At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran

Grade: A-
passion rating: hot

Dear Ms. Duran—
As I read At Your Pleasure, I wondered if you will ever write a book I dislike. It seems unlikely. I love three of the books you’ve written and the two I don’t love—A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal and Wicked Becomes You—I like tremendously. I am enamored of your use of language, your deftness of plots, the complexity of your lovers’ relationships, and the crackling chemistry in your love scenes. In short, I am a big fan.
So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone I think At Your Pleasure is a very good book. Its hero, Adrian, might be my favorite of all your heroes—although I am terribly partial to Phin (from Written on Your Skin) and Julian (from The Duke of Shadows.) The historical context of the novel, the year 1715, a year after the coronation of the Hanoverian King George, is an unusual and fascinating one. So often the conflict between lovers centers around class but in this book, the line that divides Adrian and Nora, the heroine, is that of religion.
In 1715, in England, Catholics, even Catholic aristocrats, lived under restrictive laws. There were limits on the right to own and inherit property. Catholics paid special taxes, couldn’t have their children educated in Catholic schools, worship openly, or vote. The Settlement Act of 1701 forbad any Catholic or anyone married to a Catholic from sitting on the throne. At the same time, a significant number of the Tory peerage, most of whom were not Catholic, wanted to see a Scottish Catholic, James Stuart, on the throne rather than the current king, German born George I. It was a fraught time rife with tenuous political alliances.
Your heroine, Nora, the widowed Marchioness of Towe, is a Colville and her family is fiercely Tory. The Colvilles have been punished for their abiding loyalty to the Stuart King. Her father, now stripped of his titles and most of his wealth and property, is hiding out in France, plotting with those who would overthrow the current king. Her brother, David, is on the run, hiding in France and then in England, determined, at any cost, to implement his father’s dreams. Nora is the only one of her family living openly in England, in the family seat of Hodderby. Nora doesn’t necessarily share the sentiments of the men in her family but she is deeply loyal to her brother and will do whatever he asks of her, no matter how much it risks her happiness and/or safety. One of the most deadly things David has done is fill the wine casks in the cellars of Hodderby with volatile gunpowder which he plans to use in the upcoming Jacobite rebellion. Nora can tell no one of her brother’s plans—he’s a traitor to the crown—and she lives each day in trepidation, afraid the goals of her father and brother will destroy not only her, but Hodderby which she alone loves.
One night, as Nora readies for bed, a party of riders from the King arrives, led by Adrian Ferrers, the Earl of Rivenham. Rivenham, a favored Whig advisor to King George, carries a Writ of Parliament allowing him and his men unfettered access to Hodderby. Adrian has the right to stay as long as he pleases, command all who live there, and search the house freely. His ultimate goal is to flush out David Colville who will then be taken to the Tower and tried for his traitorous crimes. Adrian Ferrers loathes David Colville for more than just the latter’s politics. Adrian still feels the wound on his shoulder given to him, eight years ago, by David on the night David almost killed Adrian for the crime of loving Nora.
Nora, David, and Adrian grew up together—Rivenham land abuts that of the Colvilles. The Rivenhams, however, are a Catholic family and the Colvilles are of the Church of England. Adrian and Nora fell in love when they were young and both paid a terrible price for doing so. Adrian was beaten within an inch of his life by David, and shipped, by his family, to France to escape the wrath of the then powerful Colvilles. Nora was forced by her family to marry a cruel man in order to cover up her affair with Adrian. Adrian, when he returned to from France to England, was determined, at all costs, to protect his family from the sort of violence inflicted upon him by the Colvilles and their like. He renounced Catholicism, and used his charm, intellect, and will to become a powerful man in the English Court. His Catholic background makes him a target of many in the Court—if Adrian captures David, a Tory Jacobite traitor, and sees him hung, Adrian will augment his political power in the Court.
Nora is devastated to encounter Adrian again. For years, after she was married and he’d returned to England, she would see him at Court, and he never once spoke to her. She believes he hates her and, when she realizes he’s come to Hodderby to destroy her family, she tells herself she hates him too. When Adrian installs himself at Hodderby, he initially treats her cruelly, and she, terrified he will discover all she is doing for her brother, responds with defiance. Adrian is sure Nora knows the whereabouts of David and he pushes her hard, even torturing her with sleep deprivation. As the days pass, though, and Nora and Adrian begin to talk about their past which is full of tragedy and unshared secrets, their relationship shifts. They wend their way from enmity to something else, full of danger and desire. There seems no possible way they could ever find happiness together and yet, the longer Adrian is at Hodderby, the more he and Nora are drawn to one another.
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