25 February 2014

When the Duke Was Wicked by Lorraine Heath (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
They are England’s most eligible bachelors, with the most scandalous reputations. But for the right woman, even an unrepentant rogue may mend his ways…

Lady Grace Mabry’s ample inheritance has made it impossible for her to tell whether a suitor is in love with her—or enamored of her riches. Who better to distinguish beau from blackguard than her notorious childhood friend, the Duke of Lovingdon?

With no interest in marriage, Lovingdon has long lived only for pleasure. He sees little harm in helping Grace find a proper match. After all, he’s familiar with all the ploys a scoundrel uses to gain a woman’s favor. He simply has to teach the lovely innocent how to distinguish honest emotions from false ones. How better than by demonstrating his wicked ways? But as lessons lead to torrid passion and Grace becomes ensnared in another man’s marriage plot, Lovingdon must wage a desperate gamble: Open his heart fully—or risk losing the woman he adores…

Henry, Duke of Lovingdon, seems of have gone off the deep end.  After losing his wife and daughter, he decides that being "good" does not earn God's reward or protection and decides that he's just going to be "bad".  If he's going to be punished, he ought to be doing things for which God might punish him.  Clarification: he still has principles so he's not going to turn into an axe-murderer or anything but he's definitely going to have too many women in his bed, he's going to drink too much, gamble too much, and risk his neck too much.  He certainly isn't going to risk putting his heart back together.  Fuck that.

His childhood best friend, Grace, watches all of this in silence.  Until she goes on the marriage market and discovers that the fortune hunters are thick on the ground.  She turns to Lovingdon to help her spot a fortune-hunter's "tells": it takes a rake to know one.  And Lovingdon helps her.  He hasn't got anything to lose and he would assist Grace's father and brothers in destroying any man who so much as hurt her...until it becomes very possible that he himself could be the very man to break Grace's heart - and his own - in the process.

Rake redemptions are some of my favorite romance plots (although, as "bad" as the rakes are depicted most of them aren't truly terrible; they all have principles - no actual law-breaking, no treating women badly, etc. - save Sebastian St. Vincent from Lisa Kleypas's Devil in Winter who truly has one hell of a hole dig himself out of to turn into a hero).  But is fun to watch as a "hardened rake" protests about never loving again, or liking his "freedom" too much, or his pig-headed determination to end his family line with himself over and over again only to suddenly have a religious conversion-like experience and find himself doing literally anything for the love of one single woman.  Lovingdon is a bit too angsty about his "I can never love again because Juliette" protestations at times but Heath does give him an interesting angle in his conviction that God should have rewarded him for being a good man but instead punished him.

Grace, for her part, is a character I really liked.  Sharp as a tack which in Victorian society means she knows exactly what is in store for her if she doesn't choose a husband wisely.  Grace is also has a very interesting secret, one that I don't think happens often on romance novels, and it's one that puts an interesting twist in Grace and Lovingdon's love story.  It's all very sweet - with the exception of an over-long Epilogue that I loathed and wanted to snip out of my DRC.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of When the Duke Was Wicked from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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