‘All gamblers are alike in luck…’
Although when Nolan Gray enters a high-stakes game in Venice, facing a ruthless opponent, he’ll need more than just luck. He can’t start losing now…especially when the virginity of the enthralling Gianna Minotti hangs in the balance!
Fate is on his side, and Nolan seizes victory. But leaving in a gondola with Gianna and not collecting on his tantalising prize pushes Nolan to his limits! Can he help her claim her freedom when really he wants to claim her for his own?
There’s one thing to be said for Harlequin book titles – they’re very much WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) – so the hero of Rake Most Likely to Seduce, the third book in Bronwyn Scott’s Rakes on Tour series, is pretty much just that – a man who likes his drink, his gambling and most definitely his women. Nolan Gray embarked upon a Grand Tour of Europe with his three best friends, but has reached Venice accompanied by only one of them, as the other two have recently married.
Unlike his friends, Nolan is not independently wealthy and supports himself by his efforts at the card tables, which are usually met with a large degree of success; indeed the only time he ever loses is if he wants to as his excellent memory and knowledge of strategy give him the edge over his opponents. Nolan looks set for another lucrative night at the tables until Count Agostino Minotti makes one desperate bid to win their current game, wagering the only thing he retains of value – his daughter’s virginity. Nolan is aghast. For one thing, he has no need to win a woman and for another, what kind of callous bastard would do such a horrible thing? Thinking he is doing the young woman a favour by getting her away from a father who would treat her so badly, Nolan accepts, wins, leaves with his winnings, and then says goodbye to the lovely Gianna Minotti, having no intention whatsoever of becoming any further embroiled in what is clearly an unpleasant family situation.
But Gianna has other ideas. She has no desire to belong to any man, but leaving with the handsome Englishman might buy her the time she needs in order to secure her independence. In just under four weeks, she will turn twenty-two and will gain control of the significant inheritance left to her by her mother, a former courtesan who married a nobleman in an attempt to secure respectability for her children. Since her death five years earlier, Gianna has been at the mercy of the count, who, in his desperation to get his hands on her money is trying to force her into marriage. If she can evade him for a few more weeks she will be safe, so she grabs the chance to get away from him, if only for a few days, while she lays her plans. Those plans, however, seem as though they will be thwarted before they have been fully formed when Nolan tells her that she is free to go and that he has no intention of bedding her. Gianna is dismayed – not so much at the not-bedding part, but because she has nowhere else to go in Venice. Her treatment at the hands of the count has made her very wary of trusting any man, so she is faced with trying to inveigle Nolan into helping her without revealing too much about herself and her situation.
Even though Gianna is a virgin, she isn’t clueless about sex and thinks to use the strength of the attraction that flares between her and Nolan to distract him and stop him asking too many questions. But Nolan is a highly intelligent and resourceful man, and much as he would like to take Gianna to his bed, he quickly realises that there is more to her situation than she is telling him and that she is in serious trouble.
Over the course of the few days they spend together, the couple discovers they have more in common that they could ever have imagined. The son of a puritanical father, Nolan feels responsible for events he could not have prevented, but for which he nonetheless feels himself obliged to atone. This gives him a unique perspective on Gianna’s situation and serves to deepen the already strong connection between them. The storyline has plenty of action as the pair races to stay a step ahead of the count, and the final confrontation is suitably climactic and fraught with danger.
Both Nolan and Gianna are attractive characters and I enjoyed watching them gradually begin to trust each other enough to open up about their pasts and for Gianna to trust Nolan with her greatest secrets. For all his protestations that he’s not the sort of man who looks after anyone other than number one, Nolan is revealed through his actions to be the opposite. Even when he is suspicious of Gianna’s motives, he wants to help and protect her, sometimes against his better judgement. I wasn’t wild about the way Gianna takes so long to trust him and keeps trying to manipulate him, but given her experience of men up to that point consisted of a man who threatened and beat her, I can understand why she acted as she did.
Bronwyn Scott’s historicals are at the hotter end of the HH/M&B scale, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department; the chemistry between Nolan and Gianna is terrific and the love scenes are nice and steamy. Gianna may be a virgin, but as the daughter of a courtesan it’s easy to believe she’s a little more clued up about sex than the average virginal young woman at the time. Ms Scott’s descriptions of the sights and sounds of La Serenissima, from the canals and gondolas to the piazzas and markets are wonderfully evocative and round out the story nicely.
Rake Most Likely to Seduce is a quick and enjoyable read, and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for an historical romance with a dash of adventure in a setting that’s slightly different to the norm.