The Spinster and the Rake by Anne Stuart

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The Spinster: As a maiden aunt, Gillian Redfern lives as an unpaid servant to her demanding family. Little wonder she finds the attentions of a rake distracting, and even less wonder that her usual good sense begins to unravel when Lord Marlow takes her in his arms.

The Rake: Ronan Patrick Blakely, Lord Marlow, is a man of great charm and little moral character, a gambler, a womanizer, and handsome as sin to boot. He has no qualms about placing a wager on the virtue of one small, shy spinster.

But Lord Marlow is about to discover that Miss Redfern is more siren than spinster. She amuses him, arouses him, and, much to his dismay, makes him a better man. Gillian will discover, in turn, that Lord Marlow possesses the power to turn her into a very wicked woman. The rake and the spinster are poised to find a love that neither could have imagined.

If only someone weren’t out to destroy them both . . .

Rating: B

First published in 1982, The Spinster and the Rake is one of Anne Stuart’s earliest Regencies, and has, sadly, been out of print for a number of years.  I’ve been keen to read it ever since I became aware of its existence – I mean who doesn’t love a good rake-meets-spinster story? – and had despaired of ever finding it, but luckily it surfaced last year in a newly revised digital edition.  (I can’t say what the revisions are as I haven’t read the original, but I am guessing Ms. Stuart has added a pinch or two of extra spice 😉 )

This is one of those books that is exactly what it says on the tin, and very nicely done it is, too.  Our rake, Ronan Patrick Blakely, Lord Marlowe (who is the Marquess of Herrington so I’m not sure where the Marlowe comes from) is nearing forty, has been away from England since he was packed off by his family following a scandal twenty years earlier and, having unexpectedly inherited a title, has returned to England with the intention of remaining there.  His bearing, looks and manner of speech reminded me very much of Georgette Heyer’s Lord Damerel (who is my favourite hero of hers, and one of my all-time favourite romance heroes) and I defy anyone not to swoon at the author’s description of him:

“From the top of Marlowe’s curly head, black locks liberally streaked with grey, past the cynical dark eyes surrounded by tiny lines of dissipation, and just possibly laughter, the sallow complexion of one who has spent a great many years in sunnier climes, the strong nose and cynical, alarmingly attractive mouth, he was truly, wickedly appealing.”

Be still my beating heart 😉

The spinster of the title is Miss Gillian Redfern, youngest of four siblings and the only one to remain unmarried.  At nearly thirty, Gillian –

… had long since decided, with a great deal of persuasion from the aforementioned siblings, to immolate herself on the altar of duty, having a great deal of family reeling and a dislike of being useless.

She divides her time between her brother’s home in London and her sister, Patricia’s in Winchester, acting in both cases as nurse, nanny, companion, gofer, peacemaker and voice of reason; and it’s on her journey from Winchester to London that she first encounters Lord Marlowe, when the dilapidated coach her brother has sent to collect her suffers a broken axle and is thrown into a ditch. Fortunately for Gillian, another vehicle is close behind and its occupants stop to help, offering to convey her to her destination; the fact that the two travellers within are male gives her some pause, but she’s too long out of the schoolroom to be missish about it, and accepts their offer. One of the gentlemen, Vivian Peacock, is more than a little the worse for wear, while his companion, Lord Marlowe is quite the most sinfully attractive man Gillian has ever met.

No prizes for guessing where this is going, but Ms. Stuart does a fabulous job of building the relationship between these two, showing how Gillian gradually comes out of her shell and decides it’s time for her to live for herself for a change, while Marlowe tells himself that he’s doing Gillian a favour by flirting with her and giving her a taste of life beyond anything she’s known. He thinks he’s more than capable of handling the strong attraction he feels for Gillian and promises himself he won’t break her heart; he’ll just bruise it a little, and then she’ll be ready to move on to some other gentleman who will make her happy in the long term. Oh, Marlowe. Very much a man of the world and yet so clueless.

Both characters are engaging and very likeable. Marlowe has returned to England older and much wiser and I liked his practical, no-nonsense outlook. He doesn’t talk down to Gillian or dismiss her intellect; in fact he does the opposite, he solicits her opinions and takes her seriously, something it takes her a little while to adjust to at first, given the way her stuffed-shirt of a brother has always insisted on running her life. And even though Gillian has somehow fallen into the role of general factotum for her brother and indolent sister-in-law, she is far from a downtrodden poor relation. She has money of her own, a lively sense of the ridiculous and her grown-up niece and nephew, both of whom have important secondary roles to play in the story, obviously adore her for her lively wit and common sense.

Of course, there have to be a few hiccups along the road to happily ever after, and I admit the final twist, in which we discover the reason for Marlowe’s reluctance to marry Gillian, was a surprise I didn’t see coming. It does all resolve fairly easily, of course, as it happens quite near the end of the book, but by then I was so invested in Marlowe and his Gillyflower making a go of it that I was more than happy to just go with the flow.

The Spinster and the Rake is a quick, entertaining read that very skilfully treads a well-worn path. If, like me, you enjoy this particular trope, then I’m sure you won’t be disappointed if you pick it up.

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