Desert Isle Keeper
A Rake's Guide to Seduction
Caroline Linden’s A Rake’s Guide to Seduction is one of her earliest published titles, having originally appeared in 2008. It’s now being reissued with a rather fetching new cover (in paperback), and as it’s a book I haven’t yet read, this gave me a good excuse reason to add it to my pile of review books. This, I quickly discovered, was a very good move, because it’s a lovely, gently moving character-driven romance featuring a young widow who is given second chance at love and the man who has secretly loved her for many years.
Anthony Hamilton, Viscount Langford, was a scandal from the moment he was born. Almost certainly a cuckoo in the nest, be grew into a wild boy and proceeded to get himself thrown out of three schools, after which, having finished his education at Oxford, he embarked upon a life of debauchery in London, his reputation as a high-stakes gamester and seducer of wealthy widows and bored wives very quickly earning him the blackest of reputations while also rendering him utterly fascinating to the members of the ton. The fact that he is gorgeous, remarkably discreet and closely guards his privacy only increases his allure.
Anthony – who, owing to his estrangement from his father now chooses to style himself as plain Mr. Hamilton – spent many of his holidays from school at Ainsley Park, the home of his closest friend, David Reece. David’s younger sister, Celia, remembers Anthony fondly; he’d been like another brother who helped launch her kites and tie her fishing lines. As he grew older and his reputation grew worse, her mother banned Anthony from visiting, although now Celia is ‘out’, she sees him from time to time and finds it amusing that he is now so very wicked that young ladies are afraid to do so much as walk past him alone. She has never believed him to be quite as black as he is painted; indeed, her own brothers have not exactly been pattern cards of propriety in the past and she can’t really see why Anthony should be singled out for such gossip and censure.
Celia is young, beautiful, vivacious and, as the sister of a duke, much sought after. After interrupting her and an over-amorous swain one evening, she and Anthony have the first real conversation they’ve had in a long time and he is suddenly struck by an almost unwelcome realisation – that she’s no longer the little girl he knew and that he’s in love with her and has been for some time. But it’s hopeless. No brother who truly cares about his sister is going to give her hand in marriage to a man with a reputation like Anthony’s… yet her image is burned into his brain, her lemon scent haunts him and he can’t forget their conversation:
“Anyone who took the trouble to know you would accept you,” Celia insisted ignoring his efforts to turn the subject.
“You’ve gone and ruled out every woman in England.” He leaned over the railing, squinting into the darkness.
“Except myself,” Celia declared and then she stopped. Good heavens, what had she just said?
The fact that she doesn’t see him as the decadent wastrel society believes him to be gives Anthony the courage to approach her brother to ask for permission to court her – only to be told that he has just sanctioned the betrothal between Celia and Lord Bertram, the young man who has gained her affections.
Four years pass, during which Celia discovers that the man she married was not the charming, solicitous young man she had fallen for, but was instead selfish, disgruntled, unfaithful and very quick to relegate her to the ranks of Things That Do Not Matter. His death from pneumonia sees Celia returning to her family, but she’s a very different young woman to the one who left amid such happiness and celebration. Subdued, quiet and depressed, Celia feels out of place and uncomfortable; everyone else has moved forward without her and in spite of her mother’s attempts to make it seem otherwise, Celia can’t pretend things haven’t changed.
Deeply worried about her daughter’s state of mind, the dowager decides to cheer Celia up by arranging a house party to which she invites many of her old friends. Her intentions are good, but being forced into company with these young women with whom she no longer has anything in common only serves to make Celia feel even more disconnected. The one bright spot is that her brother David has invited Anthony Hamilton to the party, and even though her mother is obviously not pleased that he is there, he’s the one person outside her family Celia is pleased to see and with whom she feels able to be herself. And Anthony, who is truly saddened at the change in Celia, determines to make her smile once more and, perhaps, to see if there is any possibility she could be persuaded to throw in her lot with the most scandalous man in society.
Caroline Linden has created a truly beautiful love story between two people whose lives haven’t been easy or turned out as they hoped. Celia’s depression is sympathetically and realistically presented, as is her growth from someone blinded by a childish ideal of love to a more mature woman who is able to recognise and accept real, deep love and affection. Her worry that because she made the wrong choice once she may do so again is understandable, but ultimately, she doesn’t allow that fear to control her and I found her willingness to open her heart again to be admirable.
As for Anthony… well, he’s dreamy. *sigh* He’s no saint, but he’s no rake, either; his reputation is largely the result of gossip and misunderstanding which, because of his reluctance to discuss it has become a self-perpetuating myth. Over the years he has learned to ignore what is said of him; as he tells Celia, even if he told the truth, nobody would believe him. One of the loveliest moments in the book is the point at which Celia realises he has never had anyone in his corner to stand up for him, and then determines she will be that person.
The romance between Celia and Anthony is beautifully developed, and there’s never any question they are perfect for one another and that their love for each other is genuine. The author writes with insight about society marriages of the time through the words and attitudes of Celia’s friends who have become bitter and bitchy; and I rather liked the hint of a romance blossoming between her somewhat starchy mother and Anthony’s big, braw, Scottish uncle.
The book’s one flaw is in the sudden plot twist thrown in near the end, which is why I ended up not giving it a straight A grade; the story doesn’t really need it, although I did appreciate it as an opportunity for Celia to show her faith in Anthony in the face of the doubts exhibited by everyone around her.
Caroline Linden is a ‘must-read’ author for me these days, and she’s one of a handful of historical romance authors who is able to craft a satisfying love story that functions within the social conventions of the time and in which the characters are believably rooted in the nineteenth century rather than being a group of twenty-first century people in period dress. Finding time to read favourite authors’ back-catalogues is difficult given the number of new books I read and review, but I’m really glad I made time for this one. A Rake’s Guide to Seduction is highly recommended.