Wicked Charms is well-titled: the first word that springs to mind to describe it is charming. It is the story of a man and a woman, both of whom are willing to marry without love in order to gain a castle.
Aiden Brinlaw is one of the most lovable rogues I’ve had the pleasure to meet in romance fiction. A close friend of the dastardly Prince John, who rules England in his brother King Richard’s absence, Aiden contracts to marry John’s sister Katherine. His bride’s dowry will be Glencairn, a Scottish castle in the Highlands. Aiden is a second son with no property of his own, so he is eager to take possession and gain full independence from his father at last. The fact that Aiden doesn’t like his betrothed at all is no obstacle.
Evelyn is the daughter of a highland laird. She was engaged to marry the previous lord of Glencairn. Her fiancé left her to go on Crusade, and died there; Evelyn is the mother of his illegitimate child. When she hears that a new English lord is coming to take possession of Glencairn – which she regards as her son’s inheritance – she makes a decision. She will make the new lord fall in love with her, and will marry him, securing her child’s future.
So: Evelyn plans to seduce Aiden into marriage, not realizing that Aiden only has a right to the castle if he marries Katherine. Aiden tries to lure Evelyn into bed, thinking that she’ll make a pleasant mistress once he and the unattractive Katherine are married. Their goals are perfectly at odds.
Sparks fly as soon as Aiden and Evelyn meet. He is flummoxed by her beauty and charm. She plans to control the new lord with her sexuality, but is vulnerable to his attractions as well. This is as much a power struggle as it is a love story, at least at first, and it is pure fun. I loved both characters; they are complex, courageous, and always amusing. It’s not always easy to warm up to an incredibly beautiful heroine, but Evelyn is so warm, intelligent, and self-deprecating that it’s impossible not to like her. Her loveliness has caused her a lot of problems in life, but she never indulges in “It’s hard to be beautiful” angst; she is perfectly aware of the power of her face and body, and uses them as the only weapon she has. Aiden, as I mentioned, is a charismatic and funny ne’er-do-well whose surface charm hides a serious dose of ambition and drive. They are both extremely stubborn. Their dealings with one another are tumultuous, tender, and very romantic.
A strong current of the paranormal that runs through this book. Aiden is descended from a faery, and is a powerful sorcerer. Evelyn is also somehow connected to the wee folk, and this accounts for much of her allure. I’m afraid that these paranormal elements really didn’t work for me; they seemed completely unnecessary and not a little perplexing. During the book’s climax, our couple become involved in paranormal doings that confused me totally. Something about a Viking warrior and his faery lover who both died some centuries before? What these people had to do with Aiden and Evelyn I never figured out, and the whole thing left me cold. I don’t know why faeries had to be involved at all; there was plenty of conflict and magnetism between Evelyn and Aiden without that element. The love story could also have been resolved without the magical climax.
Another little quibble: the author would have me believe that the English monarchy controls a castle in the Scottish Highlands during the twelfth century. Um, why? I imagine that if the English had wanted to control a piece of Scottish territory, something on the borders would have been far more strategic and easier to control. The Highlands were poor, unimportant, and geographically inconvenient, to say the least. That nagged at me as I read this book.
In spite of my problems, I was swept up in the romance between Aiden and Evelyn. I fell in love with these two people just as they fell in love with each other, and I loved reading their romance. Wicked Charms has a few problems, but in the end is a highly satisfying read.