Lord Ravenscar's Inconvenient Betrothal
In this second Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies novel, Lara Temple re-introduces us to her trio of former officers (current best friends) damaged by their pasts and profoundly changed by their shared wartime experiences. Wealthy, attractive and publicly infamous as rakes, they privately work tirelessly on behalf of a charitable foundation they’ve established to help struggling veterans.
After a fire destroys Hope House in Bristol (there are several Hope Houses throughout England), friends Lord Hunter, Lord Stanton and Alan Rothwell, Marquess of Ravenscar, are scrambling to provide alternate accommodation for the veterans who called it home. The foundation is deep in negotiations to buy Hollywell House from Ravenscar’s childhood friend when the plan hits a snag: Alan’s friend dies suddenly and the new owner has no wish to sell. Determined to sort things out, Alan sets out for Somerset, his temper growing worse the closer he gets to Hollywell and to Ravenscar Hall, the estate he and his sister Caroline once called home. Sent to live with their grandparents after the death of their parents, the pair suffered under the strict and brutal discipline of their grandfather, and for Alan, Hollywell House, the friends he had there and the library had been a sanctuary. The day his sister Caroline married, he enlisted and vowed never to return as long as his grandparents were alive.
Heiress Lily Wallace hopes her ownership of Hollywell House might be the key to living life on her own terms. After an unconventional upbringing – first with her mother on a remote island in Brazil and then, after her mother’s death, in Jamaica with her wealthy father and his many mistresses – her father passed away leaving her massive inheritance tied up in a trust. When he was alive, his trustees obeyed her every wish, but now that he’s dead, they’ve balked at Lily’s requests for money. She spent a year in mourning at the house of an aged and distant cousin, but after the Kingston gossip-mongers drove her out of Jamaica, she moved to England and – temporarily – Ravenscar Hall, the home of Lady Jezebel Ravenscar, a friend of her parents’. She’s secretly contemplating moving on her own to Hollywell, and after a visit to the local village of Keynsham, she stops at there with her groom (and bodyguard) and discovers, to her dismay, someone has ransacked the library. She’s standing amid the mess when a handsome stranger enters the library and insinuates she caused the destruction.
This first meeting between Alan and Lily doesn’t go well. A smugly condescending Alan initially assumes she’s slightly deranged and Lily’s refusal to tell him who she is aggravates him further, as does the fact that she appears impervious to his flirtations or good looks. For her part, Lily is intrigued by the handsome stranger who mistakenly believes he has some sort of claim on Hollywell. She parries his interest in her with questions of her own and tries not to be affected by his naughty flirtations. When the conversation descends into an exchange of insults, her infuriated groom throws a punch which Alan is only too happy to return. The fight is interrupted by Lady Jezebel Ravenscar, Alan’s grandmother, who proceeds to criticise Lily’s behavior before calmly informing Alan that his niece Nicola and her nanny – who was his nanny – are ill. Despite his avowal to stay away, Alan decides to stay for a few days so that he can spend some time with them.
From the moment Alan and Lily meet in the library, sparks fly. He’s irresistibly drawn to the heiress’s beauty and spirit, and delights in scandalizing her with wicked innuendoes. When his sister privately mentions Lily is soon to be married, he tries to tell himself he doesn’t care… but (surprise, surprise) he does. Lily is similarly confused by her feelings for Alan – she’s attracted to his handsome face, his intelligence… and can’t quite control her body’s response to his naughty flirtations. But he’s a rake – and Lily has had enough of those to last a lifetime. Her father’s frequent affairs and her mother’s pained existence have left her distrustful of men and love. Alan challenges Lily’s view of the world and her place in it, and the two stand as adversaries who share an unfortunate attraction to one another.
From the title of the book you’ve already surmised that Lily and Alan wind up betrothed to each other… but why it’s so inconvenient to Ravenscar is still a mystery to me. Not long after their first meeting, Lily cleverly devises a way to get out from under the thumb of Lady Ravenscar. Unfortunately, her plan goes awry when Alan shows up when she least expects him. In the aftermath he insists she’s been compromised and they must marry; and she dithers and ineffectively tries to convince him he has no obligation to her. Although she’s fallen in love, Lily isn’t willing to share his affection and wants children, something Alan categorically refuses to agree to.
Up to the ‘inconvenient’ betrothal, I mostly enjoyed the story – despite Alan’s smug PoV and dirty, purple prose-y mind, and Lily’s painful insecurities (trust me, Alan has confidence enough for both of them). But the novel loses its way from here on out. We’re supposed to believe Alan is horrified by the thought of marriage, but his behavior contradicts it. He transitions into a possessive, jealous and domineering suitor and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to coerce Lily into an engagement. Alan’s ‘madly in love’ verges on creepy. Lily, overwhelmed by his attention and full of doubts, doesn’t know what to do. Ms. Temple had me engaged until Alan becomes a bully and Lily devolves into a insecure, self-doubting wreck. I want to say I like them as a couple… but, I’m not so sure I do.
Lord Ravenscar’s Inconvenient Betrothal starts strongly, but when Ms. Temple’s characters begin to act like caricatures, it loses its way. Fortunately, it’s a mostly enjoyable love story and since I like the premise of the series and I’m curious about Lord Stanton, I’ll be back for book three.