Stephanie Laurens, . . Morrow, $22.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-06-050575-2

The latest in Laurens's beloved Cynster series takes a gothic turn, wrapping suspense and eroticism into a potent package. Dashing Gerrard Debbington is an acclaimed landscape painter, Lord Vane Cyster's protégé, and the ton's most eligible bachelor. All he lacks is the chance to paint the beautiful, unusual gardens at Hellebore Hall, the Cornwall home of reclusive Lord Tregonning. One day, the opportunity drops in his lap—so long as he agrees to also paint a portrait of Lord Tregonning's daughter. Reluctant to spend months in the company of a vapid society chit, Gerrard almost refuses, but the lure of the gardens proves too strong. At Hellebore Hall, Gerrard discovers that he's in deeper than he bargained for. Jacqueline, Lord Tregonning's daughter, is a remarkable young woman, and she inspires both his artistic passion and his love. She is also widely suspected to be the cause of two deaths: that of her former fiancé, who disappeared two years before, and her mother, who mysteriously fell to her death into the brooding Garden of Night. Lord Tregonning, convinced that a good portrait portrays the true nature of its subject, believes that Gerrard's depiction of Jacqueline will prove his daughter's innocence. So who is the real killer? The heat between Gerrard and Jacqueline sizzles and sparks, and the story consistently surprises in Laurens's best Regency yet. (Mar.)