudanum-addicted and feral -- he doesn't believe she is mad and is determined to see her get well.
It is a treacherous road to recovery not just for Eva but also for Ian who is burdened with his best friend's death. When hired thugs from the asylum come to collect Eva and return her there -- dead or alive, Ian stops at nothing to protect her.
Mesmeric was the word that came to mind while I was reading this story and Claremont's writing evokes a very gray and hazy world -- a world of shadows and ghosts, of blood and violence. At the center of Claremont's world are her hero and heroine, caught in the consequences of choosing duty over love. Reading through the novel, I could feel the torment and the regret that swirl around Ian and Eva -- the what-ifs had they chosen a different path all those years ago.
"Eva, I have been unkind --"
She started to shake her head but stopped herself. "Yes. You have. But you have also done what you thought necessary."
He tilted his head down, his black hair dancing over his brow. "And if I did something now that I thought necessary? Would it anger you?"
The scent of spice about him as he leaned closer sent all her senses clamoring. "It would depend what it was."
He looked as if he were about to speak, but instead he wrapped his arms about her waist, pulled her to him, and took her lips in a sudden white-hot kiss.
At first, she couldn't think. She could only feel. Every part of her felt this was right. From the way his hands spanned her back to the feel of his lips over hers, teasing her, to the way he sheltered her in his strong arms.
Without hesitating, Eva grasped his shoulders, pulling him close, desperate to find something beautiful with him. Effortlessly, he swept her up, cradling her against his chest. In two short strides, he took her to the soft hay piled against the stable wall and laid her down against it.
Gazing up at him, she felt safer than she had in a lifetime.
"I've wanted this for so long," he whispered, his voice rough against her ear as he trailed his fingertips down her gown to its hem.
- pp. 196- 197
Maire Claremont's The Dark Lady doesn't read like a debut novel: it is bold and confident. This is a dark fairy tale and she's chosen quite a most unromantic theme: madness -- and decided to write a love story with it. The princess locked away in a prison and her not-so-perfect-and-not-so-charming prince has come to rescue her. While he does whisk her away, the happily-ever-after doesn't come until much later, after our princess deals with her ravaging addiction to laudanum and our prince confronts the demons that haunt him. Much like Heather Snow's Gabriel and Pen in Sweet Madness, Eva and Ian go through fire and put through the wringer -- and they emerge bloody, broken -- but also victorious.
The Dark Lady is Maire Claremont's debut novel and the first book in her Mad Passions series. To find out more about the author and her books, click below: