The Secret Life of Lady Julia by Lecia Cornwall

The Secret Life of Lady Julia by Lecia Cornwall
Publisher: Avon / HarperCollins Publishers
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (313 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

Seduction is the sweetest secret . . .

One kiss, then another, and before she knows it, Lady Julia Leighton succumbs to the breathtaking charms of a stranger . . . at the ball celebrating her betrothal to a man who considers her a sister. The steamy encounter changes her life in more ways than one. When she meets her seducer again, Julia is no longer a lady, but an outcast, a paid companion to a lady who used to be her equal— and her desire for him burns as strong as ever.

He goes by Thomas Merritt, a name as questionable as his intentions. A thief with a secret past, he was utterly bewitched by the beautiful and innocent Lady Julia. But after their one glorious evening together, the handsome rogue left without a backward glance—knowing that he could never be a part of her world again .

Now in a Vienna rife with political intrigue, Thomas harbors a perilous secret—and the only person who can aid him is the woman who has captured his heart.

Flawed but fascinating characters in The Secret Life of Lady Julia make it a story of love that is thwarted by societal mores and the ‘rules-controlled’ peerage of England. The taboos are difficult for the teenage Julia, who just wants to be loved, to obey.

Lady Julia Leighton, no longer is to be called ‘Lady’. She is a fallen woman, disowned, and reduced to working as a companion to a grieving widow Dorothea Hallam. She is the sister of Major Lord Stephen Ives who was a friend of Julia’s now-dead brother James. They are all traveling to the Peace Conference in Vienna after Napoleon was defeated and exiled to Elba. Even though Julia has fallen from her high station in society, she is no shrinking violet and her lifelong training to be a duchess serves her well. Moreover, baby Jamie would not have been if not for her indiscretion and that thought she could not bear. He is the joy of her life—her precious child.

Thomas Merritt seems unredeemable through much of the story, but the masterful unfolding of his character by author Lecia Cornwall kept me rooting for him. He too was disowned, accused of a deed he did not do. He has no home and no place he wants to go; he roams with his valet Patrick Donovan seeking places where he can steal from people who were once his peers. His charm or forged invitations get him into all the right places. However, his short encounter with Lady Julia at her betrothal ball haunts him, nags at him, and makes him long for her — her scent, her passion, her perfection.

Major Lord Stephen Ives is now a junior diplomat but had been in the Napoleonic wars where Julia’s brother saved his and many others’ lives. Worried about his sister Dorothea who uses laudanum to ease her grief over the death of her husband and little son, Stephen hires Julia to be her companion, but he also worries about how having a ‘ruined’ woman in his household that could affect his career. But an even bigger problem is his feelings for Julia. As his superior senior diplomat Lord Castlereagh drafts Julia to listen and watch for intrigues at social function, Stephen finds himself hard pressed to keep a balance with his career aspirations and his desire to make the smart, beautiful, skilled Julia his own.

While Lord Castlereagh is much pleased with Julia, Lady Castlereagh hates Julia and with the help of the depraved Lord Charles Stewart who is in charge of security for the England diplomatic entourage in Vienna, she plans to see that Julia is sent back to England with no recommendations and no funds.

Secondary characters like Princess Katrina Kostova of Russia, Prince de Ligne, and Talleyrand the French ambassador keep the cauldrons of intrigue and gossip bubbling; while characters like Erich, the King of Thieves in Vienna and Patrick Donovan, Thomas Merritt’s valet, reveal the unsavory underbelly of the beautiful city. All of them mix and mingle to influence what happens in the lives of the hero and heroine.

How Julia and Thomas Merritt get together in Vienna while he associates with the underbelly of the city and she moves among the elite makes page-turning reading. How both of them find favor with European movers and shakers gives the reader an inside peek of how people, regardless of their station in society, strive to realize their dreams.

While the Epilogue was a real “downer” for me, the main story plot and the sub-plots that enhance it are captivating and entertain from start to finish.

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