The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Dukes Society) by Madeline Hunter

This title may be purchased from Amazon

NOTORIOUS NOBLEMAN SEEKS REVENGE
Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton.
Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes.
Family history: Scandalous.
Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge.
Ideal romantic partner: A woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon.
Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

FAINT OF HEART NEED NOT APPLY
Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: she’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married—especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though, with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere—along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Rating: B+

The Most Dangerous Duke in London gets Madeline Hunter’s new Decadent Dukes Society series off to a strong start with an extremely readable and engaging tale of a man seeking revenge, an old family enmity and the woman caught in the middle. The romance is a delightful, sensual slow-burn, and in addition, there’s mystery and intrigue, a whiff of espionage, lots of witty banter and a wonderfully written friendship between the hero and his two closest friends (both of whom will feature in future books).

Adam Penrose, the Duke of Stratton has recently returned to England after living in for the past five years, during which he has acquired a reputation for having a quick temper and for fighting and killing his opponents in duels – thus earning himself him the moniker of “The Dangerous Duke”. Adam left the country following his father’s death, which is widely thought to been at his own hand following rumours that he was engaged in treasonous activities, rumours Adam believes were fuelled by the hints and accusations of the late Earl of Marwood. There has long been bad blood between the two families, and now Adam is determined to find out if his suspicions about Marwood are true and to make someone pay for driving his father to his grave. Given the long-standing enmity between the Penroses and the Cheswicks, Adam is therefore surprised to receive an invitation to visit the dowager Countess of Marwood, who states her belief that it’s time the two families patched up their differences.

Adam is highly sceptical, but plays along until the countess proposes that he should marry her sixteen-year-old granddaughter, thus burying the hatchet in the time-honoured tradition of marital alliance. Lady Emilia is pretty and amiable, but Adam isn’t interested in a schoolroom chit – he prefers spirited women with minds of their own, and when he meets Lady Clara, the current earl’s half-sister, Adam decides straight away that she will suit him very well indeed.

Lady Clara Cheswick is the only child of her father’s first marriage and was his favourite among his children. He left her very comfortably off when he died, so Clara doesn’t need to marry if she doesn’t want to, and, at twenty-four, she is on the shelf and quite happy to keep it that way. She’s intelligent, strong-willed and independent, and is content to focus her considerable energies on her publishing venture, Parnassus, a magazine written and produced by women for women which is starting to achieve success. When Adam proposes marriage, Clara doesn’t take him at all seriously, telling him that she isn’t interested in marrying him or anyone, but Adam won’t take no for an answer and sets about courting her.

Clara can’t deny that Adam is a very attractive man, or that she’s drawn to him; he’s sexy and witty and clever and makes it very clear that the qualities that her family regard as problematic and unladylike – her desire for independence and the fact that she not only has her own opinions but makes no bones about voicing them – are qualities he likes and admires. He is genuinely interested in what she has to say about any number of topics, and doesn’t talk down to her or treat her as though she’s a hothouse flower. Adam insists his proposal of marriage was quite serious – and as Clara spends time with him and gets to know him, she is increasingly tempted to believe him, but can’t quite shake her suspicions that there is something else behind his stated intention. Perhaps, given her close relationship with her late father, Adam is primarily interested in getting close to her in order to find out if she knows anything about the late earl’s possible involvement in his father’s death? Or maybe he wants to use her – somehow – as an instrument of revenge?

The sparks fly between Adam and Clara right from their first meeting, and their relationship unfolds gradually and deliciously as Adam finds ways to spend time with Clara – to her initial exasperation – and they slowly come to appreciate each other’s wit, intelligence and sense of humour. These are two mature adults who never underestimate each other as they match one another quip for quip, their verbal sparring a deliciously sensual courtship and prelude to a later, more intimate relationship. The romance is very well-developed; there’s none of the immediate and anachronistic bed-hopping or insta-lust that characterises so many historical romances these days, which is always a refreshing discovery. Adam never wavers in his determination to marry Clara, and his persistence is charming and often funny; he’s generous and forthright, answering Clara’s questions about his motivations honestly and is never less than charming and gentlemanly towards her. I was also impressed with the way that Ms. Hunter has managed to create a credibly independent heroine who is not too modern; Clara wants to make her own way in the world, but is also mindful of her reputation and knows she has to at least appear to operate within the confines of society.

