Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt (audiobook) – Narrated by Ashford MacNab

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A MAN CONTROLLED BY HIS DESIRES
Infamous for his wild, sensual needs, Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is searching for a savage killer in St. Giles, London’s most notorious slum. Widowed Temperance Dews knows the area like the back of her hand—she cares for its children at the foundling home her family established. Now that home is at risk…

A WOMAN HAUNTED BY HER PAST

Caire makes a simple offer—in return for Temperance’s help navigating the perilous alleys of St. Giles, he will introduce her to high society so that she can find a benefactor for the home. But Temperance may not be the innocent she seems, and what begins as a cold bargain soon falls prey to a passion neither can control—and may well destroy them both.

Rating: B

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series is a very popular one with many historical romance fans, but it’s one I haven’t yet found the time to read, so I thought I would listen to the audio instead.

I had a few reservations about the story, but on the whole enjoyed it very much. Maiden Lane is an address in the St. Giles district of London, not one of the best areas and known primarily as being the haunt of prostitutes, thieves and other persons of ill repute and ill intent. One large building there houses a foundling home which is run by Winter Makepeace and his older, widowed sister, Temperance, Mrs Dews.

St. Giles is not the sort of place a woman should be walking alone at night (unless she is plying her trade!) but the book opens with Temperance and her maidservant having gone out late to fetch a baby to the home, a baby who would otherwise be left on the streets to die. Or worse.

On their way back, they briefly encounter an incredibly striking, silver-haired man who appears to have been involved in some kind of altercation, but they do not stop to find out.

Later that night, with the baby safely desposited, and after being scolded for her recklessness by her brother, Temperance is startled to discover the same silver-haired man in her sitting room.

He is Lazarus, Lord Caire, a man with a less than savoury reputation when it comes to his sexual exploits, and who is known for having a heart of ice. To Temperance’s surprise, the silver hair belies the fact that he is a man in his thirties, and a very attractive one at that.

Caire wants Temperance’s help. He needs her knowledge of the St. Giles area and its people to help him to hunt down a murderer, and in return, he will introduce Temperance to members of the nobility to help her to find a wealthy patron for the home, which is in desperate financial straits.

I don’t plan to re-hash the entire plot; there’s a lot going on in this book, and there is a fairly large cast of characters, many of whom, like Godric St. John, Winter and Silence, will reappear throughout the series.

From the outset, there is a crackling sexual tension between Caire and Temperance, but both of them are haunted by events in their pasts which make an emotional closeness between them very difficult. Lazarus cannot bear the touch of another person and Temperance has a massive guilt complex about sex and her own sexual desires.

While I enjoyed the story , there were a few things that bugged me, one of which was to do with Caire’s issues over being touched. Unless I misunderstood or missed something, the problem seemed to be wholly psychological and had lasted for much of his life – so it seemed rather convenient that with the “right woman” he was suddenly able to tolerate and then to welcome her touch. I’m not saying it’s not possible. I just think it happened rather quickly. But then, this is a romantic novel after all, so…

And then there were Caire’s (supposedly) dark and disgusting sexual preferences. At the risk of repeating myself – this is a romantic novel, after all… so how perverted could he possibly be?! The answer is – not much at all to be honest. And given the fact that he doesn’t like to be touched, it’s pretty obvious that his large stash of neck-cloths aren’t all for use around his neck 😉

And as for Temperance. She’d been married for a couple of years, and while her husband may not have been especially inventive in bed, she’s experienced and, on the surface, appears to be comfortable with her sexuality. But as Caire eventually divines, sex, for her, is some kind of penance – she associates it with her husband’s death and she doesn’t see it as something to be enjoyed between two loving people, but as something shameful. When we find out just why she has that idea, it once again seems rather far-fetched that she could have been blaming herself so much for something that happened so long ago.

On the whole, the book was well-written and I thought the relationships between all the characters were skilfully established and well-embedded. The central romance between the dissolute lord and the demure widow was tender and very sexy – the sexual tension is scorching and when it bubbles over… *fans self*. I particularly liked the way that Lazarus opened up gradually to the possibility that he could actually care for someone and that in the end, it was he who made the first move and was prepared to take the risk that comes with loving another person.

One final quibble. I really don’t like when, in books that are part of a series, too much time is spent away from the central couple in terms of establishing the set-up for the next or a future story. Whenever I get to the part in Devil in Winter in which Daisy and Cam have their snogging session in the basement of the club, I flick through it or fast forward, and I can see me doing the same here in future readings or listenings. It’s not that I’m not interested in the other characters, I just don’t want time taken away from the ones I’m invested in at that particular moment.

Ashford MacNab’s narration was – in some ways – quite unlike the sort of narration I usually enjoy. Her vocal range (in terms of pitch) is not very broad and she doesn’t lower her voice very much to portray the male characters. I tend to prefer performances in which the actor makes a clearer distinction between the sexes of the characters in terms of pitch, but Ms MacNab was nonetheless quite compelling. Instead of differentiation based on pitch, she delineates her characters by tone of voice and accent (she is quite skilled at using a variety of regional accents). Lazarus, for example, has rather a bored sounding drawl in his voice much of the time, whereas his friend Godric St. John speaks in more clipped, harsher sounding tones. She handled a large cast of characters with aplomb, and I’m looking forward to listening to more of her work in the series.

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