Rafe Whitbourne, the Duke of Candover, fell madly in love and was engaged to Margot Ashton when he was just twenty-one, but while in his cups, an acquaintance revealed that he had relieved Margot of her virginity. When she didn't defend herself against the accusations, Rafe assumed they were true, and heartbroken, he left her. Not long after, her father took her to the continent, but later Rafe was informed that they were set upon by rioters and killed. He's never quite forgotten the only woman he's ever loved, though a part of him still despises her for what she did. During a peace conference, following Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, Rafe's friend, Lucien, who is a spymaster, asks him to use his planned trip to Paris as an opportunity to meet with the Countess Magda Janos, known as "the most beautiful spy in Europe." The Countess is ready to leave the spy business, but intelligence suggests that a high-ranking official at the conference may be in danger of assassination. Rafe's job is to persuade the lady to stay on until the culprit is found and peace secured, but when he discovers that she's none other than the woman who betrayed him, both his anger and his desire toward her are reignited. He agrees to work with her just until the assassination plot is uncovered, but soon he begins to fall for her again. Surprisingly he finds himself wanting to rekindle what they once had, but believing that she's already involved with someone else, he reluctantly decides to keep his distance.
Margot loved Rafe, too, but he broke her heart thirteen years ago, when he believed his friend's accusations. In her anger, she threw the engagement ring back at him and stormed out, never to see him again. Her father took her to France where they were attacked by rioters. Margot's father was killed and she barely escaped with her life, saved by a spy who has been her friend ever since. For a while he was also her lover, until Margot realized that she didn't love him the way she'd loved Rafe and broke off the physical part of their relationship, knowing that he deserved better. However, he'd given her a reason to keep on living by training her to be a master spy, too, and the Countess Magda Janos is one of her covers. She's been content with her life, until Rafe shows up at her door and sends her world into a tailspin. Still angry at his betrayal, she only reluctantly agrees to work with him out of love for her country and a desire for the peace talks to succeed, but once that's all over, she intends to go home to England and never see him again. Despite her best efforts, though, she finds herself falling in love with her old flame all over again, but when he behaves rather coldly toward her, she believes he doesn't reciprocate her feelings. If the two of them don't end up dead at the hand's of the assassin, can they ever find their way back to a place of love and forgiveness?
Petals in the Storm is the third book in Mary Jo Putney's Fallen Angels series, which follows a group of four best friends who all attended school together and became collectively known as the Fallen Angels. This book features Rafe, the Duke of Candover, who found Margot, the love of his life, at the age of twenty-one, but allowing his arrogance and jealousy to get in the way, he lost her. Now thirteen years later, he's never found another woman who makes him feel the way she did, but believing she betrayed him, he still harbors some ill feelings toward her. Rafe is traveling to Paris in the days following Napoleon's second defeat at Waterloo, so his friend and spymaster, Lucien, asks him to check into rumors of an assassination plot against a high-ranking official taking part in the peace talks. Rafe is to rendezvous with the Countess Magda Janos, a woman known as "the most beautiful spy in Europe." When they meet, Rafe is shocked to discover that the Countess is really his Margot, because he'd heard that she was killed in a riot years ago. Although neither is pleased to be working with the other, their patriotism outweighs their personal feelings. Together they face dangers as they try to figure out who might be engineering the plot and who the intended victim is, which leaves them in a race against time to stop it. Along the way, they discover that their attraction for one another still burns brightly and they eventually succumb to passion. But when all is said and done, it still might not be enough to mend the wounds of the past.
After seeing the distance between his own parents, Rafe knew that he wanted a different sort of marriage, one built on love and passion. He fell hard and fast for Margot at the beginning of her come-out season, but since her father wanted her to experience a full season before a betrothal, they had a quiet understanding that was kept under wraps. Then an old school chum of Rafe's made drunken claims of having relieved Margot of her virginity at a party, which the hotheaded young duke believed. When he confronted her, she simply threw her engagement ring at him and stormed off, leaving Rafe even more convinced of her betrayal. Not long after, she traveled to the Continent with her father, and there were later reports of their demise at the hands of rioters. The grief he felt at her loss helped to temper some of his anger toward her, but in the ensuing years, he's never loved anyone else the way he loved her. When he meets Countess Janos in Paris, he's shocked to find out the lady spy is actually Margot. The bad feelings are stirred up again, but he also finds that he still desires her like no other. However, he's willing to set aside their personal differences to investigate the assassination plot, and as they do so, their old passions flare. Rafe soon finds his love for Margot reignited, but he believes that she's in love with someone else, which nearly leads him to let her get away again.
