One wicked Christmas night…
Trapped by a blizzard, the sight of notorious rogue Sir Lawrence Daunton almost makes schoolteacher Rose Westerhill turn back into the snow! When it becomes apparent she has nowhere else to go Rose accepts his offer of shelter, vowing to remain indifferent to his practiced charm.
But as the temperature outside drops, she finds the wicked rake’s sizzling seduction impossible to resist. For one stolen night Rose abandons her principles—and her body!—to his expert ministrations. Christmas with the rakish Lawrence promises to be a thoroughly improper yuletide celebration….
I picked up Snowbound With the Notorious Rake because I generally enjoy books by Sarah Mallory and because I was in the mood for something wintry right after Christmas. Although the story begins during a Yuletide snowstorm, it actually spans a year and isn’t especially Christmassy, so I didn’t feel weird reading it in January! It’s a fairly predictable story but a well-written one and the relationship between the central characters is imbued with a real sense of longing and sensuality.
The eponymous rake is Sir Lawrence Daunton, who has holed himself up at his hunting box in the wilds of Exmoor in order to avoid spending Christmas with his family. They love him and he loves them, but since the death of his fiancée fourteen months previously, he has found it difficult to spend time with them because they suffocate him with their sympathy and condolences, and because he feels incredibly guilty at having neglected Annabelle while he lived a life of dissipation and idleness in London.
He’s settling in for an evening by the fire with a bottle, when a knock at the door throws his plans for a quiet, gently drunken mope into disarray. An attractive young woman is on the doorstep, her coach having taken a wrong turn in the snowstorm, and by now, the weather is so bad that it is not possible for her to continue her journey.
Rose Westerhill is a widow who lives in the village of Mersecombe some ten miles away, where she is the local school teacher. She is initially alarmed at the prospect of spending time alone with a man whose name regularly appears in the gossip rags, but is soon surprised to discover that Lawrence is nothing like she would have supposed. He’s kind and funny, and while he does make a few flirtatious remarks, she knows she is safe with him. Over the few days they are stuck together, they talk and laugh and get to know each other a little, and Rose is disturbed to find that she is very attracted to him. The feeling is most definitely mutual, and the couple agrees to one night together, after which they will go their separate ways.
But next morning, Lawrence finds it isn’t easy to let Rose go, and wants to see her again. However, she is adamant. She has a respectable life in Merescombe and her young son to look after; and besides, she doesn’t believe that a man of Lawrence’s reputation can reform. Her late husband was a womaniser and gambler, and she has first-hand experience of the misery that can accompany loving such a man.
Rose returns home to her school, her son Sam, and her fiancé, shipping merchant, Magnus Emsleigh, haunted by dreams of the handsome rake she thinks never to see again. So ten months later, the last thing she expects is to come face to face with Lawrence in her own sitting room.
Lawrence has been busy during those ten months, attending to business and to his estates, his previous lifestyle having lost its attraction for him. When a friend – the brother of Lawrence’s late fiancée – asks him to look into the matter of a ship lost in suspicious circumstances, he is initially dismissive, wondering how he can have anything to contribute to such an investigation. But when he discovers that the ship was owned by Magnus Emsleigh, and that many of the crew lived in and around Merescombe, he changes his mind in the hope of seeing Rose again.
The story proceeds fairly much as one might expect, with Lawrence striking up a friendship with Sam, something Magnus has never managed, believing that children should be seen and not heard, and coming to realise, from talking to the locals and the captain and crew of the Sealark that something is indeed not quite right, and that there is an insurance fraud being perpetrated. Rose avoids him when she can, afraid of her growing feelings for a man whose past is far from a shining example of respectability. Her fears are natural given her past experiences, but she is a little too intractable, seeming to want to believe the worst of Lawrence, even though he is doing his best to show her that he is a changed man. Yet the attraction between them is impossible to deny, and Rose eventually comes to admit that perhaps she was wrong and that it IS possible for a man of dissolute habits to reform.
The book is well-written and the central characters are engaging and well developed, in spite of Rose’s insistence on believing the worst of Lawrence until fairly late on in the story. On the downside, the identity of the villain is fairly obvious and the ending is overly dramatic, but that didn’t take anything away from my overall enjoyment. Most of all, I liked that while Rose was the catalyst for Lawrence’s decision that he wanted to live a different life, she wasn’t the only reason and it was a change he wanted to make for himself as well.
Snowbound with the Notorious Rake isn’t a taxing read, but it’s an enjoyable one, and I certainly didn’t regret the couple of hours I spent on it.
This book seems now only to be available to buy as part of a duo, One Snowy Regency Christmas with A Regency Christmas Carol by Christine Merrill.