Lucy Lancaster has a dilemma and it’s not one with an easy solution. She is in love, even obsessed, with her older brother Lord Trestin’s best friend Roman Alexander, the Marquis of Montborne. She needs to find a way to get close to the charming rake while keeping her distance since the love of her life is simply not marriage material, but before she goes off into a life of spinsterhood, Lucy wants to experience just one night of passion.
The prequel, The Game of Persuasion (The Naughty Girls, Book #3) by Emma Locke, explores Lucy’s quest to get Roman to notice her. Lucy is able to persuade Celeste Gray, her brother’s former girlfriend (who was discarded when it was revealed she was a courtesan in The Trouble With Being Wicked, The Naughty Girls #1), to assist her in developing the necessary wiles to attract the subject of her fascination. At first Lord Montborne’s attention is focused on finding potential husbands for this young woman (now 24) who had trailed around after him like a puppy dog in her youth. Due to the Marquis’ reputation in the ton, the more time he spends with Lucy, the more other men start to take notice, despite the fact that Lucy isn’t beautiful like her sister. On the night of her Coming Out Ball Roman is especially attentive, but although they spend time in witty, titilating conversation, they do not dance and there is no kiss, yet there is a certain something between the two. Lucy decides to up the ante, stealing an entry card to an unsavory masquerade ball which Roman plans to attend. Her scheme works and Roman whisks her away from the surrounding suitors so they can make passionate love throughout the night. Roman finds this mysterious woman alluring only because she so closely resembles his Lucy-love. In the morning, long after she has lost her virginity, Lucy reveals her true identity. Roman’s first reaction is to propose marriage, since this is a Lady he has compromised. She hotly rejects his suit, especially since he has just “cheated” on her, despite the fact that she was the one to seduce him. When her brother discovers the truth, he demands a wedding, but Lucy convinces Trestin to allow her to go to Bath and start a school for young girls – a plan that Celeste is bankrolling.
In Bath, at the School for Accomplished Young Ladies, is where How To Ruin A Rake (The Naughty Girls, Book #4) begins. Here we get to experience not only Lucy’s thoughts and dreams, but also Roman’s yearnings. He is a lost soul, not quite sure what to do, but inexplicably drawn to Lucy. She is unlike any other woman, and he realizes that he has fallen in love with her, despite her continued rejection. After their seven month separation, the two lovers are once again drawn towards each other. When Roman confronts Lucy in her office, their passion is so strong that they have a hard time keeping their hands to themselves. When Lucy reaches out to touch Roman, pulling him towards her for a kiss, he responds and takes it much further, all without her murmuring a dissent. A locked door would have been a good idea, because the two are caught in the act and Lucy is immediately dismissed, her reputation in ruins. Even though she will not be accepted back into the ton unless she marries the cad who compromised her, she still refuses all Roman’s marriage proposals.
As the book continues, the two protagonists interact. Now in London with her brother, Lucy allows Roman to introduce her to the artistic crowd where a tattered reputation is not an issue. She quickly becomes popular with the men who frequent such locales, although she allows no one to touch her except the captivating Roman. He begins to properly court her, taking her to the more risqué events which were previously taboo. While Lucy is unable to resist matters of the heart and even initiates passionate embraces, Roman does his best to control his urges until she admits her love. However, sometimes nature can’t be halted and even a few days apart is agony for the two.
This book is Roman’s story and it is one of pure romance. We are alternatively caught in the heads of both lovers, sympathizing with their feelings, horrified by past deeds, anticipating romantic interludes, and yearning for a happy ending. The flawed Roman tries so hard to be redeemed, yet his past is so sordid only one who truly loves can forgive. Although Lucy’s love is strong, her jealousy and fears keeps them apart. With so much baggage there seems to be no hope for the two love birds, although eventually the past is revealed and the future is resolved.
While all the introspection strongly borders on too much repetition, the angst felt by both lovers keeps us reading to see how the story will eventually play out. Roman, even with his flaws, is the most enticing of heroes (or should I say antihero) eliciting an urge to reform him into someone worthy. Like Lucy, we simply can’t get the handsome, stylish Marquis out of our heads. Luckily, the anticipated climax is fulfilling, and there are enough obstacles to keep our interest. Even though this book can be read as a stand alone, many of these characters are found in other books in this tightly connected series. The prequel, a prolonged prologue (or novella) is a must read to get the full effect.
Well done Emma Locke, you’ve succeeded in the primary reason to write a Regency Romance – to make the reader’s heart ache. I, too, am in love with the magnetic, sexy Roman. Four Stars.
A thank you to Netgalley for providing an ARC of How to Ruin A Rake in exchange for an honest review.