Desert Isle Keeper
The Ruin of a Rake
Cat Sebastian completes a hat-trick with her latest Regency romance, making a total of three winners in a row. Like her previous books, The Soldier’s Scoundrel and The Lawrence Browne Affair, The Ruin of a Rake is hugely entertaining; witty, sexy and poignant it’s the story of a rake in the process of reforming and the starchy, acerbic man given the task of helping him. The trope – rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold meets the uber-proper gentleman – plays out to wonderful effect; a superbly written clash of personalities that sees both men having to reassess their opinions of themselves as well as each other – and discovering that love really can be found in the most unlikely of places.
Lord Courtenay, whom we met in The Lawrence Browne Affair, has spent the last decade living abroad with his sister Isabella and her young son, Simon, who is heir to the Earl of Radnor (the Lawrence Browne of that book’s title). Courtenay is more handsome than any man has a right to be, ineffably charming and game for almost anything; his indulgences – high-stakes gambling, strong drink and lots and lots of sex (with men and women) – mark him as a debauched rake of the highest order, and he has quite happily lived down to the expectations of his disapproving mother and of society in general. But when his sister dies, he decides it’s time for him to return to England with his nephew who, as heir to an English earldom, should grow up there and receive the education accorded to every English gentleman. Radnor is not best pleased to see Courtenay, but Simon adores his uncle and the two men reach an uneasy détente.
That changes, however, with the publication of a gothic novel in which the villain’s good looks, raven-dark hair, piercing green eyes and sardonic manner are quickly likened to Courtenay, and society being what it is, it is just as quickly assumed that the evil deeds of the dissolute Don Lorenzo are, in fact, Courtenay’s own. For Radnor, it’s the last straw. Knowing his brother-in-law is a libertine is one thing, but having his name bandied about and associated with a scandalous novel is quite another, and he bans Courtenay from having any contact with Simon.
Courtenay is seriously upset by this. He more or less raised the boy, who is the last link to the sister he loved and feels he failed to adequately protect; but more importantly, Courtenay genuinely loves his nephew and wants to be part of his life. Having spent the last of his money on getting Simon back home, he’s now stuck in a city populated by people who shun him and where the ghosts of bad decisions and past debaucheries conspire to haunt him. He knows he has nobody to blame but himself – but self-awareness isn’t going to help either the state of his finances or his relationship with his brother-in-law. Fate is ready to step in, however, in the form of his friend, Eleanor, Lady Standish, who decides it’s time Something Was Done and asks – or rather, tells – her brother, Julian Medlock, widely regarded as the most proper man in London, to help Courtenay get back into society’s good graces.
The Medlock siblings grew up in India where their grandfather was a wealthy merchant and shipping magnate. Regarding his own son as a worthless wastrel, Medlock senior instead trained his grandson to run the business and left everything to Julian when he died. From the age of about sixteen, Julian shouldered the responsibility for both business and family, but his failing health (he suffers from Malaria and was having increasingly virulent attacks) saw Eleanor insisting on moving to England in the hope that the milder climate would benefit him. Unfortunately, it also meant that his sister was separated from her husband, who, after six years, has still not joined her. Julian feels increasingly guilty for Eleanor’s obvious unhappiness, which is one of the reasons he accedes to her request that he help rehabilitate Courtenay.
In the years since they came to England, Julian has steadily and carefully turned himself into the perfect gentleman, the very picture of respectability and an expert on manners and the social graces. He is invited and welcomed everywhere – even though he often feels like he’s on the outside looking in, but that suits him. He prefers to hold himself aloof and guard his secrets; friendships mean opening oneself up, warts and all, strong emotions risk a loss of control, and that’s not for him. Even when it comes to sex, he prefers his liaisons to be warm and controlled, rather than desperate and hot and full of unbridled passion. Unfortunately, Courtenay seems just the man to provoke the latter sentiments – and the fact that Julian has secretly lusted after him for six years is just going to make things even more difficult. They’re like chalk and cheese and, right from the start, Courtenay seems instinctively to know how to raise Julian’s hackles. And… other things.
Fireworks ensue as the buttoned-up, sharp-tongued Julian attempts to rein in the congenial, emotionally open Courtenay, who takes great delight in needling his ‘mentor’. Both are strongly characterised, complex individuals who carry some fairly weighty emotional baggage, and Ms. Sebastian crafts a marvellous story full of humour, tenderness and – sometimes – raw emotion about two men coming to terms with their pasts, adjusting their self-perception and learning to accept that they’re worthy of the friendship and love of others.
I adored both characters individually and loved them together. Courtenay may be a rake, but he’s also an absolute darling; easy going and charming, he has become so accustomed to giving that he has almost forgotten how to ask for what he wants and dismisses his own desires as unimportant. He cares a great deal for those closest to him and even continues to support the mother who shuns him, constantly belittles him and blames him – unjustly – for his father’s death. Courtenay has become so used to being thought worthless and to blaming himself for the death of his sister that he believes he doesn’t deserve happiness or to have anything good in his life. His surprise when Julian actually takes his part is honest and touching; nobody has ever stuck up for him before and his realisation that this must be what friendship feels like pulled at my heartstrings a little.
Julian is prickly to the nth degree, possessed of a mind like a steel trap, a head for figures and a kind of sixth sense where the workings of society are concerned. He doesn’t want to be attracted to Courtenay, he doesn’t want to feel anything for Courtenay and he most definitely doesn’t want to fall in love with Courtenay – but as Julian comes to know him better and to understand what his life has really been beneath the endless carousing, he discovers a kind, thoughtful man with a good heart, who sincerely wants to change his life and do better… and it’s impossible for Julian to remain aloof.
The verbal sparring between this mis-matched couple is funny, naughty and delightful, and the author creates a strong emotional connection between them as well as injecting their relationship with some scorching sexual chemistry. The Ruin of a Rake is sweet, wickedly funny (and sometimes just plain wicked!), romantic and moving – and another DIK for Cat Sebastian. Keep ‘em coming!