Desert Isle Keeper
The Last Hellion (#60 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on December 9, 2008
Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels is an annual reread for me, and, when I close the book with a big smile on my face, I automatically reach for The Last Hellion, whose hero is the drunk Dain fights at the inn on his wedding night. The AAR review for The Last Hellion, written when it was released 10 years ago, is a C, and I’m pleased that the book’s reissue has given me the opportunity to write the DIK review I feel it so richly deserves.
The large, sprawling Mallory clan throws out a real hellion – an arrogant, rabble-rousing, selfish troublemaker (Loretta Chase calls him one of her “Regency Cowboys”) – at least once every generation and this one’s is the 6’4″ giant, Vere Mallory. Vere has recently become the Duke of Ainswood through a series of very painful family deaths, including that of the previous duke, Vere’s nine year old cousin. Vere’s already larger-than-life persona has taken on a dangerous fatalism since attaining the title and it isn’t hard to imagine him eventually winding up dead in a ditch somewhere. And then he meets Lydia.
Lydia Grenville is every bit as notorious as Vere. She is a 6′ Amazon, a “scribbler” – an investigative reporter – for the magazine The Argus for which she writes exposés on London’s seamier side, usually decrying the exploitation of women and children. She also writes, under a pseudonym, a wildly popular romantic adventure serial novel for The Argus which has all of London holding its collective breath awaiting the next installment.
Lydia and Vere meet when she is rescuing a young girl from a procuress and Vere sticks his big, bombastic nose into the scuffle. He winds up flat on his posterior after a well-timed blow from Lydia. It is the first of several highly public encounters between the two which titillates the gossip columns and leaves our couple hot and bothered. The sexual pull between the two is palpable and the air fairly crackles around them. The pages almost vibrate with Vere’s barely restrained lust in a scene where he has to loosen Lydia’s corset in the dark (long story) – great stuff.
The dialog is very reminiscent of the old 1930s screwball comedies – the comparison to His Girl Friday is obvious, but apt – with intelligent, snappy one-liners flying whenever Vere and Lydia are together. Vere has a habit of giving Lydia new names when he grumbles to himself about her: “Her Brimstone Majesty,” “Miss Gentleman Jackson Grenville,” “Miss Self-Appointed Guardian of Public Morals,” etc. And this book contains my absolute favorite funny line in a romance, spoken by Vere: “We’re of one mind, Grenville and I, and the mind is hers, on account of my being a man and not having one.”
While The Last Hellion is a very funny book, Vere and Lydia are saved from being just comic characters by Vere’s survivor’s guilt and fear and Lydia’s precarious and nomadic upbringing, which give them added depth and the ability to recognize the vulnerability in each other. Vere and Lydia are perfect for each other, and it’s a good thing, for no one else would have them – except we lucky readers.