Dear Ms. Wildes:
The setup for your book stymied my initial efforts to read the story. I’ve never been a fan of the “bet” romance wherein one person (usually the man) makes a public wager to do some sordid sexual encounter. The reason for this is because a man who makes a public wager about his sexuality smacks of someone who is insecure or indiscreet or both. The problem with the “bet” premise is that it is used to show that the man is sexy or has sexual prowess. Instead, I think it shows the opposite for a man who is secure in his sexuality does not need to boast of it. The fact that I ended up liking the book despite the bet premise says something about your writing. It obviously appeals to me.
Nicholas Manning, the sixth Duke of Rothay, and his best friend, Derek Drake, the Earl of Manderville, make a bet as to who is the best lover. It’s a drunken, friendly bet and they both come to regret it but strangely, they don’t withdraw the bet nor the outrageous funds they both put down as backing for the wager. (The reason for this is never addressed, much to my disappointment). Nicholas blames the wager on his ennui and Derek on the fact that the woman that he loves has announced her marriage to someone else.
Caroline Wynn, a widow known for her virtue and icy demeanor, contacts the two combatants and offers herself as the judge of the contest. She had been married to a cruel man who mocked her sexuality and now, after mourning is over she wants to find out if she is indeed the frigid, sexless woman her husband accused her of being. Caroline thinks that if the two best rakes of the ton–famed lovers–cannot bring her to enjoy sex then perhaps her husband’s complaints were accurate.
Nicholas is intrigued by Caroline and suggests that they embark on a two week venture. One week for himself and one week for Derek. Interestingly, Nicholas had met Caroline before but easily forgot her given her well known reputation for being disinterested in any licentiousness. He takes her off to his country estate and begins a week of pleasure with her. It was easy to segue into the more sensual part of the book because Nicholas confronts Caroline with the fact that she is with him to learn about her own sensuality and he is there to exert himself to provide her the most pleasure she’s ever experienced or will experience.
Over the week time, Nicholas puts himself forth to seduce, almost woo, Caroline and falls in love himself. He doesn’t realize it, of course. He knows he feels regret and jealousy at the idea of Caroline being with Derek, but he doesn’t understand his emotional reaction to Caroline.
While Nicholas and Caroline are away in the country, Derek is facing his own demons. His uncle’s ward, Annabel Reid, had loved Derek since she was a child. A year ago, it seemed all her wishes were coming true when Derek kissed her at a ball one night. Except he left her and she later found him with his head between another woman’s bosoms. This was not mistaken situation. Derek was confused by his feelings and ran away to a relationship that he understood better. Now, however, he has come to the realization that he loves Annabel but she is in love with someone else.
I think it was the secondary romance between Derek and Annabel that made the book for me. While Nicholas and Caroline grappled with the idea that they might be in love, Derek knew he was in love and that he had made a horrible mistake. He is encouraged by family to pursue Annabel, even though she is engaged, and Derek’s imperfect attempts at doing this were both funny and poignant. I appreciated that his past misdeeds haunted him at every turn. Every rumour of licentous behavior further cemented Annabel’s anger at him. Derek had to overcome his past in her eyes as well as be forgiven for his specific act of treachery toward her.
I think if one can get past the initial setup, a reader would enjoy the characters, the plot, and the sensuality of the book. The setup, though, was a barrier for me. I picked the book up and put it down several times. Truly the best parts of the story do not begin until after Nicholas and Caroline return to town and Derek puts the press on for Annabel’s hand. Your voice is appealing, though, and I interested in future (and past) books. C+