Feisty heroines and flower-named spies continue to blossom in Willig’s lively series (The Deception of the Emerald Ring, 2006, etc).
As autumn, 1803, cools, the hot social whirl of London, Miss Mary Alsworthy, is in a pickle. Well born and strikingly beautiful, she has nonetheless been passed over during three social seasons. Still smarting from being jilted in Willig’s last outing, she’s facing social ruin, or at least spinsterhood, when she is approached by the dark, handsome and mysterious Lord Vaughn with a proposition. But as opposed to the kind she can slap off, this proposal is serious: Act as bait for Napoleon’s deadly Black Tulip spy, and Vaughn will, in turn, fund a season—and one last chance to snag a husband and, thus, a future. Vaughn doesn’t completely trust Mary. Comparing her to fine horseflesh, he notes, “there was a glint to her eye that foretold an uncomfortable ride.” With his history of troublesome women, including a high-born wife who refuses to stay dead and a paramour who was one of the Tulip’s previous “petals,” he has reason to worry. But Mary faces worse possible fates as her mission commences, including death, dishonor and the senseless depredations of true love. Will she succumb? Will the fabulously wealthy Vaughn prove to be the real Black Tulip? It doesn’t take Willig’s joint Harvard graduate degrees (in history and law) to see that these two are cut of the same cloth, and that romance will ensue amid the assignations, coded messages and assassination attempts. Willig’s research grounds this adventure in solid detail, from the dresses to the deadly weaponry. While the historical romp unfolds, the narrator, modern-day scholar Eloise Kelly, continues to research espionage in the Napoleonic era for her doctoral thesis and further her own romance with a cute young lord, heir to one of the spies.
Romantic adventure executed with wit.