Onward and upward with the Cynsters! There are so many, which is both a pro and a con. We've gotten out of the Cynster family proper and moved to the brothers and sisters of the heroes and heroines of the first books.
Michael Anstruther-Wetherby is a rising member of Parliament—a man destined for power. Aristocratic, elegant, and effortlessly charming, he is just arrogant enough to capture the interest of the ladies of the ton. And with his connections to the wealthy and influential Cynster family—his sister is married to Devil Cynster, the Duke of St. Ives—his future appears assured. Except that Michael lacks the single most important element of success: a wife. Political pressure sends him searching for his ideal bride, a gently bred, malleable young lady, preferably one with a political background. Michael discovers such a paragon but finds a formidable obstacle in his path—the young lady's beautiful, strong-minded aunt—Caroline Sutcliffe.
One of London's foremost diplomatic hostesses, Caro has style and status but, having lived through an unhappy political marriage, wants nothing of the sort for her niece, who has already lost her heart to another. So Caro and the younger woman hatch a plot—Caro will demonstrate why an inexperienced young lady is not the bride for Michael. She succeeds in convincing him that what he really needs is a lady of experience by his side. And the perfect candidate is right under his nose—Caro herself. Then it is Michael's turn to be persuasive, a task that requires every ounce of his seductive charm as he tempts and tantalizes Caro, seeking to convince her that becoming his bride will bring her all her heart desires . . . and more.
But then a series of mysterious, and dangerous, accidents befall Caro—an assailant has stepped in with their own idea for Caro's future—one that could involve murder. Before Caro can become Michael's ideal bride, they must race to uncover the unknown's identity before all hope of what they long for, and wish for, is destroyed.
The first to fall is Honoria's brother, Michael, a career politician. Of all the Laurens heroes I've read, Michael is actually the least compelling. He's OK, but not terribly memorable. Caro is quite fun, except she's the unfortunate recipient of my least favorite romance trope: the virgin widow. And the reasons given for such a state really don't add up to much of an excuse for using such a trope, in my opinion. The mystery plot is possibly tipped too early but the set-up for the denouement was quite good. It also explains quite a bit about Breckenridge who reappears in the Cynster Sisters Trilogy much later.
Gerrard Debbington, Vane Cynster's brother-in-law, is one of London's most eligible gentlemen. Uninterested in marriage, his driving passion is to paint the fabled gardens of Lord Tregonning's Hellebore Hall -- an opportunity that is now at hand...if Gerrard agrees to create an honest portrait of Tregonning's daughter as well. Gerrard chafes at wasting his talents on some simpering miss, only to discover that Jacqueline Tregonning stirs him as no other. Certainly, she is beautiful, but it is her passionate nature that strikes sparks with Gerrard's own, igniting desire and sweeping them into each other's arms, convincing Gerrard that he has found his ideal soul mate -- the lady he must have as his wife. But something is horribly wrong at Hellebore Hall. Evil and lies are reaching out to ensnare Jacqueline -- and Gerrard will have to move Heaven and Earth to protect the remarkable woman who, for him, personifies the truth about love...
Moving directly on to Gerrard Debbington, who was a fun side character in the second Cynster novel, we find him off to paint the amazing gardens at Hellebore Hall. Laurens get a boost of many cool points for the creation of Hellebore House and its gardens. Very evocative and suitable for a romance novel - it even throws a little older Gothic feeling into the action. I had a little trouble with Jacqueline's characterization; it's frequently mentioned that she is working on some very intricate embroidery but she is never actually seen to be sewing or have any finished pieces.
This may have the ooky-est plot resolution I've come across in a romance novel. I'm not sure how common that plot element is. Interesting.