In Cathy Maxwell's IN A MOONLIT GARDEN, Colonel Michael Sanson has distinguished himself on the field of battle for the past five years, all to prove himself worthy of the beautiful Ivy Lewin. However, before Sir William Lewin will give approval to the match, he wants Michael to "retrieve" a scientific formula he claims his rival, Geoffrey Kenyon, has stolen. Disguised as a traveling tea merchant, Michael sets off on his unorthodox quest. Almost immediately he meets Kenyon's niece, Jocelyn, who enlists him in yet another masquerade. Even as Michael works towards attaining his goal of Ivy's hand, he finds himself falling under Jocelyn's spell. Soon Michael is knee deep in lies, plots and tea leaves.
Liz Carlyle's HUNTING SEASON introduces us to the charismatic Christian Villiers, the Marquis of Grayston. Newly returned from exile in the Continent, Christian has come to England to destroy Denys Roth, the man responsible for his sister's suicide. To that end, Christian is attending a house party where he plans to seduce the woman Roth plans on marrying. However, instead of the worldly widow he had expected, Christian discovers Elise Middleton to be beautiful, virtuous and the stepmother of a little girl. Every stolen moment with her becomes heaven and hell for the haunted marquis. Somehow Elise becomes his hope of salvation even as he uses her to force a confrontation that will ruin any chance of happiness. When his machinations finally bring about a confrontation, Christian must look deep inside and make a final decision.
Two authors, two stories, two totally different heroes. While all the elements for a great story were in place for Cathy Maxwell's novella, the main characters never fully grabbed this reader's attention. Both hero and heroine have been in love with other people for years yet their instant attraction to each other is supposed to excuse the rather fast shift in their affections. While most of the other characters appear one-dimensional and clichéd, the quaint English village does provide a cozy setting for all the plots being hatched. Perhaps if this had been a longer length story rather than a novella, Ms. Maxwell would have had a better chance at creating more sympathetic characters in this tepid tale. In direct contrast, Liz Carlyle's story of a marquis torn between finding salvation and delivering retribution is a poignant treat. Readers will empathize with this heroine torn between temptation and virtue and this hero struggling with demons from his past. Other guests at the house party provide interesting secondary stories. Ms. Carlyle's tale moves at a brisk pace, powered by an unforgettable pair of lead characters and a love affair that will leave you reaching for a tissue or two.