The Trouble With Being Wicked by Emma Locke is Book One of a Regency Romance which introduces the reader to some of the main characters who will dominate the Naughty Girl Series. First is Lord Ashlin Lancester, Viscount Trestin and his unmarried sisters Lucy and Delilah who have been hiding away for seven years at their country estate, Brixcombe-on-the-Bay in the Devon area, after the scandalous death of both their parents (a murder-suicide where their deranged mother shot her philandering husband). Trestin realizes that they all must attend a London Season in order to secure good matches, yet 23 year old Lucy has vowed to remain a spinster while 21 year old Delilah is in love with Gavin Conley, a blacksmith from a nearby town. Trestin has remained celibate, afraid that he has the decadent tendencies of his father. When Miss Celeste Gray and the very pregnant Lady Elizabeth Spencer buy the broken down rectory on the Viscount’s estate, (money Ash plans to use in order to provide dowries and a season for his sisters), Ashlin is put to the test. The instant attraction between these two is almost impossible to resist. Unfortunately, Celeste is a renowned courtesan, totally unsuitable for any sort of relationship besides a mistress to the Earl. Of course, she’s moved to the country incognito (posing as Miss Smythe) to start over in order to provide a more honorable life for her best friend’s bastard child. Despite her 18 years as a hard-hearted, high class prostitute, she discovers she is still capable of falling in love with her handsome neighbor. The more Ash resists her charms, the more attractive he becomes. Then a familiar face turns up to interfere with the budding romance.
Lord Roman Alexander, the Marquis of Montbourne, is Ashlin’s neighbor and close friend. Roman, a kindred spirit and a member of The Ton, is well aware of Celeste’s checkered past and a lifestyle in which he, too, indulges. Montbourne warns her that Tristan will never accept her once he knows the truth, since Ash is too upright to forgive her former occupation and must also consider the fragile reputations of his sisters if they are to wed.
Yet Celeste cannot stay away. She begs Roman to keep her secret, but he finds it impossible to remain silent and deceive his childhood pal. Ash, horrified to discover he is attracted to the demimonde, just like his father, rejects Celeste who escapes back to London. Yet love is not that easy to dismiss. The push-pull of an impossible relationship is a theme which weaves throughout the story.
Locke sets the stage to give an understanding of events to follow. If this book is somewhat plodding, there is still a lot of romance and some erotic sex scenes when Ash and Celeste finally consummate their inevitable relationship. However, the true romance is between the irascible Roman and the allusive Lucy, who wants one night of passion with the only man she will ever love, but one she refuses to marry. Lucy is not a classic beauty but has an undefinable allure brought to the forefront through lessons of attraction from the knowledgable Celeste. By helping Lucy discover her sensuality, Celeste breaks Trestin’s trust, once again dashing any hopes of a future between the two lovers, leaving them both miserably dealing with what-might-have-beens.
The blossoming attraction which Roman feels towards Miss Lucy, is more fully developed in novella (2.5) A Game of Persuasion and Book 3, The Art of Ruining a Rake. The very pregnant but still alluring Lady Elizabeth, has her own story to explore in Book 2, The Problem With Seduction. There are also the other four Montbourne brothers whose lives are featured throughout the various books.
Lots of romance with a promise of even more, Locke has an easy style with clever dialogue and likable, although flawed, characters. There is slightly too much repetition and a little too much of a roundabout before she gets to the crux of the story, but we must give her a pass since she is setting the tone for the entire series. I would have liked a little more about the secondary characters, especially Roman and Lucy, but I know they’ll have their own story told in depth in future tales.
Three and a half stars.