The plotline that revolves around Adam’s search for the truth about his father is well set up and executed, weaving in and out of the romance but never overwhelming it; and when the resolution comes it’s unexpected and quite clever.

With two multi-faceted and strongly characterised principals, an entertaining and well-drawn secondary cast, a sensual romance and a dash of intrigue, The Most Dangerous Duke in London is a thoroughly engaging read and one I’d recommend to fans of the author and of historical romance in general.

The Wicked Duke (Wicked Trilogy #3) by Madeline Hunter

the wicked duke

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Suspected of his brother’s murder, Lancelot Hemingford, Duke of Aylesbury, was forced to give up his hell-raising habits in London for the anonymity of quiet country living. So, when an opportunity arises to clear his name in exchange for proposing to the niece of a neighbor, he sees no choice but to accept. Plus, seducing the reluctant maiden will be a most intriguing challenge…

As Marianne Radley is dependent on her uncle, she must accept the Duke’s marriage proposal at her family’s request, despite her belief he is irredeemably wicked. But along with marrying him, she intends to sniff out the duke’s unsavory secrets and expose them to the world: a plan that would be flawless were it not for one minor detail—even she, with all her determination, is not immune to the charms of a rakish duke…

Rating:B

This is the final book in Madeline Hunter’s Wicked trilogy featuring the three Hemingford brothers; or rather two Hemingfords and their half-brother, Gareth Fitzallen. Running through all the books is the thread concerning the recent death of the eldest Hemingford brother, Percy, who was a thoroughly unpleasant person and who disliked his brothers so intensely that he would go out of his way to make their lives difficult. But Percy was the Duke of Aylesbury, so his death naturally attracted a lot of attention; and worse, his brother Lancelot (Lance), who has now inherited the dukedom, is, in some quarters, suspected of having murdered him.

Lance is a man who likes to live well and play hard, but his brother’s death cast a pall over his normally hedonistic lifestyle and his brothers Gareth and Ives have tried hard to get him to keep a low profile while the investigation into Percy’s death is ongoing. Lance hates his enforced rustication, even though he finds ways to keep himself entertained (as is clear from the very first page of the book!); he is bored, sarcastic and not always grateful for his brothers’ intervention and advice, and now the investigation appears to have concluded, is impatient for the local magistrate to make known his decision. All Lance wants is to get his life back, but with suspicion still rife and society still thriving on the gossip about his possible guilt, that isn’t going to happen until he is completely exonerated.

Out riding one day, Lance encounters Marianne Radley, the niece of Sir Horace, the local magistrate and the man who is responsible for delivering the final verdict on Percy’s death. Marianne is lovely and Lance is immediately smitten, but she is a lady and thus off-limits unless he is interested in anything more than seduction. Which at that moment, he is not. Still, he can’t help thinking about her and wondering how she would look and act in his bed.

Since the death of her father (Sir Horace’s brother) Marianne and her mother have made their home with Sir Horace and his daughter, Nora. Believing Lance to have been responsible for a past outrage against Nora, Sir Horace believes he has found a golden opportunity to increase both his social standing and improve his financial situation. He offers to tell the coroner to announce that Percy’s death was due to natural causes if Lance will agree to marry Nora.

Marianne is horrified. Nora is a delicate and very troubled young woman who lives her life away from the world and there is no doubt that being forced into marriage – any marriage – would kill her. When it becomes apparent to Sir Horace that his scheme will not do, he turns to Marianne and insists that she marry the duke instead. But Lance is not ready to submit to blackmail, no matter that he finds Marianne very attractive and enjoys her company. He decides it’s time to kick things up a gear and asks his brothers for help in proving his innocence once and for all. But when a London newssheet prints another column by the gossip monger, Elijah Tewkesbury that announces the uncovering of new, damning evidence against him, Lance decides there’s nothing for it but accede to Radley’s proposal and make Marianne his duchess.

