John Fitzhugh Barrett is surprised to discover that instead of being a bastard, he’s the legitimate heir to the Somerset marquessate. Once word gets out that he must continue the Somerset line, eligible bachelorettes from across the country descend upon Somerfield Park, hoping to snatch John up before it’s too late. But John has no interest in a woman who’s only after his title.
Rebecca Kearsey, the daughter of a threadbare viscount, is the only one who understands. However, as her desire for John begins to build, she becomes painfully aware that she isn’t considered grand enough by Polite Society to be a future marchioness. Intrigued by the idea of challenging society’s rigid values, John’s interest in Rebecca grows. But can she show him that love is more than just childish rebellion?
Never Resist a Rake is one of those books which frustrated me no end, because it had a lot of potential which was never realised. It’s not a terrible book – I’ve read far worse, believe me! – the writing is accomplished and the main characters are attractive and well-suited, but overall, it lacks substance and the romance is sorely under-developed.
John Fitzhugh Barrett was shunted aside by his wealthy, powerful family when he was a child because he was a bastard – or believed to be so. Now, more than twenty years later, it turns out his parents were actually married, and he is the Earl of Hartley, firstborn son and heir to the Marquess of Somerset. I’m guessing this revelation was made in the previous book in this series (this is book two), which I haven’t read – but this discovery turns John’s life turned upside down and inside out; and, feeling he doesn’t know who he is anymore, he hot foots it off to London and promptly plunges into an orgy of dissipation aided by some old school chums whose exploits have earned them less than savoury reputations.
When his family seeks him out to bring him back to the fold as it were, John wants none of it. They turned their backs on him when he was a child and now he doesn’t scruple to return the favour. The worst of his ire is reserved for his grandmother, the dowager marchioness, whom he believes is the person who bears most of the responsibility for his being cast out.
The story opens with John, who is still in London pursuing his devil-may-care existence, about to take to the boxing ring in an illegal club in Whitechapel. With the fight due to start any minute, the organisers suddenly add a “sweetener” to the purse in the form of a young woman who has had the misfortune to venture off the beaten track and into one of the less respectable areas of London. Recognising her as someone he had once briefly encountered at a museum, John knows he must win the fight in order to save her.
Rebecca Kearsey is the daughter of a debt-ridden baron and not at all a suitable match for the heir to a marquisate. But there’s an undeniable pull of attraction between her and her handsome rescuer that she can’t ignore, no matter her relatively lowly status. Having no real hope that she can be more to John than a friend, she eventually persuades him to return home to Somerfield Park to make peace with his family and assume his proper place in society. John insists that she and her family join the house-party that is about to gather for the annual hunt, not realising that this year, the hunt serves a double purpose. It’s a shooting party as usual, but the dowager has also invited the cream of the year’s debutantes, with a view to finding a bride among them for her newly elevated grandson.
When he realises what is going on, John is furious and, adamant that he will not be manipulated by his fearsome grandmother, decides to pay her back in kind with a little manipulation of his own.
I had a number of problems with this book, which relate to the set-up, the frequently anachronistic behaviour of the principals and the lack of development in the romance. During the journey home following the rescue, Rebecca recalls everything she knows about John and his situation from what she has read in the gossip rags, which is basically a big info-dump of the “as you know, Bob”, variety. The set–up stretched my credulity to the limit; it was just too much of a coincidence that the damsel in distress was someone John had met and spoken to just once (and actually, I didn’t see the point of their having met before). As if that wasn’t bad enough, within pages of their first meeting, Rebecca is talking to John as though they’ve known each other for years, and is practically psycho-analysing him, telling him he’s got it all wrong about his family and that he needs to give them a chance to set things right.
I’m not saying she doesn’t have a point. It’s just that it’s incredibly inappropriate – not to mention rude – to be speaking that way to someone you’ve only just met, no matter the time period.
Both John and Rebecca are decent people, but there’s nothing about either of them that makes them stand out in any way. Their behaviour owes little to convention (she’s allowed to be alone with him in his bedroom and no-one bats an eyelid, for example) and although by the end, he’s manned up and redeems himself somewhat, I found John rather a wishy-washy hero. Most of the time, he behaves like a petulant child, especially when he adopts that whole “they did it to me so I’ll do it to them” stance – and I just wanted to tell him to stop sulking and grow up! In his favour, I will say that he often realises he’s not behaving like a responsible adult, but then, he refuses to do anything about it. His deeper hurts – his feelings of abandonment and lack of self-esteem – seemed to offer opportunities for character growth and development, but that never happened.
Never Resist a Rake – which, by the way is another of those titles that bears no relation whatsoever to the story – is one of those middling books that is neither all bad nor good. The writing flows well and is easy to read, but the characterisation is weak, the romance is poorly developed and the central couple lacks chemistry. I’m afraid I can’t recommend it.