THE DEMURE MISS MANNING – Amanda McCabe
A Perfect 10
London, England, 1805
Mary Manning is the daughter of one of England's diplomats. Since her mother's death, Mary has acted as her father's hostess, staying in the background, always remaining polite, and helping her father at all the locations he is asked to go. Right now they are in London, home for once, where a vivacious friend of Mary's leads her through society's gatherings. Here Mary meets the man being proclaimed a hero, Sebastian Barrett. Upon first meeting this soldier, his demeanor, along with his extreme handsomeness, draws Mary's attention. Then, at a gathering, he draws Mary to a balcony. They share a passionate kiss that Sebastian's friends witness. It seems his romantic move was a wager. Mortified, Mary leaves. At home, she finds her father packing, and she is pleased to learn they are going to Portugal immediately.
Lisbon, Portugal, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1807
Mary has recovered from her humiliation at Sebastian's instigation, but she has never forgotten the passion of the kiss they shared. She has sworn never to be so vulnerable again. However, at the moment, danger looms. Napoleon is invading Portugal, and the English delegation of diplomats, including her father, are working hard to convince the monarch to move his dysfunctional family and adherents to Brazil for safety. To her surprise, Sebastian is part of the delegation working with her father. He has left the army and is a diplomat with some experience. As the court moves to Rio, Sebastian is a great help, not only to Mary's father, but also to her. She has hardened her heart to his advances, but every touch, every stolen kiss, weakens that resolve.
While the story is largely from Mary's viewpoint, the reader learns some of Sebastian's thoughts. He knows what he did to Mary was wrong, but in London, he had just returned from war, from seeing friends and comrades dead and dying. Those memories had affected him. In Portugal, he hopes to win Mary back, but if he can't, he will still see to her safety in the morass of complications involved in moving the court to Brazil. Although he hopes to take her to safety, there are those who do not want to leave their home in Portugal, and do not want an alliance with the English.
The historical background of this story is well researched and fascinating, and while it forms the background, it does not overpower the story between Mary and Sebastian, partly because they play integral parts (fictional) in that history. Emotional suspense, suspenseful action, interesting characters, and vastly different landscapes set this historical romance apart…in a word: captivating.