The arranged/forced marriage trope is a favourite of mine, and it works especially well here. Marianne proves herself to be more than up to Lance’s weight; she’s clever, spirited, loving and more than able to stand up for herself. She is also convinced that Lance is a wicked man and is determined to expose his secrets – but that becomes ever more difficult to do as she falls under the spell of a charming, witty, sexy and unexpectedly compassionate man who is nothing like the dastardly hedonist she had expected him to be. And as she gets to know him, she comes to believe firmly in his innocence and to want to help him to prove it.

In the previous books, Lance has certainly lived up to his moniker as a “wicked” duke, although the author made it very clear that he was stuck in a vicious circle of dissipation and depression over his situation. He obviously no longer enjoyed the endless round of drinking, gambling and women he’d been used to, but was using them as a way to forget the fix he was in. Having lived his life as the spare, it was almost his job, as a younger son, to go off the rails and live it up more than a little, and he was completely unprepared to inherit a dukedom. When seen in that light, his hellraising and discontent are perhaps understandable. So it’s a big step forward for him in this story when he decides he’s had enough of waiting and determines to take back his life, even though that involves being forced into marriage. Yet Lance is not unhappy at the prospect of wedding Marianne, who is perfect duchess material; well-bred, intelligent, sensible and ladylike. The fact that he wants badly to take her to bed is another plus and the romance between them is very well developed. There’s a real sense of two people of similar understanding working out how to make a life together as well as of two people who share a strong mutual attraction enjoying the sensual pleasures to be had with someone with whom they share an emotional connection.

There’s another underlying theme that is subtly explored, which is the importance of familial connections, both good and bad. Both Lance and Marianne are betrayed by their relatives; Marianne’s uncle pretty much sells her into marriage, while Lance is still living under the shadow cast by the brother who hated him and constantly belittled him. In fact, Percy is finally revealed to have been such a bastard that if Lance HAD murdered him I’d have given him a medal! Those negative associations are brilliantly contrasted with the other important relationship in the book, namely that between Lance and his brothers. They do all the things brothers do – get drunk and talk about girls, tease, annoy, exasperate and threaten – but it’s obvious that deep down, they are clearly very fond of each other and would do anything for one another. The bond between them is superbly drawn and has easily been one of the best things about each of the books in the series.

The Wicked Duke is an entertaining and lushly romantic read and a fitting end to the trilogy. While there’s a mystery to be solved, the author keeps the romance firmly front and centre and the balance between the two elements of the plot is just about right. I’ve read a number of books by Ms. Hunter before, but I still have quite a few on my TBR, which is good news, as I’ll have time to tackle a few more while I look forward to whatever she comes up with next.

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A Very Belated Best Of 2015

read all dayAlmost six weeks into 2016, and I haven’t been able to get around to writing up a post about my favourite reads and listens of 2015. I’ve written one each for All About Romance, Romantic Historical Reviews and AudioGals (running soon), and of course for each one, I could have chosen different titles or more titles… I had a good year last year when it came to books and audiobooks which made choosing the ones I enjoyed the most a difficult task.

I’m only including those books for which reviews appeared in 2015, as in most cases, I don’t put them here until they’ve appeared at the outlet for which they were initially written. This means that some of the books and audiobooks are ones I might have read or listened to at the end of 2014; similarly, there are a few missing from the end of 2015 for which reviews didn’t appear until 2016. Confusing perhaps, but if I had to go and check the date I’d actually finished each title it would have made the job of compiling this post an even longer one and given me another reason to put it off!

From my Goodreads stats:

Of the 231 books I read and/or listened to I gave 57 of them 5 stars; 97 of them 4 stars; 52 of them 3 stars; and 16 of them 1 or 2 stars.

As Goodreads doesn’t allow half-stars and I know that a large number of my 5 star ratings are actually 4.5 stars, here’s how I work them out. At AAR, we use a letter grading system; B+/B/B- and so on, so for me, an A is automatically a 5 star book (I’ve only given one A+ so far). A- and B+ equate to 4.5 stars, but I round an A- up to five and a B+ down to 4. B- and C+ equate to 3.5 stars, but I round a B- up to 4 and a C+ down to 3 and so on.

