A Hint of Wicked
Jennifer Haymore’s debut novel, A Hint of Wicked, is another romance with an older and more experienced heroine – in this case, not a widow, but a lady who suddenly finds herself with two husbands. While this basic plotline is reminiscent of Mary Balogh’s Tangled (down to the detail that the two young men are cousins who grew up together), in execution it’s less angsty and more erotic, and actually pleased me better than Tangled did.
The novel begins in the aftermath of Waterloo, with Sophie James, the Duchess of Calton, anxiously awaiting news of her husband Garrett. His aide-de-camp arrives and informs her of Garrett’s wounding and subsequent disappearance in action, but although she is shaken to the core, she knows she must be strong for the sake of her unborn child, and that she can depend on the assistance of her very dear friend (and Garrett’s cousin and heir) Tristan James, Viscount Westcliff, and his wife.
In the course of the next eight years, Sophie’s daughter is born, Tristan’s wife dies in childbirth, Garrett is declared dead after seven years without a trace, making Tristan the new Duke, and finally Sophie and Tristan get married. When the novel resumes, they have been happy together for nine months, and although they both remember Garrett with great fondness and mourn his passing, they exult in the bliss they have found together. One night, to fulfil a secret desire of Sophie’s that she has disclosed to him, Tristan ties her to their bed (the one she used to share with Garrett) and makes love to her, ignoring some noise they can hear from the hall. It is in this supremely inconvenient moment that Garrett comes crashing into the room, accompanied by a friend. Garrett did not know of his wife’s remarriage, so the sight before him comes as a terrible shock, and he reacts by throwing his weight around and locking Sophie and Tristan in separate bedrooms. He demands his wife back and instigates legal action the next morning.
Tristan has always loved Sophie, even before his first marriage, and he is determined not to let her go now. With the help of a lawyer, he prepares a countersuit to defend the validity of their marriage, and he supports Sophie at every turn. He is both very caring and ready to jump into action when the situation warrants it, his only fear being that Sophie might be lost to him.
Having read so far, I was inclined to think Garrett the villain of the piece. After all, Sophie can’t stay married to two husbands, and having witnessed the rapport between her and Tristan, I thought I had the hero pinpointed and knew what was to happen to Garrett. Then we slip inside Garrett’s mind, and my perspective shifted. Garrett had been gravely wounded and spent those eight years working as a peasant in Belgium, until he ran into a former officer who had served under him and recognized him. This triggered his regaining his memories, but he is still overwhelmed by the way they come upon him in chunks, and by the role he is suddenly supposed to fulfill. He remembers his wife as sweetly compliant, and he is not at all prepared to deal with the self-confident woman she has become.
Sophie soon understands that Garrett’s bullying is his way of handling his insecurities, and she deals with him with both backbone and common sense. I liked her a lot. I liked her even more when it became clear that her feelings for the two men were anything but clear-cut. As different as they are, she loves both with a deep and abiding passion, and she feels erotically drawn to each of them. Although it is probably historically unlikely to have a Christian lady of the period suffer so few pangs of conscience for desiring two men at once, I didn’t mind because I liked the fact it wasn’t all-or-nothing for her, and that she took the time to find out what she truly wanted. But consider yourselves warned: If a heroine who lusts (and more) after two men at the same time consitutes a red flag for you, this is not the book for you.
While the first two thirds of the book mostly explore the emotional and erotic dilemmas the protagonists find themselves in, the last third has a distinctly gothic feel to it. I enjoyed the latter very much, as it depends not on place but on the difficulty of how to countermand evil with little time and even less means at one’s disposal. The ending is sweet and satisfying and a bit sad at the same time, with several threads left open, and I expect these will be dealt with in the sequel.
All in all I liked A Hint of Wicked a lot, and read it in one sitting. While it was a bit wallpaper-y, I found its treatment of human emotions refreshingly honest – sometimes feelings are just not clear-cut, and it was great to see this discussed here. So you should consider your inner moral/romantic scale before you buy it, but if you can handle the ethical issues, you are in for a pleasant and gripping read.