Lilith Davenant, has ample reason to detest Julian Wyndhurst, Marquess of Brandon: he’s exactly the kind of man who hastened the demise of her profligate husband, and the debt he owed to Julian has forced her to an engagement with a wealthy suitor for the sake of supporting her beloved nieces and nephews. Besides that, Lord Julian somehow manages to ignite disturbing…feelings…she’s never felt before!
Lord Julian used his considerable skills and cunning in the war against Napoleon. Now he’s obliged to use the same talents to save his young cousin from a disastrous marriage to a scheming mistress — who makes him a wager: If Julian can seduce the famously icy Lady Lilith Davenant, the lady will release his cousin from the engagement.
But very quickly, Julian discovers Lilith’s hidden warmth, kindness and humor. Will he be able to prove his heart to her before she learns of his recklessly shameless wager?
Rating: Narration B; Content: B+
Knaves’ Wager is one of Loretta Chase’s earlier titles, having originally been published in 1990. The author’s trademark wit and humour are much in evidence, the principal and secondary characters are strongly drawn, and the story features a sweet secondary romance as well as the very well-developed central one. The book also boasts one of her wittiest, sexiest heroes and lots of wonderful, battle-of-the-sexes banter.
Julian Wyndhurst, Marquess of Brandon has recently returned to London from the war-torn continent, having been summoned home to deal with a family emergency – which it turns out is his cousin Robert’s intention to marry his mistress of two years’ standing. Julian is not pleased at having been called back for such a paltry reason, but Robert has not only expressed his desire to marry his chère amie, he has committed his intentions to paper, which puts a completely different complexion on things.
Reluctantly, Julian confronts the young woman fully intending to buy her off, but she is made of sterner stuff and instead proposes a wager. If Julian can seduce the thoroughly proper and upstanding Mrs Davenant within the next eight weeks, she will bow out gracefully, return Robert’s letters and agree never to see him again.
Having already formed the intention of laying siege to the widow’s virtue, and fully cognisant of the effect upon women of his exceptional good looks and confident in his ability to charm the birds from the trees, Julian accepts.
Lilith Davenant is cool, composed and has the reputation of being an ice-queen. She is reserved, but is kind, thoughtful and generous to those who know her best, as well as possessing has a dry sense of humour that she rarely has the opportunity to exercise. Her late husband did not treat her well, and left her in straightened circumstances. Having no children of her own, Lilith has made it her mission to bring out her numerous nieces, but now her finances are dwindling to such an extent that she is forced to consider the idea of marrying again.
Julian, however, will have greater obstacles to overcome than his bad-boy reputation and Lilith’s sense of propriety, for she blames him for her husband’s demise. Even though Davenant was ill, Lilith believes his end was hastened by his association with Julian’s set, and the final indignity was that her husband died owing Julian a very large sum of money, which has caused the depletion of her finances.
Of course, Lilith can’t help but find herself reluctantly drawn to the gorgeous marquess, and of course, he can’t help falling for her and then being too stupid to recognise his feelings for what they really are. But even such a clichéd plotline can’t detract from the sheer joy to be found in this story. The chemistry between the leads is potent, and the author builds the sexual tension between them by slow degrees so that nothing feels rushed or forced. Julian and Lilith eventually manage to put their preconceptions aside and develop a genuine friendship in which they discover that they enjoy each other’s company and like each other as people as much as they are also attracted to each other.
You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.