Top Books:

– ones I’ve given 5 stars or 4.5 stars and rounded up (A+/A/A-)

Honourable Mentions:

– a few of the B+ books I enjoyed

Of Rakes and Radishes by Susanna Ives
In Bed With a Spy by Alyssa Alexander
The Soldier’s Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye
The Duke and the Lady in Red by Lorraine Heath
The Earl’s Dilemma by Emily May
The Marriage Act by Alyssa Everett
The Chaperone’s Seduction by Sarah Mallory
The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig
The Soldier’s Rebel Lover by Marguerite Kaye
A Talent for Trickery by Alissa Johnson
Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Daniel’s True Desire by Grace Burrowes
The Spinster’s Guide to Scandalous Behaviour by Jennifer McQuiston
Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt

Top Audiobooks:

– ones that have received 4.5/5 stars or an A/A- for narration AND at least 4 stars/B for content.  This will naturally exclude a few titles where an excellent narration hasn’t been matched by a story that was equally good, OR where a really good story hasn’t been paired with a narrator who could do it justice.

I’ve also (finally!) got around to updating my 2015 TBR Challenge post with the list of books I chose to read last year. I completed the Mount TBR Challenge at Goodreads, too, knocking 32 or 33 books off my pre-2015 TBR pile.


(There are some overlaps with the TBR Challenge, and as I’ve been compiling this post, I’ve realised I missed a few out!) But I’m back into both challenges again this year and shall attempt to update my progress more regularly than I managed in 2015.

To sum up, almost half the books I read and/or listened to last year got at least 4 stars, which I think is a pretty good strike rate considering the numbers of books put out (and the amount of dross that’s out there to wade through).  2016 is also off to a good start, so keep watching these pages (or find me at my other haunts!) to find out what’s making me happy 🙂

Tall, Dark and Wicked (Wicked #2) by Madeline Hunter

tall dark and wicked

Most women will give him anything he wants. She is not most women…

As a well-known barrister and the son of a duke, Ives confines his passionate impulses to discreet affairs with worldly mistresses. A twist of fate, however, has him looking for a new lover right when a fascinating woman shows up in his chambers, asking him to help save her father from the gallows. Unfortunately, he has already been asked to serve as the prosecutor in the case, but that only ensures close encounters with the rarity named Padua Belvoir. And every encounter increases his desire to tutor her in pleasure’s wicked ways…

Having always been too tall, too willful, and too smart to appeal to men, Padua Belvoir is shocked when Ives shows interest in her. Knowing his penchant for helping the wrongly accused, she had initially thought he might be her father’s best hope for salvation. Instead, he is her worst adversary—not least because every time he looks at her, she is tempted to give him anything he wants…

Tall, Dark and Wicked may be purchased from Amazon

Rating: B

Tall, Dark and Wicked is the second book in Madeline Hunter’s Wicked trilogy, and focuses on Lord Ywain (Ives) Hemingford, younger brother of the Duke of Aylesbury. As was the case in the previous book, (His Wicked Reputation) the author has very skilfully blended together an intriguing story that is rich in historical detail and a sensual romance between two attractive protagonists who, at first glance, seem to be somewhat mismatched.

Ives is a man who knows who he is, what he wants and how to get it. He is the epitome of cool, calm and collected, his emotional detachment, logical mind and keen intelligence serving to make him one of the most highly respected and successful barristers in the country.

His detachment is shaken one evening however when a shabbily dressed but striking young woman suddenly appears at his house and asks him to act for her, or rather, for her father, who has been thrown into Newgate on counterfeiting charges. Such a thing is incredibly serious; putting counterfeit money into circulation is an attempt to debase the coinage and upset the economy, and is almost tantamount to treason. England has only recently emerged from a long and costly war and is struggling to deal with its aftermath – lots of returning soldiers with no jobs to go to, unrest caused by food shortages and the introduction of mechanisation has already led to riots (most famously the one at Peterloo in 1819), and the Home Department (in charge of national security) is becoming increasingly paranoid and resorting to underhand methods in an attempt to clamp down on any activity they believe to be suspicious.

Ives can’t deny the sudden fascination he feels for Padua Belvoir, but acting on impulse is not his way. His intimate relationships are conducted almost like business transactions; his mistresses are experienced women and the relationships are negotiations rather than seductions. That way, both parties know where they stand and what to expect. But Ives finds himself behaving unexpectedly out of character when it comes to Padua; he’s attracted to her intelligence and strength of character, but there’s also something not quite right about her father’s case. He has been asked by the Prince Regent to act as the prosecutor for the Crown, so to become involved with her could ruin him professionally. Yet when he learns from one of the government’s agents that Padua’s visits to her father in prison have attracted the wrong sort of attention, he is unable to walk away and begins to investigate further.

I have to say at this point that I have no idea how legal matters worked at the beginning of the 19th century and whether Ives, as a barrister, would have been able or expected to conduct such an investigation into the validity of the charges or the culpability of the suspect. But Ms Hunter’s research into the historical background of the novel is sound, and I imagine the same is true of her research into the workings of the legal profession at the time.

Padua is an interesting character, a well-educated young woman who dreams of attending university in Italy, where there are a small number of such institutions which will admit women to a course of study. Since the death of her mother, she has had no contact with her father and did not, in fact, have the slightest idea where he was living, only knowing that he was in London. Her feelings towards him are a mixture of resentment, frustration and what I can only describe as thwarted love; she visits him in prison and takes him books and food, yet he continually rebuffs her, insisting she leaves him alone and showing no affection or gratitude whatsoever for her visits. In spite of this, however, Padua remains determined to help him, sure that he has somehow been duped or forced into doing something against his will and judgement. I have to admit that there were times I wanted to shake some sense into one or both of them; but Padua’s loyalty is one of the qualities Ives most admires about her, and I suppose her determination to do the right thing by her father, regardless of his attitude towards her is admirable.

It’s a refreshing change to encounter an aristocratic hero who works for a living, and this is one of a handful of historicals I’ve read where the hero is a member of the legal profession. Ives is a sexy hero (although not at all wicked unless one counts his desire to be obeyed without question in the bedroom 😉 ), but what struck me most strongly about him were his kindness and his sense of fair play.

The romance between Ives and Padua is a passionate one, and when they are out of bed, they’re a pair well-matched in determination and intelligence. My one complaint is that while the storyine concerning Padua’s father is very well set up, with a superbly created atmosphere of menace about it, it loses a bit of steam once we discover the truth about Belvoir’s mysterious inheritance and how it relates to the counterfeiting gang. Even so, the plotline is well-executed and the pacing picks up again as we head towards the dénouement.

There is much to enjoy in Tall, Dark and Wicked. The relationship between Ives and his brothers is very well drawn and even though they are constantly needling each other, the reader is left in no doubt that these men are bound by strong ties of affection and would do anything for each other. Padua is an engaging heroine, one for whom life hasn’t always been easy, but who is determined to make the most of it, embracing and enjoying her time with Ives, no matter the difference in their stations and the likelihood their relationship will be a short-lived one. Ms Hunter has made excellent use of historical detail in her story, and the plot is generally well paced and reaches a satisfying conclusion; I particularly like the way in which she explores the idea of corruption among those who are supposed to uphold the law, and considers how such people have arrived at a point at which they are prepared to subvert the rules to their own ends.

I enjoyed reading Tall, Dark and Wicked and would definitely recommend it to fans of well-written, intelligent romance in which the historical background is more than just window-dressing.

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His Wicked Reputation by Madeline Hunter (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

his wicked reputation audio

Gareth Fitzallen is celebrated for four things: his handsome face, his notable charm, his aristocratic connections, and an ability to give the kind of pleasure that has women begging for more. Normally he bestows his talents on experienced, worldly women. But when he heads to Langdon’s End to restore a property he inherited—and to investigate a massive art theft—he lays plans to seduce a most unlikely lady.

Eva Russell lives a spinster’s life of precarious finances and limited dreams while clinging to her family’s old gentry status. She supports herself by copying paintings while she plots to marry her lovely sister to a well-established man. Everyone warns her of Gareth’s reputation, and advises her to lock her sister away. Only it is not her sister Gareth desires. One look, and she knows he is trouble. One kiss, however, proves she is no match for this master of seduction.

