All our ships come in in possibly the steamiest episode of Tremontaine to date, as friends explore boundaries – or lack thereof – and the Duchess, having permitted young Lord Lionel to seduce her (well, that’s how he sees it), meets tantalising foreign beauty Esha. Fans at the ready, please…

And I thought last week set my pulse rating as Vincent smouldered his way through Riverside. I had absolutely no idea just what the writers of Tremontaine are prepared to serve up in Season Two. The gloves are coming off, my friends. And the frocks. And the breeches. And the rest.

Tess is cornered in The Brown Dog (and I’m only slightly unnerved that this is the name of my favourite local, honestly) by Riverside villains Florian and Shade, exuding their usual moustache-twirling and hard man menace respectively. I think this is the first time we’ve seen the world through Tess’s eyes, and it’s not pretty: she rapidly guts any romantic notions that may have lingered about life in Riverside.

Growing up poor on the wrong side of the tracks has shaped her life. A poor decision at a young age lost her what little comfort she had (her family) and she made a bonfire of her self-regard to win it back. She may be respected as Riverside’s best forger now, but it’s been a long, hard trek – and Florian, being a bully, is quick to remind her of past vulnerability in an attempt to unsettle her. Shade has more direct methods, and I was impressed with Tess’s presence of mind in facing down his overt threat.

Shock hits her when she reaches the safe space of her home, finding her lover and her protector locked in practice combat (rather than doing something useful like tidying up, or cooking dinner). With Tess overcome by tears, we swap to Vincent’s point of view, and… there are fireworks. He and Kaab gather their lovely girl between them, and various attractions that have been simmering away come to the boil. Tess needs all the comfort, and Kaab is perfectly happy to go along for the ride. So to speak. It’s a logistical challenge, apparently, but thankfully complex, coordinated actions were a specialty of his. Lucky ladies.

Naya Rivera fanning herself with her hand.
Did it get hot in here?

We cross town to cool off, where a restless Diane is reinvigorated (purrrr) by a visit from delicious young Arthur Chel. He remains keen to enter her service (stop it!) and is all innocent enthusiasm and convenient vices (gambling, obviously). I remain suspicious of young Arthur. He accepts a position (I’m sorry, I’ll stop, honestly) on Diane’s staff as a messenger, and is promptly dispatched to the University to find out more about Micah (and Diane, we will have words if you harm one hair on that young lady’s head). I still suspect Arthur may be a plant. He’s just a little too convenient, and surely Kaab is enough of a liability for any Trading Family to be going on with?

Young Lionel Chesney, on the other hand, is exactly what he seems to be: a well-heeled young nobleman with immense regard for himself and all the bad habits of his type (so amply demonstrated in The Fall of the Kings). This makes him perfectly malleable, as far as Diane is concerned, and it takes no work at all to hook him and reel him in – while letting him think it’s all his idea. I… am going to struggle to like Lionel. He may have been the best of a bad bunch at Convocation, but he’s still a young rake. He does have some redeeming features – he takes his lusts to brothels rather than inflicting them on the servants (grrrr) – and he’s a clever, ambitious young man keen to impress a certain Basil Halliday (BASIL!). Perhaps Basil can make a better man of him. I’d much rather be spending time with Basil. Does it show?

Thankfully, Lionel sweeps out early to go to an Exchequer meeting, leaving Diane at leisure in the house of a lady of negotiable affections – if unassailable virtue. Esha is a foreigner, her house adorned with erotic art and excellent bed linens, but the chatter at Convocation suggested strongly that while she allows the young lordlings to chase after her, none have had the pleasure of catching her.

I like Esha. She’s smart, quick-tempered, independent and direct. The idea of her and Kaab striking up a friendship fills me with certainty that half the City would end up in flames. Diane finds Esha bound in silk and dancing with swords, and if that weren’t titillating enough, our good Duchess finds herself quite incapable of looking away from her breasts.

We’ve had occasional hints that Diane’s interests may not be strictly heterosexual; this scene adds fuel to the fire and pours on some petrol just to be sure, as Esha darts from confrontation to suggestion with a speed that left me gasping. And then they drink tea. Tea. Oh yes, I like Esha enormously.

Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoninette wearing feathers, lacy stockings and a fan. Hallo milady.
“Something tells me, lady, that you are a little wilder than you seem”

It’s almost a relief to spend some time with Rafe and Micah to cool off. Rafe is increasingly frustrated at home, both by his mother’s well-meaning but inappropriate attempts to coddle him (into dinner or marriage, depending on the day) and by his inability to make the books add up. It never seems to occur to him that the books might not add up – that the failing isn’t his, but a question of dishonesty. Poor Rafe. His self-confidence has taken a lot of knocks this year.

So it’s heart warming that he decides to go for a tomato pie visit with Micah (who he finds adorably excited at the acquisition of a chalkboard for her bedroom. We love you, Micah. Never change). When he hears about the recent trip to the Brown Dog, he storms off to scold Joshua – only to find himself surrounded by old friends in the Blackbird’s Nest, sick at heart. Our boy has some more soul searching to do before he finds his true north again – in the meantime, he’s swimming in sad circles. We may not always have got on, but I do pity him.

We end the week in Kaab’s company. Having stormed out of (another) row with Tess, she has got back to work on trying to track down the chocolate thieves. A daughter of the Balam must not shirk her duties (away from home, at least; I’m sorry, Kaab, but no matter how determined you are to keep Tess safe from the Twins, I think you should be doing your share around the house). However, I must give her her due: she is in the right place at the right time to get a glimpse of the miscreants – if she can remember, given the explosion that knocks her from her perch…

This was another authorial debut, and for the second week in a row I’m excited by the new voice on the team. I assume that Mary Anne Mohanraj can take full credit for Esha, and it’s wonderful to see the world slowly opening up as these new faces arrive in the City (or at least make themselves known). I shan’t assume that every Mohanraj episode will be quite so steamy, but I look forward to more fireworks in future!

Tremontaine is available from Serial Box Publishing in ebook and audio format each week.