What does it matter if Kate, Lady d’Allenay, has absolutely no marriage prospects? She has a castle to tend, an estate to run, and a sister to watch over, which means she is never, ever reckless. Until an accident brings a handsome, virile stranger to Bellecombe Castle, and Kate finds herself tempted to surrender to her houseguest’s wicked kisses.
Disowned by his aristocratic family, Lord Edward Quartermaine has turned his gifted mind to ruthless survival. Feared and vilified as proprietor of London’s most notorious gaming salon, he now struggles to regain his memory, certain of only one thing: he wants all Kate is offering—and more.
But when Edward’s memory returns, he and Kate realize how much they have wagered on a scandalous passion that could be her ruin, but perhaps his salvation.
Rating: B+ for content and B+ for narration
Kate Wentworth is a rather unusual Lady in that she is a rare thing – a peeress in her own right. She is the Baroness d’Allenay, one of the few titles in England that can pass to the female line if there are no sons to inherit.
Upon the tragic death of her brother, she assumed the title and the responsibilities of the land-rich, but cash-poor Bellecombe estate. Following a short-lived engagement to an old family friend who turned out to be a womaniser and gambler, Kate retreated to Bellecombe where she has resided ever since, performing the innumerable duties demanded of the mistress of such a large property.
At twenty-eight, she has given up hope of ever marrying. It’s not that she doesn’t want to – she likes the idea of a husband and family – it’s more that she doesn’t have the time to go through another London season to find a likely prospect. She has her hands full attempting to put right the ravages wrought upon the estate by successive generations of gamblers and wastrels. Whatever time she doesn’t spent managing the land and running the house, she spends worrying about her younger sister, Nancy, who is in love with the local vicar.
After a quarrel with Nancy which sees Kate riding off hell-for-leather in a temper, she is involved in a collision with another rider – a man who is thrown from his horse and badly injured. Feeling responsible for the accident, Kate has him taken to the house and tended to.
When the man – an extremely handsome man who is obviously a gentleman – wakes up, he has no idea who he is. The only thing Kate is able to determine about him is his first name – Edward, which is engraved on the pocket watch he carries. Right from the start, Edward has the lurking suspicion he may not be the gentleman he appears, yet he has no idea why he feels that way.
Days pass and, although Edward begins to regain snippets of memory, the bulk of who and what he is continues to elude him. He likes life at Bellecombe, not because it’s luxurious – it isn’t, but because it’s honest and real … and, he is becoming deeply attracted to Kate. He likes the feeling of belonging, the warmth between Kate and her sister, despite their spats, and the respect and affection clearly existing between Kate and her servants and tenants. And he begins to think that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he were never to remember his previous life. He can’t shake a small, inner voice telling him he’s not a good person – but at Bellecombe he finds a freedom he doesn’t think he’s ever experienced before, a freedom to be the man he wants to be, and, most importantly, the man Kate needs him to be.
The listener is, of course, aware of Edward’s identity and knows why he has a deep-seated feeling that he may not be a good man. In London, he’s Ned Quartermaine, the proprietor of one of city’s most notorious gaming hells. He’s ruthless and calculating, and at the beginning of the story has just agreed to accept a property near Exmoor called Heatherfields as payment of the debts incurred by Lord Reginald Hoke. He literally runs into Kate while on his way to inspect the place.
I admit, I sighed heavily and rolled my eyes when I realised that was pretty much the extent of Edward’s wickedness. I’m beginning to think it’s best to ignore about 50 percent of the titles of the books I read and listen to these days, because so many are trite and completely inappropriate as a hook for the story, as is the case here. Despite his reputation for being a ruthless and cold-hearted man who has ruined countless aristocratic families, I wouldn’t describe Edward as wicked. (Okay, so he might be wicked in bed, but all the best romantic heroes are!) After all, it’s not his fault that people choose to gamble away their money, houses, and estates, and neither are the ramifications.
But back to the story. Given that Kate’s struggles with her finances stem from her intemperate predecessors who gambled away fortunes and ran the estate into the ground, to say she is not best pleased when Edward remembers his identity is an understatement. The trouble is, she’s fallen in love with him, and despite his protestations that he’s not a fit person for her to know, she won’t accept such and persists in seeing the good in him. She’s not blinded by love or infatuation – in the time they’ve spent together, Edward has shown himself to be a truly decent man and Kate’s faith in him makes him start to question himself in a way he never has.
Kate is strong and capable, but there’s a sense of real weariness about her, the feeling that occasionally, she would like there to be someone with whom she could share the burdens of the estate and her family concerns. She has devoted most of her adult life to being the Baroness d’Allenay and, with the rest of her life stretching before her looking to be spent in the same way, she determines that she isn’t going to pass up the opportunity to take comfort in the arms of a man to whom she’s deeply attracted. I liked that Kate was confident enough to go after what she wanted and mature enough to know exactly what she was asking for.
Both protagonists begin to see themselves differently as a result of their association. Kate isn’t beautiful and knows it though in Edward’s eyes she’s lovely and he makes her feel that way. He frequently refers to himself as someone with whom she shouldn’t be seen, and as a bad man but she doesn’t believe it, and her confidence in him gives him the impetus to take a good look at himself and his life and begin to see that perhaps she’s not completely wrong about him.
In Love with a Wicked Man is a lovely, romantic story and I enjoyed it very much. The amnesia storyline was handled very well and wasn’t allowed to drag on until it became unbelievable. The element of conflict between the couple which emerges late in the story was perhaps a tad unnecessary, but fortunately again, things are not allowed to fester for too long.
As well as the developing friendship and romance, there are a couple of sub-plots involving Kate’s scheming former fiancé and her seemingly ditzy mother, Aurelie. Kate isn’t looking forward to hosting a regular house-party as her mother invariably brings along a rag-tag bag of hangers-on and would-be lovers (or current and former lovers) and throws everything into uproar.
In fact, Aurelie turned out to be one of the stars of the book. Edward opines quite early on that she isn’t as much of an air-head as she seems and he turns out to be right. She’s very shrewd when she wants to be and, while she is certainly not a conventional mother, when push comes to shove, she is prepared to exert herself on behalf of both her daughters, even at the cost of her own reputation.
Carolyn Morris’ catalogue of historical romance audiobooks is growing quickly, and it’s easy to hear why. She has an attractive voice in what I’d describe as the “mezzo” register, her narration is very well paced, and her characterisations are appropriate and consistent.
All the secondary characters were distinctively and fittingly performed. She adopted a West Country drawl for the housekeeper, Mrs. Peppin, and the other servants and tenants, gave Aurelie a coquettish-sounding French accent and made Reggie sound suitably slimy and despicable by employing a thin, nasal tone. In the narrations of hers I’ve listened to so far, I’ve found that her hero voices are performed in a similar register to the heroine’s, but a change in timbre rather than pitch gives a masculine quality to Edward and means there is no confusion in conversations between him and Kate as to which of them is speaking.
The one weak spot in the audio was her performance of John Anstruther, Kate’s Scottish land-agent. Her Scottish accent was very hit and miss (mostly miss) and some of her pronunciations were really odd
Other than that, I enjoyed both the story and Ms Morris’ performance very much. With such large numbers of new narrators appearing every week, it’s always a risk when trying someone new, but having now heard several audiobooks narrated by Ms. Morris, I’m confident that I can add her to my list of narrators to trust.