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REVIEW:  Nightfall by Anne Stuart

REVIEW: Nightfall by Anne Stuart

Dear Anne Stuart:

You have been one of my autobuy authors from the moment I discovered you in the early 2000s, and no one writes bad boy heroes like you do. In today’s era of alpha billionaires, Motorcycle Club anti-heroes, and New Adult dudebros who wreck everything around them, I wondered how your dangerous men from an earlier era would hold up. When I saw that one of my favorite Romantic Suspense novels ever, Nightfall, was available in ebook form, I had to revisit it. Does the book hold up after 20 years? And is Richard Tiernan still the epitome of sexy/dangerous? The answer to both questions is: oh yes, and how.

nightfall anne stuartWhen the story begins, Richard Tiernan has been convicted of the grisly murder of his wife and has been released pending appeal after famous author Sean O’Rourke posts his million-dollar bail. Tiernan holes up with O’Rourke in the latter’s Park Avenue apartment, where O’Rourke plans to write a novel about Tiernan and the killing. Meanwhile, Tiernan’s young children have disappeared and he is suspected in their deaths.

Cassidy Roarke, Sean’s editor daughter, comes up to New York from her home in Baltimore after receiving a cryptic message from him and discovers that Sean wants her to help with the manuscript. She recoils at the idea of participating but can’t say no to her brilliant father, especially since she suspects there is more going on with him than just the desire to complete the novel he says will be the crowning achievement of his career.

Cassidy is both drawn to and repelled by Tiernan; she has no reason to doubt the judgement against him and he doesn’t do anything to persuade her otherwise. Tiernan is clearly attracted to her and Sean seems to be egging him on. The result is a type of cat-and-mouse game in which Cassidy is not exactly the mouse (because she’s quite clear-headed and relatively good at taking care of herself), but she does feel a bit like an insect on a pin. Tiernan is constantly studying her and engaging with her (mostly with Sean’s complete and somewhat baffling approval), and Cassidy soon finds herself enmeshed in Tiernan and Sean’s machinations.

Sean was in the midst of some high-flown fantasy, staring out the window at the New York skyline. Tiernan was sitting in the huge green leather chair that had been in Sean’s office since the beginning of time.

Cass remembered when she was small, curling up in the warm leather arms of that chair, sleeping. It had been her favorite place in the world. Tiernan didn’t turn, but she knew perfectly well he knew she was there. He seemed to have a sixth sense.

She wanted to order him out of her chair. Instead she simply stood in the doorway and cleared her throat.

Sean whirled around, an accusing expression on his florid face. “About time you woke from your beauty slumber, Cassie,” he said. “You never used to be such a slothful creature. We have work to do, and time’s a wasting.”

“Is it?” She carefully avoided Tiernan’s gaze. He was dressed in jeans and a cotton sweater against the cool morning air. She was wearing the same thing. He had a mug of black coffee in his hand. She drank hers black as well.

“You’re the one who’s so determined to get back to Baltimore, though why any sane person would choose to live in Baltimore when they have the option of New York is beyond me,” Sean declaimed. “We’re planning on changing your mind, aren’t we, Richard? Make it impossible for you to leave.”

“Impossible,” Richard echoed.

She couldn’t help it, she threw him a wary glance as she moved to her father’s littered desk. He met the gaze blandly enough, but she wasn’t so gullible she didn’t recognize the challenge. The threat.

“I have a job,” she said mildly, glancing at one stack of papers that looked like official court transcripts.

“You could take a leave of absence.”

“I could. I don’t want to. I have plans, things I want to do with my life.”

“Richard doesn’t.”

