I enjoyed this book, which is about a man's obsession with revenge and woman's desire to be daring for once in her life.
Mrs Merriam Everett is a quiet, shy, plain, unassuming widow. However, the day she hears Julian Clay describe her as a "whey-faced widow", she is determined to have her revenge. She seeks out a brothel madam in order to take advice on how to seduce a rake and takes her chance at a Society masquarade ball. Dying her hair, dressing provocately and hiding her identity behind her mask. She determines to seduce Juian Clay and leave him unfulfilled with a few pithy words. Merriam looks for a man dressed as Merlin, as she understands that that will be Julian's costume. She finds him easily enough and seduces him with ease. However, she has not allowed for her own bodily desires and things go much further than she ever intended i.e. they end up seducing each other. When Merlin asks to see her again, much to his annoyance and bewilderment she refuses and leaves him with a pithy comment about insulting whey-faced widows.
Drake Sotherton is very surprised when the passionate seductress leaves him so suddenly and is determined to find out who she is. Drake has only very recently returned from the West Indies after eight years abroad. Before he left England his wife, Lily, was murdered. Drake has an alibi as he was miles away in Scotland at the time. However, his friend Juilan Clay points the finger at him, accuses him of murder and turns the ton against Drake. Drake leaves the country to seek peace, only afterwards realising that leaving made him look guilty. He and Julian, although once friends, have always been rivals and Julian has always had to have what Drake has. Drake realises that Julian and Lily were having an affair and he is sure that Julian killed her and then spoke up against Drake to turn suspicion away from himself. Now back in England he is determined to ruin his former friend as revenge.
Drake learns that someone else was to wear a Merlin costume at the ball and that was Julian Clay. He manages to narrow down the likely young widows who were at the ball and eventually realises that his seductress was the brownhaired, shy and badly dressed Mrs Everett.
Merriam is mortified that she seduced the wrong man, but cannot resist Drake and agrees to be his mistress for the season. However, he also thinks that she is in league somehow with Julian Clay, as it was Julian that she obviously intended to seduce. he determines to use her in his game of revenge to dangle before Julian. Drake's best friend, Alex, adds to the confusion with the best intentions in the world. It all leads to a final bloody showdown between the two protagonists.
In agreeing to quite openly become Drake's mistress, Merriam seems to neglect the fact that she will be ostracised by Society, will never be able to return to her old respectable life and may well end up pregnant. Still, it's only a story isn't it!
One little point that the author should take note of. In Britain we don't refer to houses as "brownstones", that's an Americanism!