The Wagered Heart
Miss Julia Allard is standing innocently on a street in London, enjoying her first Season, when a man – the Duke of Kelbourne – suddenly kisses her very publicly in order to fulfill a drunken wager. The resulting scandal sends Julia back to her quiet country life, where her neighbors whisper that she is a fallen woman. She blames the Duke for “every single unpleasant thing that had occurred in the last year,” although she is not particularly bitter under the circumstances. Her life is full and pleasant, and she feels no pressing need for a husband. Rather than return to London for another attempt at a Season, she decides to visit her now-married cousin in Bath.
A full year after the incident, the Duke (referred to by all and sundry as Kel) still remembers the day he kissed a beautiful young lady, whom he took for “some poor abigail on an errand,” as a drunken lark. He feels shame over the incident, although it took a full seven months to admit this to himself. Feeling oddly restless, he accepts his sister’s invitation to visit with her in Bath.
Coincidentally, then, Julia and Kel are in Bath at the same time. Despite this, however, they don’t run into one another right away. Indeed, one difficulty with this book is that after the prologue, the hero and heroine don’t come face to face again until a third of the way through the book. Even then their relationship does not progress very much until virtually the last page. This makes it difficult to really believe the happy ending.
When they do encounter one another, Kel almost immediately apologizes, but his apology is so half-hearted compared to the disastrous ramifications of his actions, that Julia is justifiably infuriated. She decides to wreak vengeance upon Kel by making him desire her, a plan she then throws away when she realizes how worldly he is, only to seize it again later. Her somewhat contradictory actions intrigue Kel.
Kel, for his part, dances and goes for drives with Julia, but it’s not entirely obvious what his motivation is. We see very little of the story from Kel’s perspective, which is unfortunate, because we don’t get much of a glimpse into his character and what makes him tick. It took this man seven months to realize he was sorry for accosting and kissing a young lady – how are we to believe he’s reformed when so little of the story is told from his point of view? Throughout most of the book, Kel seems like a typical world-weary, arrogant duke, and not much happens to change that. His character never becomes truly developed.
Julia, on the other hand, is a delightful character. She is 24, but in no particular hurry to be wed, due to her aunt’s upbringing. She also enjoys teaching children in the village to read. We learn a great deal about her through her interactions with her married cousin, and her friend Mariah, whom she invites to Bath. She is not quite decisive in her desire to avenge herself on Kel, but since she is a sheltered virgin and he is a man of the world, her behavior is entirely understandable. Julia is funny and intelligent and perfectly capable of slapping a man to defend her honor. If Kel were as well-drawn a character as Julia, this book would be much better.
Another enjoyable aspect of the book is that it has a very Regency tone. The Regency vocabulary and idioms are laid on rather thickly, and the period feeling seems right. The characters address each other with appropriate formality – indeed, the hero and heroine don’t learn each other’s first names until page 160. The novel has a Regency sensibility that’s quite convincing.
The Wagered Heart, then, has a very likable heroine and historically accurate writing that shines. What it doesn’t have is a well-crafted hero and a really convincing romance. Despite this, I found it enjoyable and recommend it – albeit with quite a few reservations.