All the widowed Lucy Sinclair Wilcott wants is to save enough money to move to a cottage of her own and keep her younger sister safe from the consequences of their father’s poor judgment. No one is more aware than she how thoroughly her first marriage ruined her. She could not remarry if she wanted to. Then the Marquess of Thrale comes to visit and long-absent feelings of desire surge back.
Everything Lord Thrale believes about the beautiful Mrs. Wilcott is wrong. The very last woman he thought he was interested in proves to be a brilliant, amusing, arousing woman of deep honor who is everything he wants in a lover, for the rest of his life. If only he can convince her of that.
A Notorious Ruin is the second book in Ms Jewel’s series about the four Sinclair sisters, which began with Lord Ruin back in 2002, so there’s been a bit of a long gap between books one and two!
The eldest sister is Anne, who is now married to the Duke of Cynssyr, the youngest is Emily, and in the middle are Mary (Lady Aldreth) and Mrs Lucy Wilcott, who is widowed and back living at the Cooperage with her father and Emily.
It’s widely known that Lucy married beneath her; her late husband was a prizefighter, and the gossip is that they eloped. Thus, Lucy’s reputation is in tatters and the local tabbies have no compunction in regularly delivering barely veiled insults and generally treating her as if she’s no better than a whore – which is how most of the men view her. Following her husband’s unexpected death, Lucy moved back to her father’s house where a condition was imposed on her that she would never speak of her husband or the circumstances of her marriage, so that even her sisters don’t know the truth – that she married Mr. Wilcott at her father’s urging because he needed money to pay off his massive debts.
I had forgotten how much I’d disliked Mr Sinclair in Lord Ruin. He’s almost permanently drunk, incredibly selfish and, having sold Lucy for money once, isn’t above doing it again. All Lucy wants at this point is to be left alone; she is quietly saving money and will soon have enough to be able to move out of the Cooperage and rent a cottage of her own. But before she goes, she needs to make arrangements for Emily; Lucy knows it’s only a matter of time before their father turns his attention to his youngest daughter as a way of generating income, and is determined to protect her.
The village of Bartley Green is a popular destination among the men of the ton it is the location of Johnson’s Academy of Pugilistic Arts, where both professionals and amateurs come to practice and to watch the “mills” (Regency slang for prize-fights). The book opens with the Marquess of Thrale and his friend, Captain Niall, arriving to stay at the Cooperage in order to attend the prize fights which will be taking place over the next few weeks. Lucy isn’t pleased at the prospect of having guests; not only is it an expense they can’t really afford, it means she will have to remain hidden behind the carefully constructed façade she presents to the world, an outer shell of amiability and vacuity she uses as a way of dealing with rudeness with which she is so often confronted.
Thrale has met Lucy before, of course, through his association with the Duke and Duchess of Cynssyr, but while he certainly appreciates her beauty, dismisses her as being insipid and not possessed of any of the spirit he normally finds attractive. But living under the same roof for a short time means he sees her unintentionally drop her guard on occasion, and then she begins to intrigue him. Bit by bit, he starts to draw her out – but it’s not until they converse on the subject of pugilism that he realises just how much of herself Lucy keeps hidden. Amazingly, she turns out to be somewhat of a connoisseur of the art – and even helped her husband to write a famous book on the subject. And now, she is discreetly betting on local boxing matches in order to fund her plans to leave her father’s house.
Her interest in the sport would be yet another nail in the coffin of Lucy’s respectability were it known abroad, but she is tired of playing a part and senses that Thrale is to be trusted with her secret. She also can’t ignore the strong physical attraction she feels for him; she enjoyed the physical side of marriage and the presence of this big, well-built man who exudes a kind of dangerous sexuality awakens desires in her that she had thought behind her.
Lucy is a strongly-drawn heroine with many different facets to her character. She sees her beauty as a disadvantage, but also uses it to create the insipid façade she presents to the world. Thrale watches her disappear time and again behind her shield:
She smiled at everyone and at nothing, and as Thrale watched, he saw a woman who’d turned her beauty into a fortress…She was among the enemy here, and she had come in the only armor she possessed.
Even though Lucy and Thrale are very aware of each other on a physical level from early on in the story, Ms Jewel takes her time in building a genuine friendship between them before allowing the sexual tension that’s been bubbling between them to boil over – and when it does, phew! The sex scenes are hot; Thrale likes it “dirty and loud”, and doesn’t mince his words – but fortunately, Lucy is no simpering miss and not easily shocked.
I really enjoyed the story, but there are one or two things which prevented me from rating it more highly. For one thing, there is a little too much time spent on the discussion and description of boxing for my personal taste. Ms. Jewel has clearly researched her subject very well, but I found myself glazing over a little at the extended descriptions of the fights and techniques.
And more importantly, it falls a little short in the characterisation of Thrale. He’s quiet and reserved in company, and while he certainly lives a life of privilege, there’s the pervading sense that he’s not a particularly happy man. We learn more about the reasons for this late in the book when we travel to his family estate at Blackfern, but I never felt that I got to know him in very well in his own right, other than as he related to Lucy.
But he’s an attractive hero nonetheless, and he and Lucy are certainly very well-matched.
A Notorious Ruin is beautifully written, and the central relationship is infused with tenderness and insight, as well a deep sensuality. I hope that Ms. Jewel isn’t going to keep us waiting another twelve years for book three!