I can’t give away much more of the plot without spoiling the reading experience. Stuart does a terrific job of creating a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces slowly come together until you suddenly see the picture you’ve been working on. Every character in the story has a purpose, and even the minor characters are well drawn. I particularly appreciated Cassidy’s relationship with Sean’s current wife, Mabry. Unlike so many fictional stepmothers, Mabry, who is a gorgeous, thin, platinum-haired ex-model, has an excellent relationship with Cassidy. The two women don’t compete; they talk to each other, and they are connected by their common love for Sean and their ability to see him clearly. Cassidy’s mother, who appears late in the story, is far more of a caricature than Mabry, but even she is a recognizable type.

Richard Tiernan is the anti-hero whom every author writing such a character hopes to produce. He is genuinely frightening and genuinely sexy. As Cassidy gets to know him better he reveals more sides to himself and more honorable attributes, but he never loses that aura of danger. Richard was a college professor before the murder, and Stuart does a terrific job of making me believe that a person in an unexciting, unheroic occupation can have psychological depths we never imagine (and they may never explore). This is definitely a romance, and there is definitely an HEA, but Richard never, ever loses his edge.

In Stuart’s novels, bad boys aren’t always paired up with heroines who stand up to them, or who feel like true partners. Some of them verge on TSTL, while others seem to walk right across that line and take up residence. Cassidy, thankfully, doesn’t go there. She’s spent her entire life dealing with narcissistic, emotionally unavailable people, and she’s good at carving out a space for herself and a life that doesn’t kowtow to them practically or emotionally.

As a result, when Cassidy and Richard finally get together, the sparks really fly. I’d forgotten how sexy a sex scene can be. This is not a case of Tab A into Slot B. The language can get a little lush, but it suits the characters’ temperaments and relationship. And every scene has meaning for the story.

The suspense plot is top-notch. There are clues scattered throughout the story, and since this last reread was my third or fourth time through the novel, I could see the trail. But when I read it for the first time I was so engrossed in trying to figure out Richard Tiernan that I almost didn’t pay attention. I don’t mean to suggest that the mystery is grafted on, not at all, this is a suspense thriller down to its bones. It’s just that the Sean-Richard-Cassidy relationship is so intriguing that I almost didn’t care about whether Richard did it and if he didn’t, who did.

There are books that grab you and don’t let go when you read them, but they don’t wind up being unable to stand the test of time. This is not one of those books. As an inveterate rereader, I have no doubt that I’ll read Nightfall again one day, and when I do, I’ll enjoy it yet again and probably find something I missed before. Grade: A

~ Sunita

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REVIEW:  All Through the Night by Connie Brockway

REVIEW: All Through the Night by Connie Brockway


Dear Ms. Brockway:

I first bought All Through the Night due to a beautiful and dead-on review written by Mrs. Giggles, who is a famously tough reviewer. She gave your book a 99/100. That, combined with the review, which excerpts the book was enough to entice me to buy it. I remember reading it in one sitting, and literally reaching the last page, flipping the book over and starting it again. That happens very rarely for me. Since my first read of it, All Through the Night has been firmly ensconced in my Top 10 list, and Colonel Jack Seward is one of my favorite romance heroes of all time. This review is an attempt to convey why I think all romance readers should give the book a try.

Jack Seward is a guttersnipe, rescued by a powerful man, and honed into a perfect weapon for the Home Office’s Secret Committee. He is, for all intents and purposes, a fixer. He works the less savory issues, finding things, and bringing to justice those whose crimes might be considered a mark against the Prince Regent. His current duty to find a letter, that if made public could turn the tides of political relations with a number of England’s allies. The Home Office believes it’s been stolen by the Wrexhall Wraith. A thief who is also stealing jewels of the ladies of the ton. Each theft is bolder and more daring, and England’s most powerful are becoming uneasy with the frequency and success of the thief. Jack has been dispatched to bring the thief to justice and retrieve the letter.  He hides out and catches the thief in the act. But he is shocked during the encounter to find that thief is something unexpected.

“Right you are, Cap.” Nearly within arm’s reach. There would be no second opportunity to catch Seward off guard. “But I told you, I ain’t got no sticker. And we don’t want the lads in the hall there to get wind of any deal we might be conductin’, now do we? Pat me down if you don’t believe me. Go on, satisfy yerself before we begins negotiations.”

