I read a preview of this book at the end of the previous book in the series, and based on it and the plot description, I was not too sure of it. I didn’t want another “rake seduces innocent miss to prove he is unredeemable and her goodness (and virginity) turns him into the best of all possible husbands.” That’s not necessarily a plot I love because the hero is usually a Fake Rake, Duke of Slut, or some combination of the two.
The reality was much better than I expected. Jasper Finley, Baron Montford, in a bit of drunken pique on his birthday, makes a private wager with some friends. He will seduce and bed a virtuous woman within two weeks. His target is Katherine Huxtable, and the bet is soon on the books.
Over the course of the next few days, Jasper manipulates the situation so that he and Katherine are alone in Vauxhall Gardens, moments away from his winning the wager. Confusing an in-over-her-head Katherine, Jasper halts, and explains the wager, later announcing to his friends that Katherine delivered a blistering set-down and sent him on his way. Jasper then leaves town to spare Katherine the sight of him, while Katherine leaves town to lick her wounds.
Three years later, Katherine has returned to Town and encounters Jasper, who is preparing for his sister Charlotte’s come-out while trying to fend off his step-cousin (and her co-guardian)’s attempt to marry her fortune. While attending various functions, Jasper and Katherine develop a flirtatious sort of relationship, but Jasper is only interested in bedding Katherine, and Katherine wants to marry, preferably to a man she can love. However, an act of revenge soon sees Jasper and Katherine wed and removed to the country, prompting more wagers, revelations, and confrontations.
I liked both Jasper and Katherine. Jasper’s father died before he was born, and his mother remarried a religious zealot of a man who tried to erase all memory of Jasper’s father from his own house. Jasper grew up estranged from his family, thinking of his father as a wastrel and attempting to live down to that reputation, and eschewing all attachments, except to his sisters. He doesn’t think he can love anyone, but the thought of his and Katherine’s children being loved and happy brings him to tears.
Katherine comes from a loving family willing to make sacrifices for one another, and dreams of marrying a man she loves. She still believes in love, but wonders if it will happen to her. However, she is fascinated by, and sexually attracted to, Jasper, and once wed, Katherine is determined to knock down the walls he puts up.
Over the course of the past few weeks, I have read six books by Mary Balogh, and I fought sleep so that I could see how it turned out. I am on pins and needles waiting for Margaret’s story next month: an earl who left his fiancée at the altar to run off with her married sister-in-law AND an illegitimate child? That’s definitely a Balogh plot. Grade: A