Disclosure - I acquired the Kindle edition of this book on 17 January 2013, when it was offered free on Amazon. I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her about this book or any other matter. I am an author of historical romances and other genre novels.
This book was originally published by Zebra/Kensington in 2000 as A Rogue's Kiss under the pseudonym of Molly Marcourt.
I'm reading this for research.
SPOILERS ARE NOT HIDDEN.
The book is billed as your basic Regency romance, but it really doesn't hit the Regency tropes. A few are thrown in -- the language, the fashions, the emphasis on nobility, etc. -- without actually making them an integral part of the story or even the atmosphere.
Most readers won't pay any attention to the holes I found in this story. Most readers will swim blithely through it, enjoying the romance and the dangers and the misunderstandings and the happily ever after ending. I'm not so generous.
At the halfway point, I seriously considered giving up on this. I didn't like either of the main characters -- Christian Faraday, Earl of Bedlington, and Merissa Casswell, country parson's daughter. Neither of them was believable.
Christian is a wealthy rogue who spends his days gambling and what-not, and his nights apparently wenching. He makes no apology for this lifestyle; he entertains himself and that's all he needs to do.
How he acquires the funds to live like this isn't touched on. One presumes he has a substantial estate to go with his title, but he doesn't seem to have much interest in it. Toward the end of the book Christian makes an offer to solve a financial problem for Merissa to the tune of 20,000 pounds. Based on this estimate of that value in current terms, that would be the equivalent of $1.6 million. And he doesn't bat an eyelash. So he is not just wealthy; he is very wealthy, and the source of that wealth is never explained.
Merissa is the younger daughter of the rector of a country church. But the family lives on a farm. But they do no farming. And they aren't acquainted with the gentry of the neighborhood, said gentry including the Earl and Countess of Northrup.
The ecclesiastical structure of the Church of England, at least as I understand it, would indeed allow for the rector of a financially independent parish, i.e. not supported by the noble who owns the "living" of that church, to live on a farm, but would it necessarily be his own/his family's farm, or one belonging to that specific church? This sort of historical research would be important to me . . . . and it seems it would have been important to the plot of this story.
Anyway, Christian discovers himself in bed with a friend's wife and escapes to the country to avoid scandal. There's something going on behind the scenes with this, but the whole issue is pretty much dropped for the rest of the book until the tail end. On his way to Darton Park, where his friend Devon, the Earl of Northrup, resides, Christian almost literally runs into Merissa. She's a shrew, he's a rogue, what more could you want?
Well, I'd want believable characters. Merissa seems to have reason to be a bit of a shrew, but wouldn't she have been brought up to at least have decent manners?
And Christian, true to his station, falls in insta-lust. He forces kisses on Merissa even though he knows they aren't welcome. Of course, he arouses her insta-lust, so I guess it's okay? Um, no.
So then there's a ball, to which Merissa and her sister Elizabeth are invited. Um, no. They make over a couple of their (deceased?) mother's old gowns, but all I could think of was good ol' Carol Burnett and the green velvet curtains. Of course their gowns are out of fashion, which is crucial to anything Regency. And of course they're ridiculed.
But Merissa gets trapped in a bedroom with Christian, whose baser desires have been inflamed by a veritable caricature of an Other Woman, Lady Diana Fortescue. The image of this Other Woman "jiggling her breasts" to entice him was so ludicrous I nearly laughed aloud but it would have scared the dogs. Though he escapes Diana's clutches, Christian can't control himself when he encounters Merissa a few moments later -- and neither can Merissa, the parson's daughter -- so he performs oral sex on her. Then whisks her home without achieving any kind of sexual satisfaction for himself.
The next day, Merissa and her sister Elizabeth learn that their beloved brother Charles, who has disappeared into the evil world of London, is desperate to stay out of debtor's prison. He has somehow managed to get himself 20,000 pounds in debt, and needs twenty pounds to cover the interest "for a few months."
Merissa decides to sell her virginity to Christian for the 20,000, but he turns her down. So she takes the fifty or so pounds Elizabeth has found and hies off to London alone to see if she can't get dear brother Charles out of the mess he's gotten himself into. She fails at that, but nothing happens to her in London even though she's in the worst part of town and blithely goes hunting for the evil wizards who are threatening dear Charles.
Never mind, though, because Christian comes to her rescue and gets the evil wizard to cancel Charles's debt, but gets himself challenged to a duel, until Merissa overhears that it's all a plot to murder him so his wicked uncle can inherit. Duel is cancelled, apparently, and wicked uncle's plans are thwarted by Merissa seducing Christian so they can start producing an heir. And then they get married and live happily ever after.
Nothing about this book is believable. From Christian racing his priceless horses in the dark then leaving them unattended in the woods after an accident, I kept rolling my eyes at what an idiot he was. Merissa's shifts from prim and proper hater of all things noble to writhing wanton were just silly. But Christian's ignoring her rejection of him and -- and -- his dismissal of his own actions made me just dislike him. ("I ate her out against her will but it's okay because she's still technically a virgin.")
I very nearly gave up on this at the halfway point and only kept going because it was for research. Whether this Kindle edition is a transcription of the original Zebra version, I don't know. The digital copy has a lot of minor typos that may have come from an OCR scan, though even that wouldn't account for the frequent missing words, especially "I" and "to."
There's no excuse for that kind of sloppiness, but I was more concerned with the actual quality of the text, which I found lacking.
One of the big issues is this business of Merissa's believing she's been ruined as a result of her sexual encounter with Christian. While it's quite possible she doesn't know a lot about other forms of sexual activity, she lives on a farm, for crying out loud. She would know the basics of copulation, and should know she's not therefore been deflowered. And if she then decides to sell herself for a single night to Christian in return for twenty thousand pounds, she knows full well she's still a virgin. Can't have it both ways, kiddo.
She would also know that the price she's putting on herself is extraordinarily, outrageously, obscenely high.
She also ruminates on her options. She expects her older sister Elizabeth to eventually marry, leaving Merissa to care for their father. Merissa has no plans to marry, in part because she doesn't like "the idea of being at a man's beck and call." Um, no. That is exactly what she'd have if she stayed behind to care for her father, and she'd also have the prospect of being too old for virtually any kind of marriage after his death.
That's why the whole issue of the farm is important. Is that an estate that will be left to her, or to Elizabeth, or to dear brother Charles? What kind of income does it generate? How is it tied to the church?
But when Merissa turns down Christian's offer to simply pay off Charles's enormous debt -- an offer he makes to save her reputation even though he really wants to take her to bed -- she flounces off because she thinks he's not attracted to her. So we get a Big Misunderstanding . . . over nothing.
There are other absurdities, such as Caroline, Countess of Northrup, feeding her own toddler son and getting baby food all over everything. Um, no. She'd have a nurse to take care of feeding small children. Such as driving back and forth between the farm and Darton Park, a distance of ten or twelve miles, as though it were a quick jaunt to the corner convenience store in 2018. Um, no.
There's no meat to this story, so if you're looking for just something with which to while away your time, this may work, but there are better Regencies out there.