For six years, the abusive, immoral Earl of Lathom has considered his wife too ugly for any intimacy. When he seduces her troubled mother and flaunts the affair, Lady Lathom leaves and changes her name to Tessa Belanger.

Her troubles are just beginning. Thieves attack her as she awaits a stagecoach. She's then compelled to escape her rescuer, Reave Alden, Earl of Wycke. Freedom proves elusive, however. Tessa's second rescue from the seamy side of London is effected by Viscount Turnberry, who delivers her to his close friend Reave, thinking she needs a good barrister.

Tessa does need a lawyer, but she can't disclose the real reason. It's because her husband and her mother have been brutally murdered and she's the prime suspect in a case Reave must prosecute.

This is an excellent presentation of the Regency era when the strictest manners and customs masked horrific social cruelty. The well-crafted period banter has two rather amazing effects in Pierce's love story. What would ordinarily be a disagreeable level of violence tends to fall into the background, becoming a dark symbolism of the convoluted marriage customs of the time; and the lurid events become a compelling accent of Jane Austen's social facade. Very innovative. Sensual. (On-sale Feb., 348 pp., $4.99)

Reviewed by: 
Gerry Benninger