The Elizabethan world with its intrigues and machinations is the ideal setting for this deeply moving and tender romance.

Lady Belle Purfoy wonders what the monarch can want of her. Plain and newly widowed, she is not the kind of woman the queen wants around the castle. But Elizabeth wants her to be a pawn in a gambit caused by her mothers treachery. Belle must wed a man of the queens choosing: Nicholas Hollier.

This wedding will kill two birds with one stone. First Nick can reclaim his title and lands and Belle will have a step-father for her young daughter. But there is an ulterior motive, Elizabeths courtier believes they can use Belle to discover if Nick is a papist.

Nicks illness prevents him from coming to court, so he allows his friend James Wyatt to act as his proxy at the betrothal and later when the marriage must be consummated. And a mischievous spirit, that has long been bewitching the unhappy women of the estate to jump to their death, is haunting Belle.

Belle becomes fond of Nick, but it is Jamie she loves. Torn between forbidden love and loyalty to Nick, they must somehow avoid the treachery that surrounds them.

Denise Domning truly evokes the era with all the intricately threaded secrets and schemes that abound at court. Readers will truly believe they are there when Elizabeth gives out her edict. This is a well-crafted novel that concentrates on character development and atmosphere to make it engrossing. SENSUAL (Nov., 347 pp., $5.99)

Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin