108 of 112 people found the following review helpful
One of Balogh's very best; poignant and heartwrenching,
This review is from: The Secret Pearl (Super Regency, Signet) (Mass Market Paperback)
There aren't many writers of historical romances - especially set in the English Regency period - who can make their heroine a prostitute, have the reader know about it right from the start of the book, and not only get away with it, but have the readers on the heroine's side from the beginning. But Balogh's done it, and more than once too. The Secret Pearl opens with Adam, Duke of Raybourne, emerging from the Drury Lane Theatre, parting from his friends, and seeing a sad-looking prostitute standing in the shadows. Something makes him approach her; despite the fact that she isn't throwing out any lures to him at all, he hires her. And, despite the fact that sleeping with prostitutes isn't something he makes a habit of, he takes her to a room in a run-down inn to use her.
This, we find, is Fleur's first night as a prostitute; having gone two days without food and unable to get a job, she has decided to sell the only remaining asset she has: herself. Her client, though, makes the experience almost as bad as it could possibly be: he is clinical and direct about what he wants, and - not knowing that Fleur is a virgin - he hurts her.
Afterwards, Adam does feel some guilt, and he feeds Fleur as well as giving her three times as much money as she asked for. And then he sends his secretary to ensure that she is offered a job - as governess to his daughter. His motives, he assumes, are simply philanthropic: he hates the thought of a gentlewoman down on her luck having to survive on the streets, and he feels guilty for not having realised before it was too late that she wasn't accustomed to her trade.
So Fleur takes up residence in the Duke of Raybourne's estate, delighted to have found a refuge both from her life in London and from the horrors from which she ran in the first place. Until the Duke of Raybourne comes home, and she discovers that he is the same man who fills her nightmares, the man who hurt her, the man who, in her dreams, rapes her nightly. And yet, as the days go by, he is also the man who comforts her, who protects her and who offers her a safe refuge.
And there are many more complications in what is already a complex story: Adam, of course, is married, and he is an honourable man who will not betray his marriage vows, despite his lapse in London - the only time he has ever been unfaithful. And Fleur is running from a murder charge. And her tormentor is even closer than she imagines.
Balogh creates a wonderful, believable portrait of what seems to be an impossible relationship. Adam, appallingly scarred both internally and externally as a result of Waterloo plus private torments, and who was cruelly rough with Fleur when he hired her as a prostitute, does not seem to be the ideal romantic hero - and yet he is, in every way. Fleur, a possible murderer, a prostitute, does not seem to be the ideal heroine, either - and yet she isn't at all what she seems, although she did certainly sell herself on the streets. But how is it possible that she could fall in love with the man who haunts her nightmares? How could a decent, married man fall in love with another woman? But Balogh pulls it off so convincingly that I could barely put the book down.
The Secret Pearl is a classic which will have you reading breathlessly, eager to find out what happens next. It's poignant, heartwrenching and utterly romantic, and it's a classic. I can't for the life of me imagine why Balogh's current publisher hasn't tried to reissue this; it would be yet another best-seller for her. As it is, the best you can do is to buy it second-hand, if you can get hold of it - and that's not easy, because those of us who do have it will NOT let go of it!
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Initial post: Mar 11, 2011 5:09:21 PM PST
I totally agree with your review. I love this story and how believable the romance was. But Adam was the Duke of Ridgeway, not Raybourn. Just thought I'd point that out. :)
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