Christian Villiers is recently returned from the Continent and intent upon exacting vengeance against the man who caused his sister's suicide. He can think of no better way than seducing the man's intended to provoke a duel, so he wrangles an invitation to a country house party where both will be in attendance. On the way there, he stops at an inn for the night. Late that evening, a beautiful woman arrives in the midst of a vicious storm which has left her carriage and her young daughter stranded down the road. Christian offers his assistance, and then can't resist playing a seductive game with her afterward. Although her body responds to his touch, the beguiling creature deftly rebuffs his advances, insisting that Christian leave without ever telling him her name. It isn't until he arrives at the party that he discovers she is the woman he was intending to pursue as part of his revenge scheme.
Elise Middleton is a wealthy widow who along with her young step-daughter is about to attend the house party of her sister-in-law. She knows that the man who has been courting her is intent on announcing their betrothal at the party, but she isn't quite sure if he is the right match for her. After her encounter with the man at the inn which left her burning with desire, Elise is even less certain, but when she discovers the true identity of her seducer, she knows she cannot allow herself to become involved with a man who carries such a wicked reputation. However, the more time she spends in Christian's company, the more she realizes that he is an honorable man even though most people, including himself, think he isn't. But will Christian be able to choose Elise over his need for revenge and will she ever be able to forgive him when she discovers his true purpose for being there?
Hunting Season is another good story from Liz Carlyle. It starts off with a mild love/hate relationship as the heroine alternates between melting into the hero's arms and rebuffing him due to his forwardness and bad reputation. The early parts of the novella could sometimes be a little slow, because not much was happening aside from the back-and-forth dance of whether the heroine will or won't give in to her attraction to the hero. Once she does and his true purpose for being at the house party is revealed, things got much more interesting.
Christian is another of Liz Carlyle's tortured heroes. He has spent the last decade deliberately being the hellion his father seemed to believe he was and earning a scandalous reputation for it. After being away on the Continent for most of that time, he is now back in England to avenge the suicide of his beloved younger sister who was compromised and then abandoned by the man she loved. Christian feels very guilty over not being there for her and thinks he can make it right by provoking the man who put her in that position into a duel, and what better way to do that than seducing the man's intended wife. Christian was quite the charming seducer right from the opening chapters, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of a man who was offering to sleep with a woman he believed might be married. He was definitely a silver-tongued devil, but a little too arrogant and forward for my taste at first. Once his conscience caught up with him, he began to show some much-needed vulnerability, and after that I was a goner for him as much as Elise was. I also loved how sweet and fatherly he was with Elise's daughter, Henriette, right from the start, even though he had no real experience with kids, as well as how discretely he handled Robert Rowland's compromising situation. In these and other ways, Christian showed just how honorable he could be in spite of feeling like he was anything but.
Elise is rather an ordinary young woman, a vicar's daughter, a former governess, and fairly innocent for a widow. That said, I think she handled herself pretty well with Christian. Even though she was sorely tempted by his repeated seductive advances, she generally stood her ground until he started behaving in a more gentlemanly fashion. Once she fell for him, she was very accepting of Christian, flaws and all. I also admired her for being a loving mother to Henriette and treating her like her own daughter even though she wasn't her biological child.
Until now, I hadn't read a Liz Carlyle story in a very long time, so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to revisit some of her characters that I'd met in earlier books. Attending the house party was one of my favorite Liz Carlyle couples, Cam, Helene, and their daughter, Arianne (Beauty Like the Night). Cole Amherst (A Woman Scorned) turned out to be a cousin of the party's hostess who was also Elise's sister-in-law. He was there with his wife, Jonet, their four new daughters, and his two now-grown stepsons, Robert and Stuart (who becomes the hero of Wicked All Day). Robert is a very naughty boy who manages to get himself into a heap of mischief which may foreshadow what I perceive to be his upcoming role in Wicked All Day. Overall, Hunting Season was another enjoyable read from Liz Carlyle and, I greatly look forward to getting back into more of her books. Hunting Season can be found in the Tea for Two anthology.
Note: While Ms. Carlyle seems to consider her books to be more of a community of characters than an official series and each seems to stand well on it's own story-wise, I would caution that reading later books first may give away spoilers to earlier books. Such was the case when I skipped one book and was left wishing that I had read it first. Even though it is a bit daunting, my suggestion for readers like myself who don't like any spoilers would be to begin with Ms. Carlyle's first book, My False Heart, and continue reading them in the chronological order in which they were published. It is also my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by doing this, because Ms. Carlyle's character web is so complex. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.
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