"I'd discovered this to be one of Richard's secrets; everything he did was done superbly, adding to the whole effect of exquisite perfection. It was almost obsessive, but it was something he could drop at will, although some of it was so ingrained in him it had become instinct."
In this 5th book in Lynn Connolly's lovely Richard and Rose series, R&R have gone to his family's seat in Eyton to await the birth of their child. Rose delivers successfully and the family and a few close friends descend to celebrate the newest member of the Kerre family.
During the house party a valuable necklace is stolen and then a double murder occurs. As it appears the murder may not be the work of a stranger but a possibility that a family member is involved, Richard steps in to solve the mystery and to stave off a possible family scandal. Rose, of course, having a taste of working side by side with her husband in the areas of detection and crime, lends a hand.
On the personal front, Rose is dismayed when Richard refuses to re-engage in conjugal bliss. He is frightened with the possibility that he may get Rose pregnant again and refuses to allow his wife to wear herself out having children year after year. But this is unacceptable to Rose and she decides to take a few measures of her own.
Sigh. I love this series. I just do. I mentioned somewhere else that this was a bit of a different take on a series romance. Here the couple are in love (and have been almost since the first book) and are married. We get to see after the HEA and watch as the couple adjusts to married life and to each other.
This could get very stale very quickly. But Connolly does not allow that to happen. Instead she gives you a good story on multiple levels. On one level there is still the romantic and emotional tension between R&R. They are newlyweds, They love each other but they are still learning about each other and growing within their relationship.
On another level is the character exploration of each of these two people outside the romance. Rose is a complete fish out of water. She is a member of the lower gentry who has married very, very well to a man who is a perfect exquisite. Richard is a man with a scandalous past and an avocation very much outside the comfort zone of his aristocratic peers. Through the course of each book Connolly is unpeeling each of these two in well defined layers. Rose is slowly getting more comfortable in her skin amongst people who are very alien to her. She is sure of her husband, but she isn't always sure of herself. Richard is the true piece de resistance in this series. He is fast becoming one of my very favorite heroes. He is almost like a Georgian version of J.D. Robb's Roarke. He is all sophisticated veneer, beautiful waistcoats, and powdered wig on the surface, yet underneath he is not quite that civilized. As Lizzie, Rose's sister notes, "He has a will no one likes to cross."
And on a third level there is the plotting. Since R&R are together, the plot can't come from them getting together and Connolly can't make them angsty through several books. So she gives them adversaries to overcome and mysteries to solve. As mysteries go, this one was not very hard to figure out who the murderer was, but it does serve to set up some great moments of Richard kicking butt and taking names (in a very flawlessly graceful Richard manner, natch).
And finally there is the level where the writing just speaks to me. Connolly does just what I like. She gives me people who make sense! For instance, one of my pet peeves is when you have this Duke of Slut who is a master cocksman all over town for years and years and years who suddenly becomes a faithful, devoted husband because he's met this woman who can 'tame' him. Richard's past with women is scandalous. He wasn't merely a libertine. He was a cruel and uncaring person who was punishing himself more than anything. At one point Lizzie wonders if Rose is afraid that Richard will revert to his ways. But Richard lets his guard down only to Rose and she is sure of her man. She tells her sister:
"He didn't give up all that philandering for me, you know. He just grew bored with it."
That isn't to say all is sweetness and light with these two. They have their moments when they disagree and butt heads. In this book, Connolly does an excellent job of once again featuring the class divide between them. Richard is an aristocrat and for all that he walks to the beat of his own drum, he is still nobility born and bred. And for them, family, name, and honor must be upheld, scandal must be scotched. But Rose is closer to yeoman stock and when it appears to her that justice for two murdered servants might not be served, she is uneasy. For her it is about 'every mother's son' and the possibility that her Richard may be complicit in covering up murder in the name of family honor. But again, Connolly surprises me:
"For the first time, I felt uneasily apprehensive waiting for my husband, and I fortified myself with a small glass of Brandy. I was determined not to fall out with him, but I needed to get these things sorted out in my mind, or they would eventually come between us. Perhaps this is how many couples managed, with private disagreements smoothed over in public, but i didn't want to become like that. I would do my best to prevent it."
And they work it out.
Lovely installment in an addictive series.