Review ~ The Smuggler’s Escape
By Barbara Monajem
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Release Date: July 24, 2019
Reviewed by Nancy
The Smuggler’s Escape is a warm, sexy second chance at love story. Set in Sussex during the later stages of the French Revolution, it’s about Noelle de Vallon, refugee daughter of a guillotined French aristocrat and an English noblewoman, and Richard, Lord Boltwood, a secret agent for the Home Office. More than two years before the book opens, Noelle and Richard had a tempestuous courtship that led to their betrothal and its consummation.
They didn’t realize Richard’s father bore a grudge against Noelle’s and would never agree to their marriage. He had Richard drugged and put aboard a ship for Amsterdam, where he was ordered to gather intelligence for the Home Office. If he attempted to contact Noelle, his father would have her killed. Richard had reason to believe him and so stayed away from his betrothed.
When the book opens, the elder Lord Boltwood, Richard’s Father, has summoned Noelle, who is involved with the local smugglers, to warn her that she’s believed to be a French spy and the Home Office is sending someone to arrest her. He encourages her to flee with all haste, but she can’t leave until she has seen the last smuggling cargo delivered. That night, he dies.
Meanwhile, the excise men, under the able leadership of Lt. Hale, who certainly deserves his own book, are closing in on the smuggling ring. Noelle sees them staking out the house where she lives with her uncle and aunt. Desperate to warn off her accomplices, she sneaks out of the house. The excise men find her and don’t believe her flimsy excuse for being outside at night in a state of undress. Things are going badly for her when Richard, who arrived home that day, emerges from the dovecote. He had been standing below her window, planning to approach her, but hid to avoid the excise men seeing him. To save her, he announces their betrothal.
Noelle considered that betrothal voided by his disappearance the day after they made love and by his long absence. To her dismay, her feelings for him haven’t changed despite her pain over his abandonment. Still, she can’t trust him and so agrees to a sham betrothal only so he can protect her from the excise men.
Richard doesn’t tell her she’s believed to be a spy. He’s certain she’s innocent. His father’s death has freed him to marry her—if he can persuade her to wed him—and he’s determined to find the real French agent. Because he’s determined to marry her, he doesn’t tell her the Home Office sent him to apprehend the French agent.
The local people involved in the smuggling ring are well drawn and likeable, and the method Noelle uses to communicate with her mostly illiterate cohorts is very clever. The espionage plot has enough twists and turns to be engaging and to stay a mystery until the book’s climax.
Noelle and Richard have immediate chemistry, with strong sexual tension and a shared fondness for unconventional behavior. Their love scene, complicated by raiding excise men, is warm, sexy, and satisfying.
My one problem with the book is that there are several occasions when discussing his abandonment of her would be the logical move, but they don’t do it until late in the story. Noelle has ample other reasons not to trust his feelings and to feel she must still flee England, so keeping this a mystery isn’t necessary.
Further complications arise because Lady Darlington, whose husband is Richard’s boss, is determined to have him marry her daughter, Dorothea, a bluestocking who has a great deal in common with Noelle. Everyone’s efforts to help Dorothea foil her mother lead to some amusing encounters.
This book reads quickly. It has a terrific espionage plot, a lot of heart and just the right infusion of humor.
Highly recommended ~ 4.5 stars