The romantic escapades of the irrepressible Wylder sisters continue in Isabella Bradford’s fun, charming, and breathtakingly passionate series—as the wildest of the Wylders turns an arranged marriage into a game of desire to tame a wayward duke.
Notorious for her free-spirited antics, Lady Elizabeth Wylder revels in attention—but not the sort that leaves her humiliated when her future husband, the Duke of Hawkesworth, fails to appear for their much-anticipated first introduction.
So when a chance encounter leads to a sizzling kiss with a dangerously handsome stranger, she nearly succumbs. The shock of finally meeting her betrothed only to come face to face with her rakish would-be seducer inspires fury—and fans the flames of a fire that both Lizzie and the Duke acknowledge is a most agreeable way to start a marriage. In her husband’s arms, Lizzie knows she has found love. But is the passion that accompanies endless nights of erotic discovery enough to persuade a duke whose scandalous lineage and lifestyle prevent him from giving his heart completely?
I enjoy “arranged marriage/marriage of convenience” stories as a rule, so I was looking forward to this, the second in Isabella Bradford’s trilogy about the Wylder sisters.
The book has much to recommend it. The writing is good, the love scenes are steamy and there is a generally good-humoured feel to it overall.
But I found it difficult to care very much about the two protagonists. Lizzie is the middle sister and like Charlotte (the eldest) has been betrothed since childhood. Her intended is the Duke of Hawkesworth, a sort of cousin of the Charlotte’s husband, March, but unlike March, Hawkesworth (or Hawke) has no regard for propriety or the responsibilities of his position. In fact, he has lived abroad for the previous ten years and has only returned to England in order to marry Lizzie so that he can obtain his inheritance and father an heir. He has returned begrudgingly, and, rather like a naughty schoolboy on his way to the headmaster’s office, drags his feet when it comes to facing up to the inevitability of his fate. He continually and purposely avoids all contact with Lizzie until he is cornered by his cousin Brecon (who also appeared in the first book in the series) and more or less forced to meet her.
Lizzie is lively and free-spirited, and quite happy to follow Hawke’s lead when it comes to propriety (or lack thereof). Although she has been upset by Hawke’s … lack of enthusiasm for their marriage, she quickly forgives him and is captivated by his looks, charm and wit.
Both of them are very immature and for most of the book they carry on like a couple of randy teenagers. Lizzie is only eighteen, to be sure, but at the time the book is set, it was usual for women to marry young and take on the duties of their position, ane being of good family she has of course been brought up with that knowledge. She does, however, have one moment of insight when she realises that although her husband may have left his mistress(es) behind in Italy, she is a replacement in that he wants for them to behave just as they please without a care for any of the obligations of their position or even the running of their household. Hawke is ten years Lizzie’s senior, but he behaves just as immaturely and incredibly selfishly; if anything, the fact that he is old enough to know better makes his shortcomings worse than hers. But he is convinced that love is a transient thing, and fully intends to return to Italy after he has done his duty and fathered an heir.
To be fair to Lizzie, she does try to talk to Hawke when it becomes apparent that he is discontent, but he, being a typical bloke, decides to disappear for a few days and have some fun on his own, just to teach her a lesson. Lizzie, however, chooses this moment to “man up”, having realised that they can’t live completely outside of society.
There are no evil seducers in this story and no deep dark secrets. The problems in the relationship come from Hawke’s selfishness and the fact that Lizzie is so happy to have found someone who will encourage her in defying propriety that she doesn’t stop to think about the consequences.
The story is all wrapped up quite quickly in the last chapter or so – almost too quickly I felt, for the big changes in both characters; Lizzie turns into the perfect duchess and Hawke abandons his long-held plan to return to Italy for good and pick up his life there as if he were still single.
It’s a fun, undemanding read, but left me feeling rather flat, I’m afraid.
With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy.