Beauty and the Brooding Lord by Sarah Mallory

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Ruined by a rake…

Rescued by the reclusive Baron!

Following the death of his fiancée, Lord Quinn has sworn off all matters of the heart. But when he happens upon an innocent lady being assaulted his sense of honour insists he step in and rescue her…even if that means marriage to protect Serena’s reputation! However, his new wife remains distant—a stranger to his bed. Can Quinn help Serena fight her demons and finally defeat his own?

Rating: B+

I’ve been bemoaning the fact for months that 2018 has been a pretty poor year for historical romance.   Thankfully, however, some authors are bucking that trend and many of those write for Mills & Boon (Harlequin) Historical.  Authors such as Louise Allen, Marguerite Kaye, Virginia Heath and Janice Preston have provided some excellent reads lately, and to that list, I’m adding Sarah Mallory, whose latest release, Beauty and the Brooding Lord is a rather lovely compromised-into-marriage tale in which a society beauty and a brusque, somewhat anti-social lord have to work at a relationship formed under difficult circumstances.

Serena Russington (whose half-brother, Charles, was the hero of The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake) is in her second Season and has yet to choose a husband.  She’s beautiful and has a considerable dowry so has no shortage of suitors… the trouble is that they’re all rather dull and she can’t face the prospect of spending a lifetime with a man who bores her and has no interest in her beyond her money and value as a potential brood-mare.  Having seen Charles fall in love and settle down, she has the (rather ill-conceived) idea that perhaps a rake – who will reform, of course – will make her a good husband, and to that end, arranges to attend an event at Vauxhall Gardens with the handsome Sir Timothy Forsbrook.  Unfortunately, however, she fails to take into account that his intentions may not be honourable, and instead of a trip to Vauxhall, finds herself being borne off to Gretna and to a hasty marriage.  It’s a long journey though, and when they stop for the night at an inn, Forsbrook is intent on sealing the deal by rape if necessary – but Serena’s screams are heard by another traveller who bursts into the room, sees immediately what’s going on, knocks Forsbrook out and takes Serena away.

This traveller is Lord Rufus Quinn, whom Serena had met briefly at a ball earlier that week and with whom she’d had a brief exchange during which she’d thought him rude and boorish.  But Serena is too shaken up and scared to think of anything but the terrible events that have overtaken her;  and as there is no suitable female to remain with Serena until such time as her family can collect her, Quinn takes her to his home – which is close by – where he entrusts her to the care of his housekeeper.  But while he has ensured Serena’s physical safety, keeping her reputation intact could prove problematic.  Quinn sends for her brother and sister-in-law – who doesn’t stop haranguing Serena about her thoughtlessness and ruined reputation – and they take her back to London, hoping that other scandals will prove juicier than any she has created, but word soon gets out that Serena was away overnight and it’s not long before the gossip starts.  Forsbrook is putting it about that Serena persuaded him to an elopement, and it doesn’t help that her mother – her father’s second wife – infamously ran away with her Italian lover, and society is quick to paint Serena with the same brush.  There’s only one thing to be done – Serena must be married off and removed from London until things die down and she can be made respectable again.

Through all this, nobody but Quinn notices how entirely subdued Serena has become.  Their one previous encounter showed her to be a lively, spirited young woman, but since the night he rescued her from Forsbrook, she’s been a pale shadow, self-effacing and drab – and he’s surprised to discover how much he wants to see the vivacious side of Serena again.  After a couple of weeks in the country, hearing from friends how much worse things are getting for her, Quinn heads to London to see for himself – and ends up offering for her.

Sarah Mallory does an excellent job in this novel of developing the relationship between Quinn and Serena and of getting across just how badly her near-rape has affected her.  The plotline of the heiress being abducted and compromised into marriage is a common one, but often, the villain is foiled before he can force himself upon the heroine; here, however, even though Ms. Mallory doesn’t show the violence brought to bear on her, the danger to Serena feels real, as do its after effects.   She loses herself for a while, attempting to fade into the background and to turn herself into the sort of quiet, biddable wife her sister-in-law insists men want.  She knows she behaved irresponsibly and now doubts her every instinct as a result, allowing her sister-in-law’s harsh criticisms to inform her decisions and mistrusting her new husband’s words and gestures of affection.

Quinn might have a reputation for being the rudest man in London, but when it comes to Serena he’s nothing but kind and thoughtful.  The majority of the book is dedicated to building the relationship and the trust between Quinn and Serena and it’s beautifully done.  Quinn’s kindness and attentiveness gradually coax Serena out of the protective shell she’s drawn around herself, and their affinity for one another and the emotional connection between them is palpable.  Sadly, however, the final few chapters of the book suddenly shift the focus away from the romance to a somewhat convoluted revenge plot which gives rise to a Big Mis on Serena’s part.  It’s a big tonal shift and if felt rather out of place, coming as it did at the end of what had been a gently moving, character-driven romance; I knocked off half a star/grade point as a result.

Even so, I’d definitely recommend Beauty and the Brooding Lord to historical romance lovers for its engaging and well-rounded principal characters and superbly developed romance.

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