Rating: A- for narration; B+ for content

When I read His Wicked Reputation a few months back, I enjoyed it, but came away from it feeling as though there was something missing I couldn’t quite put my finger on. As any regular listener to audiobooks will know, there are times when listening to a book rather than reading it can enhance the experience and enjoyment of the story, and I’m pleased to report that his was one of those times. Thanks in no small part to another excellent performance by Mary Jane Wells, I enjoyed the story even more this time around.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

His Wicked Reputation by Madeline Hunter

his wicked reputation

She was a sensible woman.

He was a man who could drive a woman senseless with desire.

Gareth Fitzallen is celebrated for four things: his handsome face, his notable charm, his aristocratic connections, and an ability to give the kind of pleasure that has women begging for more. Normally he bestows his talents on experienced, worldly women. But when he heads to Langdon’s End to restore a property he inherited—and to investigate a massive art theft—he lays plans to seduce a most unlikely lady.

Eva Russell lives a spinster’s life of precarious finances and limited dreams while clinging to her family’s old gentry status. She supports herself by copying paintings while she plots to marry her lovely sister to a well-established man. Everyone warns her of Gareth’s reputation, and advises her to lock her sister away. Only it is not her sister Gareth desires. One look, and she knows he is trouble. One kiss, however, proves she is no match for this master of seduction.

Rating: B-

This is the first in a new series from Ms Hunter featuring three ducal sons, two of whom are legitimate and a third who is not – and this is his book. It’s an entertaining story; the central characters are likeable and intelligent, and there is an intriguing secondary plot surrounding the possible art theft the hero is asked to investigate. But when I finished the book, I couldn’t help feeling there was something missing, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Gareth Fitzallen is the bastard son of late Duke of Aylesbury. His father openly acknowledged him and he shares a strong bond of friendship and affection with two of his half-brothers, Lance and Ives. The eldest brother, Percy, who assumed the dukedom upon their father’s death, has also recently died, and it’s no secret that none of the brothers is inclined to mourn him very much. While Gareth’s relationship to Aylesbury has undoubtedly opened some doors to him, he’s pretty much made his own way in the world, making his his living as an art dealer and broker. Now Percy is dead, Gareth has hopes of being at last able to take possession of a property left him by his father, his claim to which the unpleasant and malicious Percy had deliberately tied up in legal knots in Chancery.

Travelling to the Midlands in order to take possession of his inheritance, Gareth is not far from the house when he accidentally manages to run a young woman into a muddy puddle. Naturally she is not best pleased, but refuses his help when he offers to carry the rather large package she is struggling with, and her acerbic reaction to him piques his interest.

Eva Russell lives with her younger sister in greatly reduced circumstances, thanks to their late brother’s profligacy. She generates a little extra income by selling paintings, but rather than selling her own work, which she doesn’t think is very good, she instead paints copies of the far more skilfully wrought and attractive works she discovered stowed away in the attics of the seemingly abandoned house that is her nearest neighbour. So she has good reason for not accepting help with her burden – it’s a painting she has “borrowed” from Gareth’s house.

Shortly after his arrival, Gareth is called back to London by Ives, and asked to assist with the investigation with which he has been tasked – to track down a number of priceless artworks which were supposedly moved to a place of safety when it looked as though Napoleon might invade, but which were never returned to their original location when the war ended.

While it’s fairly obvious where things might be headed in terms of that particular plotline, the mystery element of the story is nonetheless intriguing and unfolds at a good pace. I suspect some readers may feel the mystery overshadows the romance somewhat, but I thought the balance was just about right.

Gareth and Eva are intelligent, appealing and determined characters who are very strongly attracted to each other even as they are wary of emotional entanglements. Gareth has a reputation as a womaniser, a man whose sexual prowess is such that he has women falling over themselves to warm his bed, and who never want to leave it once there. But he’s a decent man, generous, perceptive and, it has to be admitted, deliciously hot – one who adheres strictly to his own set of rules; he doesn’t seduce innocents, and a lady’s wishes are always to be respected. By his own strictures, Eva should be off limits, but her mix of confidence and vulnerability intrigues him and he can’t stop thinking about her. He knows Eva is not as immune to him as she would have him believe, and that she experiences the same heat of desire that he feels whenever they meet. The attraction between them won’t be denied and it’s not long before they embark upon a no-strings-attached affair which allows them to explore the passion between them and enjoy being close to another person without the potential for any deeper emotional involvement. Or so they think.