Seward’s eyes narrowed at the same time his crippled hand shot out, seizing the thief’s wrist. There was surprising strength in the twisted fingers. The Wraith jerked back, instinctively fighting the implacable hold until it became clear any struggle could end only with Seward the victor.

“I believe I will, at that,” Seward murmured, pulling the black wool-clad figure against his hard chest and securing both wrists. Quickly and efficiently he swept his free hand down over the thief’s shoulders and flanks, hips, thighs, and legs. He moved back up, his touch passing lightly over the thief’s chest.

He stopped, pale eyes gleaming with sudden intensity, and quickly jerked the slight body forward by the belt. His hand dipped down, clamping hard on the juncture between the legs in a touch both violently intimate and absolutely impersonal.

“My God,” Seward said, dropping his one hand as if burned, though the other still clenched the belt, “you’re a woman.”

The thief uses Seward’s shock to outwit him and escape, setting up Jack’s singleminded determination to find the thief and bring her to justice. He demands entree into the prince regent’s social circle. After pursuing the thief for six months, he believes that the entree will help him anticipate which member of the ton is to be victimized next.

It is after his entrance into society that he meets and is immediately besotted by the widow, Anne Wilder. Anne acts as chaperone to her young and silly niece, Sophia, but is also well known in the ton as a “saint”. She runs a shelter for military veterans and collects donations from the rich and silly to keep the shelter afloat.  Her husband was an extreme extrovert and very well liked in society and theirs was considered a true love story. Anne had been known as a hoyden prior to her marriage but had calmly settled into being married to Matthew Wilder. Matthew died while captaining a ship during the war. After that, Anne becomes the quiet, steadfast woman she is today. She spends her time soliciting donations for her charity, but only she knows that pledges and payments were two different things. The ton loves the appearance of largesse, but in reality, many renig on their pledges and the charity is barely staying afloat. Anne feels a great debt to the soldiers who served under her husband, as it was his negligence that killed or maimed many of them. But still, she keeps the ton’s secrets, never revealing who hasn’t paid.  She’s spoken of as a saint, but in truth, she’s a pariah.

Jack carried Anne Wilder’s gloved hand to his mouth and brushed his lips lightly over it.

“How very pleased I am to make your acquaintance, Colonel Seward,” she said, and shivered. He could feel the alarm vibrating through her. Alerted, he looked up and found himself caught in her gaze.

She held him with a regard nearly masculine in its directness. Seasoned. Knowing. A touch of valiance. A portion of pain and much resignation. Hardly the eyes of a Procuress, as Strand had suggested. Jack had procured much himself; he knew the look.

Rather, she gazed at him like a woman who sold her body might look at her buyer: with fatalism, submission, and a certain damning anticipation. It was an expression that said, “Do it and be done.” And it aroused him.

Jack begins a pursuit of Anne, frequently meeting up with her at social functions, where he continues to be charmed, aroused, fascinated by the reserved Widow Wilder. But his eye is also firmly fixed on the Wrexhall Wraith, who he continues to pursue, but cannot seem to catch. The thief plays a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Jack, using her wiles again to escape from him (in easily one of my very favorite scenes from the book).

Of course, the thief is Anne. This is not a spoiler, as it is revealed in the second chapter. The reader knows, and Anne knows that sooner or later, her dance with Jack will end. But he makes her feel alive — stimulated for the first time in ages. She’s felt a crushing guilt as Matthew Wilder’s widow. Guilt for his lackadaisical negligence and for his extreme jealousy of her while they were married. She knows that Matthew caused his men’s death, and she will do anything, including stealing from those who pledged but never paid, to keep the Shelter afloat. But what first began as a righting of wrongs, has become the only thing that makes her feel alive. Until Jack. Then, the cat and mouse game that they play stimulates her more than she’s ever been. She’s walking a line between the saucy thief who challenges and seduces Jack with her daring, and the repressed widow who seduces Jack with her propriety and hesitance. She knows that sooner or later Jack will discover her secret, and because of his honor, and his loyalty, he’ll bring her to justice. But until then, she is trying her best to experience every emotion he provides her in the fullest.

