The Rules of Seduction takes place against the backdrop of economic panic and a growing lack of trust in England’s banks.
Lord Hayden Rothwell, the younger brother of an eccentric marquess, has discovered that the bank where he kept some of his family’s money has defrauded him. The person responsible is Timothy Longwell, the younger brother of the now-deceased Benjamin Longwell, who saved Hayden’s life when they were fighting to help liberate Greece from Turkey. Out of respect for Benjamin’s memory, Hayden doesn’t report the crime and promises not to reveal Timothy’s role to anyone. Nevertheless, he cuts Timothy off and orders him to live within his means.
Unfortunately, Timothy has a family dependent upon him, including two sisters and a cousin, Alexia Welbourne. Alexia, outwardly very practical and calm, still grieves for Benjamin with whom she was secretly in love.
Hayden is a practical, analytical man who excels in mathematics and finances, not matters of the heart. Though she’s hostile towards him from the beginning, Alexia intrigues him. Knowing she has few options, he asks her to be companion to his aunt and governess to his cousin. Alexia blames Hayden for her family’s ruin, but, being very realistic, she cannot say no. Still, even when their relationship becomes that of employer and employee, she neatly sidesteps his orders and tries to avoid him while he does his best to make her recognize their mutual attraction.
I liked Alexia as a heroine: she is very practical yet she has a romantic streak, and she is smart as well as tough. Though she makes questionable decisions, thankfully, they’re never stupid ones. I also liked Hayden very much because it was satisfying to see this perfect gentleman lose control and recognize that his invulnerability. Hayden’s interesting family history factors into why he is somewhat out of touch with his emotions. (Future books will presumably feature his brothers, who share his angst-filled background.)
The author patiently builds their relationship as Alexia denies that she feels anything and Hayden persists in making her realize the truth. Once they lose control over their attraction to each other, the two must decide if lust is all they share or if there is anything more – and if they can be content with what they have. I truly enjoyed seeing how both of these somewhat repressed characters slowly realize the depth of their own feelings for each other.
I felt for these characters, both decent people at heart who must learn to break down each other’s emotional barriers. It’s not the most passion-filled plot, but Hayden shows Alexia the passion she never had with Benjamin, and Alexia shows Hayden that he is not so calculating or practical as he thought he was.
The setting isn’t as exciting as some of Hunter’s other novels, but for me this was a refreshing change. Hunter managed to wring quite a bit of drama from this character-driven plot, and there are a few minor twists and revelations that for the most part keeps things moving steadily. One of the few weaknesses is that Alexia’s secret love for her cousin never felt truly serious, and the second half of the story felt much slower than the first.
This is not a flashy, action-packed novel, but I admired the dignity of the characters, and their quiet resolution had a satisfying, emotional resonance.
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