"Am I too wicked, your grace?"
"My love, if I may be honest-"
"You are not wicked enough."
Why I read it: I won an ARC from the author. I promised a review - no hardship really because I review every book I read. The book is out February 7.
What it's about: (from Goodreads) When Lily Wellstone heads to the Bitterward Estate to comfort her widowed friend Eugenia, she certainly does not have romance in mind. In fact, the playful but level-headed Lily is amused to no end when, en route, a Gypsy gifts her with a beautiful medallion, claiming it will ensnare the romantic desires of a stranger.
But fate has other plans in the form of Eugenia’s ruggedly handsome brother, the Duke of Mountjoy. One day at Bitterward and Lily can’t deny the sizzling attraction between her and the roguish duke. Nothing can come of it, of course. She’s not looking for entanglements and he’s practically engaged. But whether it’s her outgoing nature and the duke’s outlandish ways sparking off one another; or the mysterious gypsy medallion working “magic,”—hearts are stirring in the most unexpected and wicked ways. . .
What worked for me and what didn't: I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Lily and Mountjoy (oh, how I wish I knew his Christian name!) were very engaging. The scenes where they are together (and fortunately, there are many of them, including the first one) are the best in the book. Their attraction sizzles off the page and there is much sexy repartee and double entendre. (In fact, I thought the Duke's very name was a double entendre). Watching this couple fall in love was delightful really.
"What will you do with all your drawings?" Mountjoy stayed where he was.
She shrugged. "Assemble them into a book I should think. I'll call it A Study of England's Ancient Homes, Volume the First and publish under a man's name. Professor L. Carter Farnsworth. What do you think of that for a scholar's name?" ...
"That Professor Farnsworth cannot fail to find a publisher for such a work. There must be upward of a half a dozen people in the whole of His Majesty's Empire who would put such a book in pride of place in their library."
"Would you?" She cocked her head, "Acquire me for your library?"
"My dear Wellstone, I would love to have you in my library."
"Between the royal quarto sheets, your grace?"
He didn't answer right away, because he was trying not to laugh. "But of course."
Lily is not innocent and doesn't pretend to be. Right from the start, she gives as good as she gets in the repartee department. Lily is also the life of any party, the one who leads others into mischief (be careful or she may - accidentally, of course - set fire to your house) and who, seemingly effortlessly, manipulates everyone around her into good cheer. She is also kind and generous so her managing ways are generally welcomed. Lily is an unashamed fashionista - she likes things arranged and displayed pleasingly - herself, her food and others - Mountjoy, unfortunately could care less about clothes and Lily is, frankly, appalled at his lack of fashion sense and his carelessness of his appearance. Given what I've said about her "managing ways" you will not be surprised that Mountjoy is much better dressed by the end of the book!
Mountjoy came late to the title - he was found by an attorney investigating whether the line had died out. Raised as a gentleman farmer, Mountjoy likes to get his hands dirty and work alongside his men. He is very industrious and takes his responsibilities seriously but, partly because he wasn't raised that way and partly because of his nature, he doesn't spend much time (read, any) on the social niceties. (Lily helps to teach him the practical value of it however.)
Because of his upbringing, Mountjoy doesn't really have any "airs and graces" like the usual kind of duke we see in romance novels. He is entirely a gentlemen, he's not a clod or anything, but he's not stuffy. People think him dour and serious but he's not uptight or rigid.
Miss Lily Wellstone couldn't possibly be a virgin.
Neither was he.
Wasn't that a happy coincidence?
How refreshing for a hero to be happy about his lady not being 'pure'? *happy sigh*
Lily's first love was a man named Greer. They were to be married and anticipated the wedding before he went off to war. He didn't come back. Lily is presented as someone who will not love again out of fear for her heart but really, she wasn't that careful with her heart once she met Mountjoy and I didn't find this a compelling conflict. Mountjoy was "practically engaged" to a local girl, Jane Kirk - which just meant that everyone expected he would marry her but he hadn't actually asked Jane or made her or her father any promises of any sort. So, again, not really a barrier. And that for me was the part of the book which didn't work so well. I didn't think there was any real reason for them to be apart. In terms of birth, status, wealth, inclination and everything else, they were exceptionally well suited. Lily's fear wasn't sufficiently explored to make it a meaningful conflict for me. There were no flashback scenes with Greer and Lily together and I found it difficult as a reader to connect with her past relationship or feelings for Greer, especially when Mountjoy was so very present in the story. On the one hand, I appreciated there was never any great info dump; on the other, perhaps a little more about Lily and Greer would have made me more sympathetic to this barrier to the Lily/Mountjoy match. As it was, I felt that Lily got over her aversion to marrying too easily considering the set up.
Lily's father was also presented as a barrier to Lily's happiness. He had disowned her publicly after her relationship with Greer and she had gone to live with an aunt who later died and left her scads of money. Lily's father later became bankrupt and having nowhere else to go, went to live with Lily. They do not have a happy relationship but we never see him on the page in person. He is only ever referred to and talked about. I felt disconnected from this part of the storyline because he was always so far away. I didn't understand why Lily would feel any loyalty to him such as to keep her and Mountjoy apart. And, in the end, Lily's father wasn't actually a barrier at all and there was basically no mention of him having anything to do with their HEA (or trying to stop it).
Rather late in the story, there was a conversation Lily had with Fenris (who I suspect is the hero of the next book in the series) where she expresses, at the least, ambivalence about having children. However, this isn't really explored with Mountjoy at all - given it was raised in the book, I was surprised it didn't feature between the main characters as an obstacle. I was left wondering whether Lily wanted children or not. Perhaps this will be addressed in the next book, as the heroine, I expect, is Ginny, Mountjoy's sister and Lily's BFF - so we might see Lily and Mountjoy in that story.
There was a, sort of, secondary romance in the book which I felt was fairly obvious - again, this led me back to the not much conflict thing, but I won't say more as I don't want to give away any spoilers.
The Gypsy medallion plays a role in the story, but I never felt it was the reason Lily and Mountjoy got together. The share some sexy dreams which lead to a bit of sexy dom/sub role play but the "paranormal" aspect to the story was very gentle.
As a story of two people falling in love, the book worked very well. It was sexy, funny and at the same time, gentle (ie, not angst ridden). It also has a hero who is tall, dark and brooding but also sexy, witty and comfortable in his skin and totally not an asshat. (so rare!).
What else? I enjoyed Lily and Mountjoy very much. I liked reading about them and their exploits and they certainly had a lot of wonderful chemistry. However, I was never fully sold on the reasons they were supposedly unable to be together beyond a brief secret affair and for me, that meant the book lacked that "how will they manage to get their HEA by the end of the story?" angst. It was nevertheless a very enjoyable reading experience.
She tugged on his lapels. "I wish you weren't so tall," she said. "I thought I liked that about you, but I don't. Not in the least."
"Is this better?" He lowered his head to hers.
At last his mouth brushed hers.
Also, I learned a new meaning for the word "fetch". Throwing the rope to my dog will never be the same again. :)