When Eva insists that their sexual relationship has to come to an end, Gareth abides by her decision, but says that he will always be a friend to her. One of the best things about the story is the way that friendship develops, and how Eva and Gareth come to know and depend upon one another almost without realising it.

There are a number of well-developed secondary characters in the book, not least of which is Eva’s beautiful sister, Rebecca, a crusading free-thinker who deters unwanted suitors by quoting Voltaire and Plato endlessly at them! Then there are Gareth’s brothers, Lance, who is now the Duke of Aylesbury, and Lord Ywain, who prefers to be called Ives, one of the finest legal minds of his generation. They are both intriguing personalities and their relationship with Gareth is one of the highlights of the book; the three of them obviously share a deep respect for each other, and there’s a lovely undercurrent of familial affection between them.

I said at the beginning that I came away from the book feeling there was something lacking that I couldn’t quite identify – and even as I come to the end of writing this review, I still can’t describe it. On paper, His Wicked Reputation has everything – two likeable central characters, sexually-charged verbal-sparring, humour, a good storyline, hot, sensual love scenes, and a well-drawn set of secondary characters. So perhaps this is a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. Don’t get me wrong – I did enjoy the book and will certainly go on to read the next in the series, but this one didn’t wow me as I’d expected it to.

The Rules of Seduction by Madeline Hunter

rules seduction

Dangerous. Sensual. Handsome as sin. Meet Hayden Rothwell, the shamelessly erotic hero of The Rules of Seduction and author Madeline Hunter’s most irresistible alpha male yet: a man of extraordinary passion and power, a man who can bring out the seductress in any woman.…

He enters her home without warning or invitation–a stranger of shadowy motives and commanding sensuality. Within hours, Alexia Welbourne is penniless, without any hope of marriage. Until Hayden Rothwell takes her to bed. When one impulsive act of passion forces Alexia to marry the very man who has ruined her, Hayden’s seduction of Alexia is nearly complete. What Alexia doesn’t know is that her irresistible new husband is driven by a secret purpose–and a debt of honor he will risk everything to repay. Alexia is the wild card. Reluctant to give up their nightly pleasures, Hayden must find a way to keep Alexia by his side…only to be utterly, thoroughly seduced by a woman who is now playing by her own rules.

Rating: B

I haven’t read many books by this author, and judging from various reviews I’ve seen, she can be a bit hit-and-miss for many, but I enjoyed this, and was particularly impressed with the way she utilises a specific historical event (the stock market crash of 1825) to provide both background detail and impetus for her story.

Lord Hayden Rothwell, brother of the eccentric Marquess of Easterbrook is a highly successful and skilled financier, as well as being a mathematical genius on the quiet. He is a man who keeps himself tightly controlled and is not subject to whim or impulse; everything he does is carefully considered and calculated, which has earned him a fearsome reputation in both high society and in financial circles.

Several years previously he, like many of his peers, travelled to Greece to fight in the war of independence against Turkey. Were it not for the actions of his friend, Benjamin Longworth, Hayden would have been killed – and that debt of honour is one that Hayden holds sacred, even four years after Benjamin’s death at sea. Because of that debt, Hayden now finds himself in an impossible situation, having discovered that Benjamin’s brother, Timothy, has been embezzling funds from the bank in which both he and Ben were partners. Hayden has no alternative but to confront Longworth with his knowledge; but owing Ben his life means he is not willing to throw Longworth to the wolves. He comes up with a way for Longworth to avoid the gallows – but it will mean repaying as much of the missing money as he can and then learning to live within his now meagre means.

Bound by his word never to reveal the truth to Longworth’s sisters and the impoverished cousin who lives with them, Hayden has to endure the misplaced enmity of the entire Longworth household. It’s not that he cares overmuch, even when rumour begins to circulate that he deliberately ruined the family, but it’s an inconvenience, especially when Hayden finds himself unexpectedly drawn to the Longworths’ cousin, Alexia Welbourne. He is impressed by her dignity even as she makes clear her dislike and disdain, and he can’t help rising to the tempting bait she presents, sensing that beneath her controlled exterior, she’s seething with frustration and unable to help thinking of other ways he would like to rouse her passions.

