As it turns out the “lunatic” is “Reynaud St. Aubyn”, the blood heir to the Blanchard name, monies and estates and thought dead when burned at the steak by Indians in the colonies 7 years previously. It is Beatrice who recognizes the “savage”, lying on the parlor room floor, for before he passes out she glimpses his distinctive black eyes. The same obsidian eyes that stare back at her from his portrait as a young man hanging in the room.
Reynaud is a complex tortured hero. After enduring 7 years of captivity, slavery, torture and starvation he is a changed man from the young Aristocrat who bought his commission and left to serve and fight for Britain in the colonies. Through sheer strength of will and determination to return to England, his family and his Earldom he survived unspeakable hardship and horror. When he does awaken in “his home” to find his father has passed 5 years previously and a “usurper” (Uncle Reggie) has claimed the Earldom he becomes obsessed with reclaiming what is rightfully his.
Despiter he uncle's misgivings, Beatrice takes matters in hand and tends to Reynaud, nursing him back to health despite his surly disposition and cutting sarcastic manner. She is determined to find out what has happened to the passionate young man whose vision in the portrait she has desired and dreamed of for many years. Beatrice is “four and twenty”, and while she has had suitors has never had an offer of marriage. She wants passion in her life and to be loved. She thought she saw that passion in the eyes of the Reynaud in the portrait, however being confronted with this angry, bitter, sarcastic, and seemingly self obsessed man is, needless to say not what she expected.
Reynaud also suffers from posttraumatic stress and when he feels threatened he has flash backs and envisions himself to be back in the colonies fighting for his very survival. By the same token, when there is an attempt on his life, which also puts Beatrice in peril, he takes charge and shows that he is, at heart a brave and honorable man.
Reynaud’s family and friends gradually rally around him and as he is reintroduced to life as an English gentleman he is encouraged by his supportive feisty “Tante Cristelle” (his French aunt) to take a “pretty” and proper English wife to reinforce his respectability and enhance his chances to regain his title. By this time Beatrice and Reynaud have established a relationship and rapport. He, in fact, feels quite protective of her and decides that she is to be his.
Ms. Hoyt has a beautiful voice, her prose IMHO literally sings. The love scenes penned between Reynaud and Beatrice are sensuous and special. Reynaud, with Beatrice’s gentle encouragement gradually shares the horrors of the last 7 years. He does find peace and comfort in her arms and begins to emotionally heal. He in turn, helps her grieve when she loses someone very close to her. I loved both these characters and Reynaud’s story tugged at my heartstrings. They do marry but Beatrice does not believe he truly loves her, which causes strife between them. She is, after all a means for him to regain his title and respectability as rumors still swirl that he is quite mad.
There is also an undercurrent of political intrigue and the involvement of a wartime traitor in their midst that isn’t revealed until the closing chapters. The supporting characters are extremely well developed, and each play a role in advancing what for me was a fascinating plot. Historically, this story is very well researched.
I especially like “Vale”, Reynaud’s oldest and dearest friend. The guy has a subtle sense of humor that had me chortling with laughter and he wastes no chance in poking fun at his serious and seemingly humorless friend. Vale is absolutely brilliant.
If you are a lover of historical romance, I think, “To Desire A Devil”, may be a novel for you to put on your list. If you have read the previous books in Ms. Hoyt’s “The Legend of the Four Soldiers Series”, and have been anticipating this novel I don’t think you will be disappointed.