A Bride by Moonlight
(Fraternitas Aureae Crucis, Book 4)
By Liz Carlyle
February 26, 2013
Royden Napier, assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, is a man known for his commitment to justice and his ruthless pursuit of the guilty. He takes pride not only in his own reputation but also in the reputation his father established in the same position Napier now holds.
Called to the death scene of Sir Wilfred Leeton, he finds Rance Welham, the new Earl of Lazonby, and Elizabeth Ashton, a woman who looks strangely familiar. Napier is suspicious of the tale the two reveal of the circumstances surrounding Leeton’s death. He is persuaded Lazonby is as thoroughly villainous as a man can be, but he has little choice but to go along with their story. Most disturbing of all are their accusations that Napier’s father was a corrupt official not above taking bribes to see that an innocent man was imprisoned and within a breath of being hanged.
Elizabeth Ashton, aka Lisette Colburne, aka Jack Coldwater, is a woman who has lost all purpose. More than half her life has been devoted to a quest to avenge the deaths of her father and her sister. She has held Rance Welham (now Lazonby) responsible, and his escape from the hangman’s noose left her obsessed with seeing his destruction. Now she knows that Lazonby is innocent and Leeton, the real culprit, is dead at her hand, she is left with no sense of direction. She fears reprisals from Lazonby once he is certain that Lady Anisha Stafford is safe from scandal, and she knows that the suspicious Napier has the tenacity of a bulldog. The wilds of Scotland seem to offer her only refuge.
Napier is still reeling from the Leeton scandal when the home secretary pressures him to visit Henry Tarleton, Viscount of Duncaster, and the paternal grandfather from whom Napier, like his father before him, is estranged. Napier’s father, Nicholas Tarleton, responded to Duncaster’s casting him off upon because he disapproved of Nicholas’s marriage, by cutting ties completely, supporting his family through his own efforts and even adopting his wife’s surname rather than using the Tarleton name. Napier has no desire to be part of the Tarleton family, but the recent death of Duncaster’s only surviving son, who left only daughters, means that Napier has become Duncaster’s heir. Upon the old man’s death, Napier will become Duncaster, however little he wants the title and the responsibilities that go with it. He reluctantly yields to the home secretary’s pleading and agrees to visit Burlingame, the Duncaster estate, ostensibly to satisfy his grandfather’s wishes but actually to investigate his uncle’s death and the death of Duncaster’s closest friend.
Needing to distract his aunt from matchmaking, Napier decides that he should take his intended bride with him. He promises Elizabeth Ashton that he will protect her from Lazonby and from arrest if she agrees to go to Burlingame in the role of Napier’s intended wife. Elizabeth agrees, but the two decide she should be presented to the Tarleton family under her original name, Elizabeth Colburne, to avoid association with the Leeton scandal and to take advantage of her position as the granddaughter of Earl Rowend. As the two work together to investigate the suspicious deaths, the attraction between them grows stronger and more difficult to resist. But their distrust of one another is equally strong. They have to become willing to drop all disguises and learn openness and trust if they are to claim the future that promises the happiness their pasts have denied them.
Nobody is better than Liz Carlyle at layered, labyrinthine plotting. This book weaves together multiple story strands and a large cast of characters, most of them with their own secrets that complicate the story and intrigue the reader. A Bride by Moonlight picks up with one of the final scenes from The Bride Wore Pearls and offers a different perspective on the hero of that book as well as revealing the ripple effects of Leeton’s death.
Elizabeth’s role as false fiancée is only the most obvious of the screens thrown up by various characters to protect their secrets and advance their purposes. Carlyle succeeds in achieving the right balance between romance and mystery. The result is a book that offers a sizzling romance between two complex, fascinating characters and a series of mysteries that keep the reader eagerly turning pages. For readers who know Carlyle’s work, it’s enough to say this is vintage Carlyle, definitely a book you don’t want to miss. If you haven’t read Carlyle, you can certainly begin with this one. Wherever you begin with her books, you are likely to find yourself following threads that lead you to other of her books. Such connections are among the joys of being a Carlyle reader.
If I were listing authors whose plotting captivates and awes me, Carlyle would be high on my list. What authors would you include on such a list?