The Sins of Lord Lockwood (Rules for the Reckless #6) by Meredith Duran

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BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE…

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

…BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna’s courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can’t win back Liam’s love, then she means at least to save his soul…no matter the cost.

Rating: A

It’s been a decade since Liam Devaliant, the Earl of Lockwood, stepped onto the pages of Meredith Duran’s début novel, The Duke of ShadowsHandsome, charming and enigmatic, Lockwood immediately captured my attention, the mention of his mysterious four year absence from society and his obvious discomfiture at the presence of his estranged wife clearly hiding a story begging to be told – and now here it is.  The Sins of Lord Lockwood is an intense, angsty story that is sometimes hard to read, but is nonetheless a compelling tale of a man’s struggle to find his place after having his life ripped away from him, and a painful portrait of a marriage rent asunder by hatred and greed.

Anna, Countess of Lockwood and Countess of Forth (a Scottish title she holds in her own right) has learned, second-hand, of the return to England of the husband who deserted her on their wedding night four years earlier – and she’s furious.  Furious that she was stupid enough to fall for him all those years ago, furious that he abandoned her, furious she’s heard nothing of him for four years – and furious he hasn’t bothered to tell her he’s back and she’s had to learn of it from the newspapers.

When his wife arrives unexpectedly at his – their – London town house, Liam realises he’s seriously miscalculated.  He had thought he would have at least another month before news of his return could have reached her at her home on the Isle of Rawsey – where she retreated after his disappearance – a month in which he could bring to fruition his plan to have his revenge upon the man responsible for having him kidnapped on his wedding night and bundled aboard a ship taking convicts to New South Wales. That man is Liam’s cousin, Stephen, the man with whom he’d grown up and played as a boy, and who he’d looked out for all their lives – but with no direct evidence against him, Liam has to play a careful, devious game behind the scenes. With the help of his friends Julian, Duke of Auburn, and Crispin Burke MP, Liam is putting an end to Stephen’s fraudulent businesses and strategically and systematically bringing his cousin to the brink of financial ruin.

Anna’s sudden appearance in London doesn’t simply make a ripple in the pond of Liam’s careful existence – it throws a large rock into the middle and almost drowns him in the resulting explosion of spray.  He doesn’t want to be reminded of the feelings he’d had for her or the man he had been, and he certainly doesn’t want her in harm’s way – but she’s having none of it. Anna will remain in London for as long as she wishes; she will live in their house, she will do as she pleases and Liam can go – or, rather return – to the devil … but not until after he has given her the only thing she wants from him – an heir to the earldom of Forth.  Lockwood might not want an heir to his title, but she wants one for hers, and he’s the only means by which she can obtain legitimate progeny.

It’s a nice piece of role reversal to have it be the woman need of an heir; historical romance is littered with stories in which the man marries in order to do his dynastic duty, but rarely have I read a story in which it’s the woman in that situation, so that makes for a refreshing change. But Sins of Lord Lockwood is so much more than a novel in which an alienated couple find each other again because of the need to procreate. It’s the story of two people who still care for each other, but who have been damaged in very different ways and must learn to accept themselves as they are and to allow themselves to love and be loved. Liam’s scars are dreadfully deep, both physically and emotionally; he has taken to hiding behind a variety of different façades in order to prevent those around him from seeing how truly and irrevocably broken he is, and he can’t bear the thought of enduring anyone’s pity – least of all his wife’s. And Anna, an independent, outspoken and no-nonsense young woman, whose pedigree and wealth mean that her ‘eccentricities’ are viewed benignly by society, carries emotional scars of her own that are buried so deeply that nobody could ever guess at them.

The story is, of course, based on a major misconception; Anna’s belief that Liam left her by choice – and he takes no action to contradict that assumption. He constantly evades Anna’s questions, letting her believe him to be nothing more than the heartless gold-digger she has clearly convinced herself he was all along, but Ms. Duran brilliantly counteracts that in a series of carefully placed flashback chapters that chart the development of Liam and Anna’s romance four years earlier. Anna, a great heiress and peeress in her own right needs to find a husband in order to secure the access rights to the Isle of Rawsey and the future of its inhabitants. An impoverished English earl is nowhere on her list of suitable husbands, yet the handsome, charming Earl of Lockwood somehow manages to disarm her and breeze past her defences. For his part, Liam has never met anyone like the Countess of Forth, and even though he knows he can have no chance with her – she’s far too shrewd to allow herself to be wooed for her money – he is very soon smitten with her intelligence and her indomitable spirit as well as her smile and lush figure. These chapters are simply beautiful as they show the younger, unburdened (or less burdened) Liam and Anna falling in love almost against their better judgements and entering into what they tell each other is a marriage for the sake of expediency – and which is clearly anything but.

Both principals are strong, stubborn, flawed characters you can’t help but root for, even at those times you itch to bang their heads together. Anna is independent and strong-willed, but never in an over-the-top, “look at me, I’m unconventional” way – she’s a woman of her time who is able to bend the rules a little because of her wealth and status… and because she can afford not to give a damn what anyone else thinks. When she finally discovers the truth of what happened to Liam she comes out fighting, her fierce championing of him catching him off guard:

“You tried to hide them? [his scars] Why, you should walk naked in the street to boast of what you survived. Other men would learn then what it means to be a man – to survive all that, and to come home triumphant… You are mine and I am keeping you.”

Liam is complex and tormented, so much so that at times it’s difficult to believe he will ever be able to recover from the brutalisation and humiliation he endured at the hands of his captors. The intensity of Anna’s belief him and her unwavering support go some way towards helping Liam to find his way back to his true self, and he is further aided by his great friend Julian Sinclair (The Duke of Shadows), a man who has battled demons of his own, and whose advice, when it comes, is relevant and very much borne of experience. The relationship between the two men, previously glimpsed in the earlier book, is superbly done, and Julian’s presence is thus integral to the story rather than one of those ‘remember me?’ cameo appearances so often found in sequels and series books.

As I said at the beginning, The Sins of Lord Lockwood – who, surely, is more sinned against than sinning? – is an angst-laden story filled with moments of such intensity and raw emotion that it almost hurts to read them. I recognise that it might not suit those who prefer their historicals to be light and fluffy, but angst is my catnip and I enjoyed every single moment of this complex, deeply sensual and beautifully written novel. Ten years is a long time to wait, but when the result is as good as this one… maybe the wait is justified. And when one takes into account all the wonderful novels Ms. Duran has given us in the intervening years, I, for one, don’t feel the least bit short-changed.

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