Monday 30 November 2015

#CBR7 Book 128: "Wicked Intentions" by Elizabeth Hoyt

Page count: 392 pages
Rating: 4 stars

St. Giles in the 1730s was one of the most impoverished areas of London. Widowed Mrs. Temperance Dews runs a children's home for orphaned and foundling children, with the help of her younger brother, Winter Makepeace, who also tutors the boys until they're old enough to apprentice out. Caring for nearly 30 children between infancy and nine is hard, thankless work and the siblings have trouble making ends meet. They're in arrears on their rent and facing eviction at any moment.

So when the mysterious Lazarus Huntingdon (this book certainly wins for most original protagonist names), Lord Caire, breaks into her tiny and shabby sitting room to propose a bargain, Temperance doesn't really have much choice but to accept. Lord Caire is looking for a murderer (although he doesn't tell her that right away) and no one knows the nook sand crannies of St. Giles like Mrs. Dews. He wants to pay her to be his guide and in return, he agrees to introduce her into high society, so she can find a rich patron for the children's home. He also promises to pay their expenses until she finds a patron.

Lord Caire's quest for his mistress' murderer (who was really gruesomely killed) proves to be a lot more dangerous than expected, and after several murder attempts and new murder victims turning up, he's reluctant to bring Temperance with him. At the same time, his searches through St. Giles give him an excuse to spend more time with her. A jaded, thoroughly debauched man, Lazarus hasn't really felt attracted to anyone before, but the saintly, near-puritanical widow draws him inexplicably and he wants to tempt her into giving up her carefully maintained control. Even more appealing to him is her reaction every time he tries to tempt her. Temperance Dews clearly has deep passion hidden inside and Lord Caire wants to be the one to draw it to the surface.

Wicked Intentions is the second part of last year's Cannonball gift exchange from Beth Ellen, who told me in the accompanying card that this was one of her favourite romances. I was a bit wary, as I have tried to read Elizabeth Hoyt in the past (she keeps being raved about on various romance sites) and her books have at best left me mildly entertained. I'd even read another book in the Maiden Lane series before, involving Temperance and Winter's younger sister, Silence and I just didn't care about the characters, their eventual HEA or the plot at all. I hadn't realised that the start of Silence's eventual romance with river pirate Mickey O'Connor is in this book. Sadly, the whole subplot concerning Silence, her stuffy idiot of a husband and ruiner of marriages and women's reputations, Mickey O'Connor, left me completely cold and deducts points from my total rating. Without that whole mess, which left a bad taste in my mouth (and I seem to recall, was one of the reasons I just couldn't believe their eventual romance), I pretty much would have loved everything about this book.

At four stars, this is still the most enjoyable Hoyt book I've read to date. Interestingly, a cold, calculating alpha hero who forces his initial attentions on the heroine and a dutiful, repressed heroine who believes that enjoying sex will lead straight to perdition usually wouldn't work for me. However, the reasons why Temperance believes her very passionate urges are so sinful aren't just due to the societal mores of the day or her clearly religious upbringing. Her selfless and long-suffering work at the children's home isn't from entirely altruistic reasons either. Temperance is by no means perfect, which just adds to her appeal. She knows her brother desperately needs her help at the home, but she dreams of something more. She's sometimes selfish ad careless and forgets the many worries of her little sister, for instance. I liked that she refused to be intimidated by Lord Caire, negotiating a very good bargain for herself and the home and how, while she initially resisted and tried to be virtuous, once she gave into her sexual attraction, she really gave in. While Lazarus is clearly the one who initiates their first kisses, he mostly tempts her with words and never forces her to do anything she's not ready for or comfortable with.

Lord Caire, so very striking with long hair gone prematurely silver because of something in his past, is a known libertine and pervert and claims never to have loved anyone, except perhaps his little sister, who died when they were children. He is estranged from his mother (who also has prematurely greying hair) and very few friends. Not unexpectedly, he barely saw his aristocratic parents as a child, raised by nannies, tutors and eventually sent away to school. More unusually, Lazarus isn't just extremely cold and closed off emotionally, being touched brings him physical and mental pain. When he initiates contact, it's fine, but anyone else causes him anguish. He wants to track down his mistress' killer, not because he loved the woman and wants to avenge her, but because it seems like the right thing to do. It's always enjoyable following a jaded hero go through an emotional awakening and Lazarus is no exception.

Early on in the book, there are mainly kisses, but Lazarus does his very best to tempt Temperance off the straight and narrow with a lot of dirty talk. Once they finally give into their passion, there is quite a lot of "insert funky bass line here", but I was bothered in all the love scenes by the early assertions from everyone around Lazarus admonishing him for his wicked ways and his prodigious experience with ladies of negotiable affections. Since he never seems to have been using any sort of protection (while not very effective, it existed, even back then) and he seems to me to have been a walking, talking incubator of venereal disease. A man so fond of sleeping with whores would most likely have both the pox and syphilis, and probably a whole slew of other things. This definitely left me worried in the smexy scenes, but not enough to seriously ruin my enjoyment of the book.

The next book in the series is about Lady Hero Batten, the daughter and sister of a duke, who seemed charming and fun in her brief appearances in this book (and very interesting in the teaser chapter at the back). I may actually give Ms. Hoyt another chance. Thank you again, Beth Ellen!

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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