Anne Stuart's "The Devil's Waltz"

The Devil's Waltz - Anne Stuart

Enjoyed this one a lot. The story takes place 20 years after the French Revolution and the murder of the hero's family who were living in France. Christian, the hero, is a very handsome, emotionally scarred and impoverished nobleman who needs to obtain a large amount of money to get his mother's long-abandoned estate back in working condition. Annelise is a plain-looking gentlewoman with no money and no prospects. She's a "guest" at the house of a very rich shipping magnate who wants to marry his only child, a beautiful daughter, into the upper class, although Annelise is really there to provide some finishing-school type polish to the girl so she can be accepted in high society. The daughter, Hetty, figures that if she has to marry up, she might as well pick someone as beautiful as herself and decides that Christian is the one for her. Annelise decides that her duty is to keep Christian away from Hetty, especially since Christian openly tells her that after he's married Hetty, he has no intention of being faithful to her and will likely seduce Annelise because he finds her interesting and attractive in her own way. Hetty is actually in love with her childhood sweetheart, a gentleman farmer named Will, but has resigned herself to marrying into the upper class because of her father's threats. Don't want to give away any more of the plot, but the story continues with 2 sweet love stories, a lot of drama, some (successful) blackmail, some violence, some really bad characters and some very interesting ones.

The main characters are wonderfully human, with flaws, insecurities, difficulties, mistakes, bad behaviour and genuine emotional upheavals. The interaction between Christian and Annelise is really well done, especially after Hetty and Will have left the scene. The two scenes where Christian seduces Annelise were the highlights of the book for me - in the first one his seduction backfires, but jolts him into some unexpected realizations. The second one is simply beautiful.