Rafe was an OK hero, but I didn't fall for him the same way I did for the heroes of the first two books of the series or the way I wanted to. The biggest issue I had with him was the way he treated Maggie all those years ago. He believed a man who wasn't even a close friend over the woman he supposedly loved to distraction and he didn't really fight for that love when she rightfully got angry at him. Admittedly he was rather young and naive at the time, but now that he's older and a bit wiser, he eventually realizes the error of his ways and offers Maggie a heartfelt apology, which did help. However, it took Maggie's friend, Robin, relating her entire traumatic history since coming to France to Rafe before he finally understands who she is now and how he contributed to that trauma with his sordid accusations. Another small issue I had is a moment where his lust flares and he briefly wonders if he might be capable of rape in order to finally have Maggie. Again, the next day, when Maggie is actually attacked by a mob and he rescues her, he realizes what a stupid thought that was, but him having had it at all was problematic for me. I don't want it to sound like Rafe was all bad, though, because he did have his good points, too. He bravely helps to unravel and stop the assassination plot even though he isn't an experienced spy. When Robin tells him of Maggie's past, he's properly guilt-ridden and tries to make amends. When they do make love, he's tender with her, and when she tries to push him away again, this time, he fights for her. So there was enough good in him that I didn't dislike him, but the eyebrow raising parts kept me from fully falling for him.
At nineteen, Margot was madly in love with Rafe and thought they'd soon be married, so his accusations of infidelity deeply wounded her. Her father, who was a military man, took the heartbroken girl to the Continent with him, where they were viciously attacked by a mob of French soldiers. Reports of their deaths reached England, but in reality, Margot had been saved by Robin who gave her a reason to keep living by training her to be a spy. The two lived together undercover for years and eventually became lovers, but three years earlier Maggie called off the physical part of their relationship, knowing that she didn't truly love him and was only using him for comfort. However, they've remained close friends and co-conspirators in spycraft. Unlike many female spies who took powerful men as lovers in order to get sensitive information, Maggie has meticulously developed a network of women-prostitutes, maids, and such-who are in positions to overhear things or find incriminating papers to funnel this information to her. She's grown content with her life, until Rafe shows up, disrupting her carefully ordered world. She reluctantly agrees to work with him for the good of their country and the peace talks, but she has no intention of falling for him or letting him hurt her again. Despite her best intention, though, her love for him is stirred up once more, but when he behaves in a rather cold and controlled manner, she believes that he doesn't love her back. I admired Maggie for being such a strong woman in the face of trauma and many challenging circumstances. She's reinvented herself as a master spy who can flawlessly take on a number of different personas and has empowered women in a society that didn't particularly value them. My only issue with Maggie is that she's now the second heroine I've read in close proximity who had her heart locked up tight due to past hurts, and as a result, I didn't relate to her as well as I wanted. She fights her feelings for Rafe right up until the final pages of the book, which made her quick turnaround at the end not entirely believable to me.
Overall, Petals in the Storm was a good read, but I didn't end up liking it quite as well as the first two books of the series. On the upside, I can tell that Ms. Putney did her homework well, and as usual, she's crafted a tightly plotted story of passion and intrigue. The pace is a bit slower as the investigation develops, but once things heat up, it really take off with some good action and suspense. The romance is nice as well, but perhaps because of my individual issues with Rafe and Maggie's characters, I didn't feel quite as connected to them or feel the emotional connection between them as strongly as I'd have preferred. After giving it some thought, I realized that Rafe and Maggie were perhaps a little too much alike in their temperaments, so it didn't entirely feel like they balanced each other out. They're both really stubborn, prideful people who let these qualities take them down an undesirable path. They do reconcile by the end and both acknowledge their faults, but it still left me with some doubts about whether they'd be able to keep themselves in check in the future. Although I mostly liked Rafe and Maggie together, there was some small part of me that felt like she and Robin were a better match because he seems to have a calming influence on her, while Rafe stirs up her passions and not always in a good way. However, Robin's destiny lies in a different direction as he becomes the hero of the next Fallen Angels book, Angel Rogue. The only other two series characters who appear in this book are Lucien (Dancing on the Wind) who is running the spy operation from England, and Nicholas (Thunder and Roses) who has a very quick visit with Rafe and Lucien before Rafe leaves for Paris. Even though Petals in the Storm didn't reach the heights of perfection for me, I'm very intrigued by Robin and look forward to seeing him get his HEA, so I hope to pick up his book soon.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook