28 May 2016

Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt (Maiden Lane #9)

Summary from Goodreads:

Prim, proper, and thrifty, Eve Dinwoody is all business when it comes to protecting her brother's investment. But when she agrees to control the purse strings of London's premier pleasure garden, Harte's Folly, she finds herself butting heads with an infuriating scoundrel who can't be controlled.


Bawdy and bold, Asa Makepeace doesn't have time for a penny-pinching prude like Eve. As the garden's larger-than-life owner, he's already dealing with self-centered sopranos and temperamental tenors. He's not about to let an aristocratic woman boss him around . . . no matter how enticing she is.


In spite of her lack of theatrical experience—and her fiery clashes with Asa—Eve is determined to turn Harte's Folly into a smashing success. But the harder she tries to manage the stubborn rake, the harder it is to ignore his seductive charm and raw magnetism. There's no denying the smoldering fire between them—and trying to put it out would be the greatest folly of all.

I adore Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series.  Each book is distinct, yet they all link together through shared characters and families.  For some reason, I didn't get to Sweetest Scoundrel when it came out last November - I had a DRC from Netgalley but I couldn't get it read before it expired and then I just had other things to read (yes, I know my diamond shoes are too tight).  However, Duke of Sin is due out in just a few days so I knew I had to get this one read - that whole "I must read romance series in order" disease is a real drag sometimes.  (I jest.)

We first met Eve Dinwoody as she was being introduced to the Ladies' Syndicate for the Foundling Home in Maiden Lane in Dearest Rogue.  It turned out that her half-brother, the Duke of Montgomery, had blackmailed another member of the Syndicate to introduce Eve so that he might have access to Lady Penelope Batten for his own reasons (which make sense only to him).  Now that Penelope's brother, the Duke of Wakefield, has forced Montgomery to leave England due to the events in Dearest Rogue, Eve has taken over the management of her brother's investment in Harte's Folly (the pleasure garden that burned to the ground in Duke of Midnight and started rebuilding in Darling Beast - I told you the books link together).  When Eve thinks that the elusive Mr. Harte has overspent his budget, she pays him an eye-opening visit.

Mr. Harte is none-other than Asa Makepeace (as in an elder brother to Temperance, Silence, and Winter who have all appeared in their own books) and Eve has roused him from a very warm bed occupied by the pleasure garden's star soprano.  The meeting does not go well.  Eve thinks he's a dilettante wasting money, Asa thinks she's a stuffy busybody with no appreciation for good theatre.  But a series of incidents - some minor, some life-threatening - cause Eve and Asa to warily join forces.

Asa and Eve are a really good couple.  Eve has to work through some childhood trauma to allow Asa to get close to her (this leads to a really well-written "no touching" scene).  Asa has to rid himself of the sizeable chip on his shoulder as regards his family - we are actually given an extended look at the Makepeace family during a party and I think that's something we've all been looking forward to since Wicked Intentions (PS: for fans of Charming Mickey, he's there!).  There are a lot of small details in this novel that are really sweet.  Her bodyguard Jean-Marie has a good story and I wonder if Hoyt might one day give us a novella about how he wooed Tess, Eve's cook who is now his wife.  Eve has a small side-business painting miniatures.  There's a sweet doggie, too, since Hoyt does pets really well.

However, I don't think this is another slam-dunk entry in the series.  It's really good but there's so much going on in Sweetest Scoundrel that it sometimes overshadows the love story.  There's all the action going on in the pleasure garden with construction, and staff turnover, and personal relationships among the performers, and weird accidents.  And there's a B-plot involving the Duke of Montgomery's blackmailing victims and his housekeeper Mrs. Crumb who is trying to recover the blackmail evidence for said victims and the possibility that the duke really hasn't left England at all.  It's too much extra plot, too much set-up for the next book (possibly the next three books if I read some of it right) so that when the resolution comes it feels rushed so that we can get a preview of the next book.

Now, given what Montgomery did in Dearest Rogue and that he has done jack-smack to make himself sympathetic to the reader, Hoyt has some work to do to rehabilitate Val in the upcoming Duke of Sin and turn him into the hero.  He's dug himself a very, very deep hole.  There are bad-boys and then there's Montgomery and I'm really looking forward to his book.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from NetGalley, but I wasn't able to get to it so I bought a copy.

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