REVIEW: The Wicked Cousin (Rockliffe Book 4) by Stella Riley
Sebastian Audley has spent years setting every city in Europe by the ears and keeping the scandal-sheets in profit. Word that he is finally returning to London becomes the hottest topic of the Season and casts numerous young ladies – many of whom have never seen him – into a fever of anticipation.
Cassandra Delahaye is not one of them. In her opinion, love affairs and duels, coupled with a reputation for never refusing even the most death-defying wager, suggest that Mr Audley is short of a brain cell or two. And while their first, very unorthodox meeting shows that perhaps he isn’t entirely stupid, it creates other reservations entirely.
Sebastian finds dodging admiring females and living down his reputation for reckless dare-devilry a full-time occupation. He had known that putting the past behind him in a society with an insatiable appetite for scandal and gossip would not be easy. But what he had not expected was to become the target of a former lover’s dangerous obsession … or to find himself falling victim to a pair of storm-cloud eyes.
Dear Ms. Riley,
I had a blast reading about Wicked Cousin Sebastian and thoroughly unflappable Miss Cassandra Delahaye. He is a hero driven to be wild – really, he was forced to do bad things – but finally needing to settle down and finding, to his delight and astonishment, the perfect woman with whom he wants a HEA. She is bored listening to her ebullient younger sister natter on about their (very distant) cousin who features in all the London scandal sheets but amazed to realize he just might surpass all the debutantes’ frenzied speculation. Can Sebastian live down his reputation and win his lady fair? Listen to some period music and find out.
Sebastien Audley is another poor English lad done wrong by his family. Maybe not quite to the extent as his acquaintance Adrian, Lord Sarre – who is still having issue with his cold hearted harpy of a mother though his new wife Caroline seems equal to the task of taking on momma – but bad enough. After losing his twin to a childhood illness and being treated like fragile, blown glass due to a bizarre family trait of too few male heirs and needing to protect the family line and title, doncha know – Sebastien kicked over the traces and basically went wild just because he was of age and finally could live a little. The scandal sheets have gleefully followed his exploits for years as he crisscrossed the continent refusing to turn down any neck-or-nothing dare and giving his family heart failure. It’s his father’s brush with death and a nagging sister’s harshly accusative letter which have brought him home. Pater is better but his sister is still a sour harpy.
The timing is good in that Sebastien has actually been tiring of his lifestyle and not being able to avoid every nutcase “can you top this” challenge. Frankly, like Jim in “Blazing Saddles, he’s ready to hang up his guns before some little bastard shoots him in the arse but hasn’t crawled into a whisky bottle yet. Facing a long stay at the family estate is untenable, his peripatetic lifestyle and not having been sent to boarding school like all his fellows while growing up have left him with few friends so it looks like London is his new home. London Society is openly salivating at the thought of his return while the betting books are already rift with what he’ll be up to. Sebastien is hardly enthusiastic about his immediate future but a trip to see Adrian might have provided a solution to fend off the hoards.
Meanwhile Cassie Delahaye as a fourth cousin x times removed is seen as a source of information on all things Sebastien – much to her disgust. She doesn’t know his plans, doesn’t want to know his plans but can’t quite get everyone to believe that. News that has filtered out of his trip to Russia to study chess – of all things! – befuddles Cassie and her friends as this hardly seems the pastime of a hellion rake. Cassie has other fish to fry as her current crop of beaux leaves her less than ecstatic. The ones who have offered marriage are a lackluster bunch she has little interest in and the one she has her eye on refuses to commit while Cassie begins to consider his hot and cold spells are deliberate. The mothers of the milksops may want Cassie as a daughter-in-law but she doesn’t want their sons as husbands. Sebastian is being flung into the deep end of London Society while Cassie has been desultorily paddling through it. A collision is inevitable.
