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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Too Wicked to Wed by Cara Elliott

Too Wicked to Wed by Cara Elliott
Publisher: Forever/Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (349 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 books
Reviewed by Camellia

Outspoken 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 hero and heroine’s compelling primal attraction to each other, their strong personalities, their unique verbal communication, and their sizzling, breath-taking love encounters propel the story along with urgency.

The strictures of Polite Society are like a cage for independent, intelligent Alexa Hendrie. Reared by a father who allowed her to study mathematics and agriculture, Alexa had put her knowledge to use to salvage the neglected family estate in Yorkshire after her father’s death. Consequently, when her brother Sebastian returned from the Peninsula Wars, he had a prosperous estate to bring a wife to, leaving Alexa feeling as if she was homeless. Even though she was welcome to stay, she felt that the newlyweds did not need her around.

Off to London she goes to stay with Aunt Adelaide to try a Season in Town thinking she’d check out the marriage market for one Season before settling into spinsterhood. The insipid parties, teas, soirees, and endless dances with foppish men bored the country-bred Alexa. The simpering, giggly, porcelain-skinned “young ladies’ seeking husbands made her feel like a total misfit.

Then Alexa’s cousin Henry offers to take her on a risqué night into the less-than-proper part of London. She dresses in disguise and has fun but stirs up a hornet’s nest when she wins at cards and ends up with a vowel for half ownership of a brothel “The Wolf’s Lair” owned by the Irish Wolfhound, Connor Linsley, Earl of Kettlingsworth—a hard-bitten ex-soldier who had chosen to work for money rather than marry for money and consequently disgraced himself with the Ton.

Connor Linsley lives up (or down) to his nickname with his tendency to snarl, be ill-tempered and dangerous if crossed or challenged. Few have knowledge of his philanthropic deeds and no one dares to delve into his past—a past that strongly influences his present attitudes. However, during the Peninsula Wars, he forged relationships with comrades that cemented loyalties that will last a lifetime.

The cynical Cameron Daggett with a wicked sense of humor, known as Bloodhound and rich Gryffin Owain Dwight, marquess of Hadhan, known as Deerhound, are dependable and steadfast friends. They too have intriguing lives, but rally to Connor’s defense at first sign of danger.

The secondary character that is behind all the efforts to bring the prosperous Irish Wolfhound down is a mystery. Connor’s friends and associates, both reputable and disreputable, work to ferret out information while Connor and Alexa are secluded at his dilapidated estate after escaping a trap where he was shot. Their time on the coast is captivating reading.

What seemed an ugly business partnership metamorphoses into an incredibly beautiful love partnership, but not without a struggle through a tough cocoon of hurts, misgivings, and self-doubts that impedes the development at times.

Cara Elloitt’s characters radiate an aliveness charged with strong emotions and energy. Their flaws and foibles are very evident, but they are overshadowed by the determined, “can-do” attitude that creates actions that sweep the reader into a plot full of scary, dangerous scenes, Polite Society party scenes, and scenes full of desperation and determination, plus love scenes that range from near violent to sweet ecstasy.

Ms. Elliott writes about a historical era that is familiar, but her characters and their unique situations are fresh and compelling. Too Wicked to Wed is a page-turner with some twists near the end that keep the adrenaline racing through the veins—then concludes with a denouement that brings a sigh and satisfies the heart.