Desert Isle Keeper

The Wicked One

Danelle Harmon

Let’s get one thing straight: despite the insipid cover, Lucien de Montforte is much too smart to go out in the snow in a cloak and no shirt, although he does occasionally go coatless. I had great expectations for the conclusion of the de Montforte series, and on this crucial point I was completely satisfied: that The Wicked One maintains his essential “wickedness” in his own book, with a love interest to match.

If you’re new to the series, The Wicked One begins where The Defiant One’s cliffhanger left off: American agent Eva de la Mouriere has broken into Lucien’s bedroom to find a potent aphrodisiac. Since he’s swapped potions before, she pulls a gun and orders him to test the aphrodisiac on himself. He smiles, closes the door, and removes his coat. The foreplay ends with Eva disappearing into the night, a wounded Lucien roaring after her. (Yes, it’s over the top to have him stitch up his own leg. No, I don’t care.)

Lucien’s hobby is manipulating his brothers for their own good, and now it’s his sister’s turn. Impatient with their vague promises, Lucien ships Nerissa’s sweetheart off to Spain on the theory that absence will make the heart grow fonder. The scheme goes wrong when the ship goes down. Only someone with French connections can confirm Perry’s fate, so Lucien turns to Eva for help. Eva agrees, but winds up more entangled with Lucien than she’d like – pregnant with his child, in fact. When Lucien’s irate siblings find out, they decide to ensnare the spider in his own web.

Kudos to Ms. Harmon for pulling off the difficult feat of bringing Lucien to life. Scheming geniuses make tricky viewpoint characters. Kudos, also, for meeting the corollary to the challenge and creating a worthy partner. Eva is Lucien’s equal, an excellent competitor and ideal playmate. Most romance couples have complementary strengths and weaknesses; I adore the rarer couples who match each other exactly. Eva is every bit as smart, dangerous, and difficult as Lucien; it’s Machiavelli meets Lucrezia Borgia, and the sparks they do fly. Lucien is more aroused by Eva’s brains and power than he is by her beauty, a compliment to strong women everywhere.

Lucien is the ultimate control freak, consumed by his role as the leader of the family. But inside is a lonely little boy forced to assume too much responsibility too young, and it’s delightful and touching when that little boy comes out to play. With one seemingly innocent gesture Lucien nonchalantly sends his entire household into chaos; his delight in the uproar is like a child stirring an anthill to see everyone scramble in his wake. Eva makes a great playmate, but she’s much more than Lucien’s foil, as she battles demons of her own. She’s the only person to whom Lucien will cede control, and he does so almost immediately, a testimony to his belief that they are equals.

The book contained one major letdown; as a result, my grade is an A- rather than a straight A. The rest of the de Montfortes never acknowledge the tremendous debt they owe to Lucien, their only parent for most of their lives. There was so much fuming about the nerve of Lucien manipulating them all into their blissful marriages that I was certain it would lead to some sort of reckoning on both sides. Everyone agrees that Lucien needs to be taken down a few pegs, but no one ever relieves him of the excessive guilt he assumes, as he has done for them. Lessons are learned, but I worry they may be the wrong lessons. I could have done with about 30 more pages of family interactions, culminating in a huge schmaltzy reaffirmation all round.

But even without the outpouring I craved, it’s clear that Lucien’s family loves him, and that he and Eva have earned their HEA ending. If it’s good enough for them, I guess it will have to be good enough for me. Except in the event that Nerissa and Perry get a sequel of their own, in which case: outpourings and affirmations. I want outpourings and affirmations, and no expense spared.

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