Out spoken and independent, Lady Alexa Bingham enjoys the heady freedom of making all her own decisions, even though the challenges of overseeing her family's country estate are daunting. But when a chance encounter with London's most notorious rake awakens a secret longing for adventure, she accepts her aunt's invitation for a Season in Town . . . only to find that breaking the rules of the ton has serious consequences.
The Earl of Killingworth uses his rakehell reputation to hide the fact that poverty has forced him to work for a living. As the owner of a gambling den and brothel, Connor has no time for glittering ballrooms or innocent young ladies. But after a reckless wager leaves him with a new business partner, he is forced to take a risky gamble . . . Will the cards fall in their favor?
Alexa and Connor begin to play a dangerous game of intrigue and deception as they seek to outwit a cunning adversary who wants to put them permanently out of business. But if they are not careful, it is the flames of their own fiery attraction that may destroy them.
The "crisis" in this story is initially the subtle but effective attack against the hero. Connor Linsley, Earl of Killingworth, is another one of those aristocrats who inherits an empty bank account and properties that make financial demands when there is not money, thanks to the gambling habit of his father. As a whiz at card games, he uses that skill to eventually become the owner of a gaming hell and brothel, one that is known as The Wolf's Lair. Connor then becomes known as the Irish Wolfhound, thanks to his mother's Irish heritage and it in the upper reaches of the brothel, of all places where Lady Alexa and Connor first encounter each other's independent spirit, their razor wit, and their mutual loyalty to those who are important to them. The kiss they exchange (Connor's "payment" for the information Alexa wants about her brother's whereabouts) begins as Connor's way of putting Alexa off, exposing her to the rough ways Connor has come to expect in his occasional romps with the fairer sex. However, it doesn't put either one of the "off" -- it becomes the kiss that Connor simply can't forget.I have been reading contemporary romance mostly in the past several months so it was fun to go back to my original passion: historical romance. Cara Elliot was an author I had encountered a while back so was delighted to read and review this newest book in a new series. I think she is a truly gifted writer who knows her stuff when it comes to telling a story in a way that keeps the reader's interest while teasing that interest forward.
This relationship seems to be a background story at first, because the initial action of the book is taken up with Connor's concern over the fact that someone is trying to "do him and his business in." Not only did a very skilled card sharp take him "to the cleaners" but the safe in his office was robbed almost immediately afterward, followed by an attack on both him and Lady Alexa. It is during his recuperation that these two begin to find their attraction to one another is more binding than they thought initially.
This is a well-written historical that takes in the ways of the ton as well as exposing the reader to the less refined levels of English society. It is also a mystery and the threads of that story are woven skillfully throughout the love story between Connor and Alexa. It's not a short read and it is not a simplistic story. It is very up-front about Alexa's resentment against a society that puts women in a display case and allows men to essentially do whatever they want as long as they pretend to be upstanding and proper. It explores that sense of independence and while it clashes with society and the expectations of friends, it also allows Alexa to be free with her concern, use her skills as a "country-bred miss" in helping Connor, and brings Alexa's mind into the story as well as her heart.
I make no bones about liking this kind of novel. I think it is a treat for the mind as well as for the heart. It is one of those stories that deals with the deeper and darker issues that make us truly human, that have been at the heart of human efforts to define individuals and societies historically, and which makes the heart of modern women glad. The freedoms that women enjoy today were hardwon by many who chafed under the yoke of social expectation. Alexa could be the poster girl for women who want to be esteemed as much for their mind and abilities as they do for the cut of their gown or the way they execute a dance step. I hope you'll consider making this novel a part of your "to be read" stack of books.
I give this novel a 4.25 out of 5.
Too Wicked to Wed was released in November under the "Forever" imprint.