Thomas’ debut, Private Arrangements, was a wonderful book and a great debut. How nice for everyone that her next book has come out so soon after the first. The aspects from the first book are present here the beautiful style, vivid descriptions and deep characterization that the few problems I had with the book got pushed to the side.
What problems could there be? I’m sure there’s a lot of people asking that question and I don’t know how much to reveal without giving bunches of spoilers. I’ll do the best I can though. Verity Durant is a world class chef, though she’s carrying a secret with her. Actually, she’s got three. Throughout the book as they come to light it becomes easier to sympathize with her plight and how instead of buckling under the weight of her past, she forges on to a future on her own terms.
After some hitches in Verity’s plan, she’s pretty steady in her life. Though a little past 30, she’s happy enough cooking in the kitchen for a former lover. The descriptions of her food are absolutely mouthwatering. She spends her nights remembering a night from her past when she met her White Knight, but she knew that it wouldn’t work and accepted her fate as a cook, though she is considered one of the best in England.
Her employer, Bertram Somerset, dies and as with estates, she’s passed on to his heir, her employer’s brother. Stuart Somerset is the illegitimate half brother of Bertie, but in a major court case Stuart won his right to be legally recognized. Stuart has some of his own problems to deal with upon hearing of his brother’s death and new inheritance. He’s getting married to a not-so-young lady, Elizabeth Bessler, because his Cinderella from so many years before hasn’t turned up and so he’s found someone he can live with.
This brief summary, of course, cannot do the plot any justice, for that would be giving away far too many spoilers. As hard as it is to believe that two people could fall in love over one night and keep that love for each other for ten years without moving on is a little unrealistic in some ways, but Thomas makes it all very real and very passionate. How Verity and Stuart deal with their issues, of course, makes the story worthwhile and with the richness of detail and characterization easily masks any issue with the length of the separation.
The secondary plot dealing with Lizzie and how she turns out is as evenly fleshed out, if in a different way, than the love story of Verity and Stuart. I started off not really caring for Lizzie, but by the end of the book I was glad she got a happy ending as well. The other plot dealing with the Dowager Duchess of Arlington does stretch things a bit, as though it was added in to make sure there was a bit of Hollywood added to the ending, but it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the fine points in the story.
One last thing to mention is the food. Or maybe the use of the descriptions of food. It’s more that just a plot device, it’s an integral element, almost a character of its own. Verity speaks through her food, and when Stuart becomes her employer she wants to convey certain messages to him through the food. There’s an especially erotic part when he’s eating a chocolate dessert of hers in the privacy of his bedroom that just makes the body tingle. Another pivotal scene is a dinner party where the food is so delicious that the guests are speechless, though Stuart’s mind is whirling about why his cook prepared what she did.
An excellent second book and though some of the same elements from the first book are present, such as having paced flashbacks through the story and a long separation between the characters, the tone between Verity and Stuart is different, as well as the secondary plot lines and the food make this book stand next Private Arrangements as great historical for 2008.
Famous in Paris, infamous in London, Verity Durant is as well-known for her mouthwatering cuisine as for her scandalous love life. But that’s the least of the surprises awaiting her new employer when he arrives at the estate of Fairleigh Park following the unexpected death of his brother.
Lawyer Stuart Somerset worked himself up from the slums of Manchester to become one of the rising political stars of England’s Parliament. To him, Verity Durant is just a name and food is just food until her first dish touches his lips. Only one other time has he felt such pure arousal—a dangerous night of passion with a stranger, a young woman who disappeared at dawn. Ten years is a long time to wait for the main course, but when Verity Durant arrives at his table, there’s only one thing that will satisfy Stuart’s appetite for more. But is his hunger for lust, revenge—or that rarest of delicacies, love? For Verity’s past has a secret that could devour them both even as they reach for the most delicious fruit of all…
Read an excerpt.