Second Sight by Amanda Quick
2006; first in Arcane Society series
The series is romantic suspense with a strong touch of paranormal, and the stories are historical, contemporary or futuristic. The stories under the Quick pen name are set in Victorian England.
The Arcane Society is basically a secret club devoted to examining “psychical phenomenon”. The members are described as “obsessive, reclusive eccentrics” and are paranoid in their insistence on secrecy. The society was founded two hundred years ago by an alchemist who wanted to develop a formula to enhance people’s paranormal/psychic powers. The story opens with the decendants of the Alchemist discovering his hidden tomb and the secrets it contains.
Venetia Milton is hired by the Society to come to Arcane House and photograph the collection of artifacts and relics. After the death of her parents, Venetia has used her photography business to support her siblings and maiden aunt, and the impressive payment from the Arcane Society for her task will enable her to move her family to London and set up as a fashionable society photographer. But before doing that, she wants a chance to experience physical passion by having a short, clandestine affair—since she’s too old and poor now to attract a husband. Plus, few people outside her family would understand her odd little talent of seeing people’s auras.
Gabriel Jones, son of the current Master of the Society and great-great-whatever of the founder, is Venetia’s host at Arcane House and definitely responds to Venetia’s tentative seduction. But their night of passion is interrupted by housebreakers and Gabriel sends the household away to safety while his “hunter” psyche takes over to deal with the intruders. Venetia is devastated to later read a newspaper article about Gabriel’s death and the destruction by fire of Arcane House. However, there is a silver lining. To establish a staid and non-scandalous presence in London, she plans to present herself as a widow—and why not go by the name Mrs. Jones?
Unfortunately, newspaper articles can be wrong. Venetia’s careful plans and her success as a London photographer are threatened when her “husband” appears in society alive and well. And insists to her that she is in danger from the unknown enemy trying to steal the old Alchemist’s secret formula. Now Venetia and her oddly talented family must play along, pretending joy at her husband’s return. But she also insists on becoming very involved in helping Gabriel find the villain.
I always enjoy Quick’s heroines. They are assertive, intelligent women trying to function in a society that expects them to be subservient to men. They sensibly choose mates who can respect them and allow them to be what they are.
I love the “sound” of the dialogue in this story, it adds so much to the authentic feel of the period setting. It isn’t that there are words used then but not now, but rather the patterns and rhythms of speech.
My only complaint with the story was the basic set-up of why Gabriel presented himself publicly as Venetia’s lost husband. It’s pointed out that the name Jones is so common, there was no real link to him and no need for him to join her subterfuge. Gabriel’s reasons, related to his belief the hidden enemy would be after Venetia, just didn’t seem plausible to me. The situation came across as forced and fake, something the author shoved into the story in order to set up the continuing relationship between Gabriel and Venetia.