Alexia can’t deny that Hayden is a very handsome man, and against her will and better judgement she is attracted to him. But she is convinced it is a transient thing, and instead still clings to the memory of Ben, with whom she was in love. Before leaving for Greece, he had – she believes – promised to marry her, although he didn’t actually propose. He had no such intentions, of course, but she has remained unaware of that, and is clearly more in love with Ben’s memory and the idea of being in love, than she was with the man himself.

Realising that her cousins’ impoverished state means Alexia will not be able to continue to live with them, he arranges for her to take a position as his aunt’s companion and governess to his cousin who is to make her début this season. As the ladies will be taking up residence in the Longworth’s former home, Alexia will not have to leave or try to find other employment.

Because of his aunt’s demands that he dance attendance upon her and his cousin, Hayden is often in company with Alexia. He’s well aware that his aunt has designs upon him on her daughter’s behalf, but he’s interested only in Alexia and is prepared to put up with his relations in order to spend time with her. His continued presence makes her feel rather uncomfortable because she is starting to find much in him to admire, and to more than like the way he makes her feel when he kisses her. She can’t understand it – how can she feel such an intense attraction to a man she doesn’t even like?

After passionate kisses turn suddenly and unexpectedly into lovemaking, Alexia believes Hayden intends to make her his mistress. She decides to be practical and accept his offer of carte blanche with the intention of putting aside enough money and jewellery to support her comfortably after he leaves her and to offer her cousins what help they will accept.

She is stunned to receive an offer of marriage instead.

She knows that this will cause a serious breach between her and her cousins, who are her only family; yet Hayden is offering her a comfortable life, and one filled with passion for as long as they want it, for neither of them can deny the intensity of the sexual pleasure they experienced together. Prepared to live in a marriage of convenience in which both partners lead separate lives, Alexia can’t ignore the small voice at the back of her mind telling her that when her husband eventually strays from her bed, it will hurt like the devil.

While there are elements of miscommunication in the story, they don’t reach the level of the silly Big Misunderstanding, the sole existence of which is to provide easily resolvable conflict. There are issues between Hayden and Alexia that take time to resolve, it’s true, but for the most part they DO talk honestly. There is one important exception, however, which is Hayden’s request to Alexia early on that there should only ever be the two of them in their bed. He means it mostly as a reference to Ben, as he believes that although Alexia is a passionate and very willing bed-mate, she is still carrying a torch for his old friend; but she interprets it very literally, and never speaks of her problems in the bedroom, often reminding Hayden of his request on those occasions he asks what is troubling her.

While I do have a few minor quibbles about the book as a whole, the storyline is very well put-together both in terms of the romance and the plot concerning Hayden’s following of the money-trail as he tries to work out exactly who stole what and what happened to the money. There’s a brilliant and unexpected twist towards the end, which I didn’t see coming, but which, looking back on it, is subtly signposted.

The characterisation of both leads is very good, and there is plenty of chemistry between them. I liked that they actually talk to each other quite a lot, and especially enjoyed the way that Ms Hunter allows the romance to build slowly. Hayden is a delicious hero – tall, dark and handsome of course, but he’s also defined by an air of competence and a deep intensity and sensuality that make a heady cocktail! Alexia is practical and intelligent, and while there were times I didn’t agree with her actions, they nonetheless made sense within the terms of the plot. She resists her attraction to Hayden while he is determined to foster it – and in doing to, he falls hard and has to learn to accept that there are some things he can’t control. But he is also considerate and never treats his wife with anything other than respect – he values her opinions and her spirit, and is sensible of the fact that she needs to make her own decisions about him. With time, Alexia comes to see that her new husband is a man of honour and integrity, and to finally have her suspicions that perhaps the Longworths’ ruin was not his fault.

The Rules of Seduction is an enjoyable read featuring a well-developed love story set against a very intriguing historical background. There are three more books in the series, which I certainly intend to check out at some point on the strength of this one.