In Love With a Wicked Man
In Love With a Wicked Man is the latest from prolific romance writer Liz Carlyle and her writing experience shows in this book. There are a few minor criticisms that keep this book from DIK status, but overall it was a very enjoyable read.
Ned Quartermaine is the illegitimate son of an aristocratic lady. His father is a crass and loathsome man who has no use for his son until he discovers Ned’s affinity for numbers from the headmaster who is tossing ten-year-old Ned out of school…again. Instead of attempting to enroll Ned in yet another school for high born sons, Mr. Hedge sets him up in his gaming hell to learn the business so he can increase profits. Ned learns his lesson well and eventually comes to own the business. Now thirty years old, Ned is the master of his domain with none to question him. When Reggie (Lord Reginald Hoke) loses big at the gaming tables, Ned takes the deed to Reggie’s ancestral home, Heatherfields, as payment. To make sure that Reggie has not cozened him with a worthless property, Ned decides to take a little trip to Heatherfields to look over his new property.
Kate Wentworth, Lady d’Allenay is the beneficiary of one of the few baronies in all of England that allows the title to pass through the female line. When her brother Stephan is killed in an accident, she becomes the Baroness of Bellecombe Castle in her own right. Her profligate father and reckless brother left the estate in near bankruptcy and Kate has worked her fingers to the bone to bring the estate books back into the black. At twenty-eight and “plain,” Kate considers herself firmly on the shelf. She once had an offer from neighbor Reggie Hoke, but after catching him in flagrante delicto, Kate breaks her betrothal to her childhood friend. She has since resigned herself to the fact that Bellecombe will be her only legacy and her sister Nancy her heir.
But Nancy is the cause of her worries when the book opens. Nancy is madly in love with and wishes to marry the local rector. As Nancy is not yet of age, her Uncle Upshaw is her guardian and wants Nancy to experience life outside of her little community before committing herself. Nancy is not happy and wants to marry NOW. On top of that, Kate’s flighty and extravagant mother Aurelie is coming for a visit and bringing her wild friends with her. Kate is at her wit’s end trying to sooth Nancy’s broken heart and figure out a way for Aurelie not to send Bellecombe back into debt. When she takes her horse out on a wild ride to escape her responsibilities, she nearly runs into a man on horseback. He is thrown from his horse and hits his head…hard. Once Kate discovers she had not killed the man, she gets him to Bellecombe to recuperate. When the man awakes, he has amnesia. From his belongings Kate and her maid discover his name is Edward but nothing else is there to identify him. As Edward struggles to regain his strength and his memory, he and Kate become much closer.
The best part of this book is the relationship between Kate and Edward and a romance cannot get any more authentic than that. Kate is strong, outspoken and does not have a missish bone in her body. She is old enough to know her mind and after years of running her estate, she has the confidence that success brings. Most of all she is realistic and refuses to let silly romantic notions guide her behavior. I loved Kate as a heroine and despite her self-described plainness, Kate’s inner beauty shines through in this book. Edward “Ned” Quartermaine is imbued with most of the romantic clichés afforded an alpha male: Brooding personality, cynical outlook on life, emotional control, security in his masculinity, etc. In Ms. Carlyle’s hands though, these clichés seem almost fresh and engaging. As Edward, Ned’s true personality comes to the fore and he is very open and humorous with Kate. The banter between them is wonderful.
By the time Edward finally regains his memory, Kate’s mother Aurelie and her entourage have arrived along with their now divested neighbor Lord Reginald Hoke. Now that Reggie has nothing, he wants Kate back and will do anything to get her. Edward doesn’t want that to happen, but he will not offer for her himself. Thus the stage is set for the major conflict of the book. Edward’s inability to come to the point with Kate is the weakest part of this story. While he did have a point in declaring that his reputation in society would harm Nancy should she have a debut in London, the self-deprecation combined with his noble intentions not to harm Kate went on just a little too long and that caused the action to drag in places.
The amnesia trope is one that is overused in the genre, but despite that fact Carlyle seems to make her take seem fresh in comparison. Carlyle does a wonderful job with the secondary characters of Nancy, Aurelie and the steward Mr. Anstruthers. Reggie is a bit too much of a caricature, but he plays the foil to Edward well. Liz Carlyle fans will be well pleased with her latest effort and fall a little bit in love with Kate and Edward in the process.