Jack pursues Anne cautiously. He knows that he is not an honorable man, and that he must behave with the utmost propriety with her. She is, after all, a member of the ton, and one who is held in high esteem. He is torn by his deep desire for the Wrexhall Wraith and his high regard and admiration for the Widow Wilder. And in a moment of passion, he kisses Anne. Anne reacts badly, appalled. He believe it is because he has put her in a compromising position. But of course, it is because he is getting closer and closer and her game will be ending soon. Fortunately, Jack takes Anne’s reaction as a prompt that he must end things with her. So he asks her to dance with him one final time:

The maestro proclaimed a waltz. She stepped close to him. He rested his hand just above her waist, on the fine-boned ribs. Warmth permeated his palm. He took her other hand high in his.

She averted her face, unwilling to meet his gaze, and after the first few strains of music, she made no attempt to keep her artificial smile on her lips. Indeed they trembled and lost all hint of pleasure, mirroring her distress far too clearly. They had been soft beneath his kiss, soft and tender and, for the space of a heartbeat, yielding.

He wanted her. He wanted her as much, no, more than he had wanted the thief. Which was impossible.

Pain washed through him, pricking him with the knowledge of his inconstancy. He pulled her nearer. Her gaze flickered to and from his face and she recoiled from his embrace.

He would not let her. He would never hold her again, never have her in his arms, never touch her, and he would not — not for manners’ sake, not for her sake, not for his own peace — let her rob him of even one short moment.

Lithe and supple as a willow, she moved in his arms and beneath his hand. Her body was unlike those of other gentlewomen; no softness padded her slender form. Indeed, her fragile appearance belied her tensile strength. He could feel smooth muscle beneath his palm, the strength in the fingers grasping his hand so tightly in her futile attempt to hold him distant.

It intoxicated him. It bewildered him. It set him on fire.

She speared him with a look of distress and anger. She did not want to be here. Too damned bad.

He closed his eyes and pulled her closer still and breathed deeply. She smelled warm and angry and clean, devoid of any masking properties of perfume or soap –

His eyes opened slowly, like a man who knows he will witness some horror. His breath grew shallow. Strength and passion, no betraying scent. Dear God, no.

She stumbled in the steps of the dance, falling against him. He caught her body against his. So intimate, so familiar. She pushed her hand flat against his chest, in the same place she had five nights before.

She jerked back.

Somewhere, Jack thought dully, Satan laughed.

Jack’s body shook. He had never been closer to losing every aspect of self-control. How fortunate for her that they were not alone. Because, just at this moment, he was not at all certain he wouldn’t have killed her.

He grasped her shoulders and stared down at her. She gazed up at him defiantly, with eyes lit up like a midnight pantheon of dying stars.

“My thief,” he said.

And there it begins, Jack’s honor battling with his desire. Anne’s need to do what is right for the men her husband betrayed with his negligence battling with her growing attraction and esteem for Jack, who will be her downfall. A love story both dark and beautiful. As you can see from the excerpts I chose, the writing is lovely. The story so beautifully conceived, and the characters fully drawn in their complexity and nuance. It is truly a remarkable story. One that stands up perfectly to the test of time. It is as wonderful to experience now as it was the first time I read it more than a decade ago. It showcases Connie Brockway’s prodigious talent, and is one of my all time favorite romances. I cannot recommend it enough. So much so, that I’m jealous of those of you who haven’t read it and are convinced to give it a try. Please trust me when I tell you, you will not regret a moment you spend watching Jack and Anne’s cat and mouse game turn to a fall into love. Final grade: A+



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