Desert Isle Keeper
The Rake's Enticing Proposal
This second instalment of Lara Temple’s three-book Sinful Sinclairs series focuses on Charles – known as Chase – Sinclair, whom readers met briefly in the first book, The Earl’s Irresistible Challenge. Rather like his older brother Lucas, Chase is handsome, witty and charmingly self-deprecating, but behind the nonchalant, rakish façade he shows to society lies a man with emotional scars that make him restless and unwilling to make real and deep personal connections with anyone other than the siblings he loves so dearly. Until, that is, a cryptic deathbed message from the man who was more of a father to him than his own father ever was sends Chase to Huxley Manor – and (almost literally) into the arms of a most unusual young woman.
Ellie Walsh comes from a family almost as frequently beset by scandal as the Sinclairs. Thanks to her wastrel father, who gambled away a fortune and then died, drunk in a ditch, her family is in danger of losing its home. For the last five years, Ellie has managed to keep Whitworth afloat and keep the creditors at bay, but following a poor harvest there are no more funds and the banks are about to foreclose. As a last-ditch attempt at saving her home and staying out of debtor’s prison, Ellie has agreed to a three-month fake betrothal with her friend Henry – the new Lord Huxley – who believes he can help her to raise the funds necessary to save Whitworth. In return, she’ll be his ‘shield’ against his formidable Aunt Ermintrude’s plans to marry him to one of her nieces.
When Chase arrives in response to his late cousin’s missive, he makes a short detour to the old Folly tower on the estate, and is surprised to find a young woman within, looking through some papers on the late Lord Huxley’s desk. Chase can’t help wondering if the man’s message – “There is something I have but recently uncovered that I must discuss with you” – relates to some newly discovered and unpleasant revelation about his family, so finding a complete stranger looking through Huxley’s personal papers is a most unwelcome sight. He makes his presence known and challenges the woman, who he can now see is a little older than he’d thought, and whose demeanour is that of a very proper governess or schoolmistress; calm, a little impatient and intractable – and is surprised when she introduces herself as Henry’s betrothed and then challenges Chase to explain his own presence there. Chase is immediately intrigued – and more than that, something about her sets him off-balance and makes him feel at a disadvantage – which he dislikes intensely.
When the high-handed Lady Ermintrude decrees that, as she has nothing better to do, Ellie should help Chase to go through his late cousin’s papers and possessions, Ellie knows there’s no point in objecting, and soon finds herself fascinated by the baron’s travel journals and collections of ancient artefacts. She also finds herself just as fascinated by Chase Sinclair, who, during their many conversations – some serious, some not – gradually reveals himself to be a very different man to the one his reputation had led her to expect, an extremely sensitive, perceptive man with a great capacity for love and affection he seems to want to deny. At the same time, Chase comes to appreciate Ellie’s strength, her wit and her determination – and also to sense that there’s a deeply passionate woman lurking beneath her tightly controlled exterior, a woman who longs to reach for more, to escape the rigidly confined life she’s currently living.
The Rake’s Enticing Challenge is character-driven romance at its best. Chase and Ellie are wonderfully drawn, wonderfully real, complex characters who are wary of opening up and who have cultivated the art of masking their thoughts and feelings to a very high level. They deflect deeper questions using sharp barbs or dry humour, always circling around each other and never saying what they mean for fear or rejection or worse; what if they do get what they want and it’s not enough? Ms. Temple does a terrific job of developing their romance, slowly building a strong and genuine rapport between them as they move from initial wariness to gentle teasing and then to a greater level of intimacy as they start to reveal things about themselves they’ve never shared with anyone else. At the same time, their physical awareness of each other grows, the air between them becoming charged with longing and want and desire in a way that’s almost palpable and is far sexier than many full-on love scenes I’ve read; it’s incredibly well done and extremely poignant, Ellie realising that she’s falling in love for the first time in her life while Chase steadfastly refuses to acknowledge he’s head-over-heels because of the danger he believes love brings with it.
The scenes set in Egypt are richly detailed and evocative, and the secondary plot line, concerning Chase’s search for whatever Huxley discovered before his death, is nicely done and also (I suspect) forms part of the set up for the next book, which will feature Lucas and Chase’s widowed sister, Samantha.
Featuring a pair of engaging, strongly characterised leads, intelligent, insightful writing and a superbly developed romance, The Rake’s Enticing Proposal is intense, heartrending, gloriously romantic and easily one of the best historical romances I’ve read this year.