From 1998 through 2010, Lisa Kleypas published almost thirty historical romances. Her most recent historical, Love in the Afternoon, told the story of the last of the Hathaway siblings. Since then, Ms. Kleypas has written four well-received contemporary romances none of which have pacified her historical fans.
Was Cold-Hearted Rake worth the wait? I suspect Ms. Kleypas’ legion fans will say yes. And while I wouldn’t disagree, I wouldn’t put Cold-Hearted Rake on a list of Ms. Kleypas’ best. While its writing, secondary characters, and historical background are all excellent, the love affair didn’t seduce me.
The rake in question, Devon Ravenel, is a like many a Kleypas hero. He’s “harsh and tender,” handsome and strong, confident in the extreme. His parents’ disaster of a marriage convinced him love is an emotional calamity to avoid. He and his brother West live lives of happy dissipation. When Devon suddenly becomes the Earl of Trenear, he’s dismayed. Not only does he have the title’s responsibilities to manage, he’s saddled with the late Earl’s wife and three sisters.
The widow, Lady Kathleen, was married to the feckless previous earl for three days. Despite that, she feels responsible for his legacy and his unmarried sisters. When she learns that Devon plans to sell off the unentailed properties and evade his titular duties, she dismisses him as a cad. For his part, he thinks she’s hot as hell.
Kathleen’s and Devon’s relationship follows a familiar path. Devon is an alpha male who must become a better man. Kathleen, who is tiny and very feminine, must learn to listen to her heart and to her ladyparts. The two bicker, lust, and annoy each other. They also often annoyed me.
Devon begins as a man who says he’ll never love. Then by page 93, he wants Kathleen forever. Then, once he sort of has her, he again is a man who will never love. A few chapters later, he has a change of heart. And though he’s funny, sexy, smart, and (deep down) compassionate, his emotional equivocation makes him a frustrating hero. (He is also, at several points, an utter ass.)
Kathleen’s more straightforward. She’s a good woman determined to right by her ex-husband’s sisters. The most interesting thing about her is her Irish Catholic upbringing and her belief that pleasure is a sin. (Unless it’s riding her Arabian horse in a most unladylike manner.) She tells herself over and over and over Devon’s a cad and destined to hurt her. Kathleen and Devon’s relationship has heat—when the two do finally get passionate, theirs is a very steamy affair—but their love for each other isn’t especially convincing .
Fortunately, Kathleen and Devon are part of a larger cast of characters all of whom are engaging. Devon’s brother West is a wastrel who transforms the Trenear lands and, in the process, saves himself. All three Trenear sisters will clearly get their own books and that’s a good thing. In fact, the best couple in Cold-Hearted Rake isn’t Kathleen and Devon but rather Lady Helen Ravenel, the oldest sister, and Rhys Winterborne, a colleague of Devon’s. (I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Marrying Mr. Winterborne.)
Cold-Hearted Rake is well-written and full of sly humor and gorgeous description. I enjoyed all the historical tidbits and the never dull plotting. In fact, I liked everything about this book except for the romance. If Ms. Kleypas’ historicals have never been for you, this one won’t change your mind. But if you love every Hathaway and Wallflower tale, this book will entertain and, if you don’t mind a less than compelling love story, it may even enchant.