Sebastian is gun shy in Polite Society – at least where entanglement and involvement are concerned – and reluctant to believe in any fantasy of love in marriage having not seen a great deal of it and never having romantically loved at all. He will be a hard sell. Or will he? His first necessity will be to escape the masses of husband hungry debutantes who swarm him at his first party like hunters after a fox. I could practically hear the hounds baying. Then he will be faced with an irate Cassie in the library and a past married lover who’s been stalking him across Europe. And suddenly Sebastian Audley is faced with a young woman he’d like to know just after he’s sunk his courtship before it even sails. When Cassie finally gets a good look at him with his brilliant burgundy/garnet hair, she reluctantly sees what all the feminine fuss over him is about.
Despite her discovery of how handsome her wicked cousin is, Cassie has seen the opposition and knows full well that most of the men in London would gladly lie down at this woman’s feet just for a chance to be stepped on by her. Cassie’s cheerful father, Sir Charles, reminds her that marriage is a life sentence so she’d do well to avoid anyone who she doesn’t truly like. Pfft – back to milksops, is it?
For this book, a recap of past characters in the series might be helpful. Or not if you don’t want to keep up with everyone. The characters aren’t all dumped in one scene and the explanations are eased in but by this point, there are a fair number of them. The Polite World was a small collection of people who all knew each other which is why the Evil Woman is having trouble gaining an entrée to society. Like Jo Beverley’s Rogues world, they all moved in the same circles and it makes sense they would appear at the same places. Past characters retain their personalities and tendencies – yay! They rally around Sebastian when Miranda’s claws publicly come out. Meanwhile, His Grace should prove his usual helpful self though he learns to never give your laboring wife your dominant hand to squeeze during her pains. Amberley gets to give aid and moral support during Rock’s hours of need.
Sebastian knows he’d better shape up and start competently courting Cassie if he’s to have a chance. The rules of Polite Society are hampering but he’s an intelligent man.
Cassie knows she loves Sebastian but worries that she fell in love too quickly. Is he the type to cycle through new love often and can she trust her own instincts as she’s never been in love before. If only she knew that Sebastian felt the same way. Sir Charles slowly grills Sebastian over low coals after Sebastian asks for permission to call. For a man whose eldest daughter hasn’t sent any suitors his way yet to interrogate, Sir Charles does a marvelous job with Suitor Suitability 101. Maybe he and Sebastian’s father (5 daughters, 4 married) can compare notes. I think Sir Charles will be reduced to drink by the time his youngest and wildest daughter Olivia is married off.
Miranda’s plans are fairly easy to discern and wicked through and through. One thing Miranda hasn’t counted on, and which frankly astounds Cassie’s startled parents, is the change that any aspersions against Sebastian are working on their daughter’s character. Cassie isn’t one to let panic overtake her and after all, she has been compared to a Valkyrie.
Justice is meted out in a way that is believable and true to the period though Miranda is that annoying villain who keeps popping up like a whack-a-mole. Sebastian, his friends, his soon-to-be father-in-law and The Duke wrap things up tighter than a tick and Sebastian is left to face that experience which leaves strong men weak and gibbering.
Her laughter made him feel better; as if the ground had regained some of its customary solidity. Reaching out, he took her hands in his and dropped smoothly to one knee. He saw her lips part, heard her breath catch and all but drowned in the look that glowed in her eyes. Suddenly it wasn’t difficult at all. He said, ‘I love you, Cassandra. So much and for so many reasons I can’t begin to put it into words. All I can say is that you fill my heart and I can’t imagine a life without you. Will you –?’
‘Yes.’ Laughing and crying at the same time, Cassie tugged at his hands. ‘Yes and yes and yes!’
Answering laughter lit Sebastian’s eyes but he continued to kneel and said reprovingly, ‘If you knew how much courage it takes to do this, you’d let me struggle on to the end.’
Distantly, she wondered if there was another man in the entire world who could melt a girl’s heart in one breath and tease her with the next. She said demurely, ‘I beg your pardon, sir. Please go on.’
I can only hope that the seeds which have been sown for Lord Nicholas’ romance will sprout in a following book. A-