This month’s TBR challenge hosted by SuperWendy is Series Catch Up. I am so pathetically behind on virtually every series I’ve ever started that my choices were nearly endless. I decided to focus on a short series, and I had read and enjoyed the first in Sarah Maclean’s Rules of Scoundrels series, so I decided to read the second, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover.
I’m about 3/4 of the way through the audio of the third book in the series, and I can say that there is one thing about all of these books that I had to get over to keep reading them: the preposterous premises. I can accept that fallen noblemen run a gaming hell. But the specific set-ups that get the h/h together have been hurdles for me. In One Good Earl, Lady Philippa “Pippa” Marbury is getting married in two weeks to a nice but boring earl. She’s unusual: a bespectacled scientist, uninterested in society or the typical feminine pursuits. She reads the wedding vows and realizes she has no idea about sex. So she decides to go the gambling joint run by her new brother in law and three other partners, one of whom is named Cross.
In the opening scene, Pippa goes unescorted to the Fallen Angel, finds Cross in his office, tells him he is known for his way with the ladies, and asks him to teach her about, well, sex:
How am I to take vows that I don’t understand? How am I to marry without knowing all of it? How am I to vow to be a sound wife to Castleton and a mother to his children when I lack the rudimentary understanding of the acts in question?”
MacLean, Sarah (2013-01-29). One Good Earl Deserves a Lover: The Second Rule of Scoundrels (Rules of Scoundrels Book 2) (p. 144). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
I recently read (listened to) Reckless by Anne Stuart in which the heroine goes to an orgy in order to gain knowledge about sex. She’s not a scientist like Pippa, but a spinster who wants to know what she’s missing. I find these premises, where privileged women risk the only thing they have of value in a society, their “virtue”, for “research” — hard to believe, and I’m not sure why. Lord knows I don;t have a problem with all of the other implausibilities in contemporary hist rom.
Pippa is at the very least unique — she can only speak the truth, she can’t read emotions, etc. — but I felt going to the gaming hell, something that alone could immediately ruin her reputation and put her impending nuptials at risk instead of asking her recently married sister didn’t make sense, despite the careful efforts MacLean took to show why her sisters were not helpful.
Several characters suggested, sensibly, that Pippa call the marriage off. She says she can’t because it would be “dishonest.” The ethicist in me had a very hard time with this as well. It’s only dishonest if she made a lying promise. I assume Pippa agreed to the marriage in good faith, and it was only as it approached that her doubts grew. That’s not dishonesty in my book. A betrayal, possibly, but not a lie. And when she hangs on to that reason long after she has in fact truly lied (by omission) given the way she’s talked with and flirted with and even kissed and more with another man, well…
But once I got over those things, I loved the interactions between Cross, who, like all the owners of the Fallen Angel, has Deep Dark Secrets, and Pippa. I am a sucker for the hero who believes celibacy is the only way to atone for past sins, faced with the woman who artlessly undoes him. MacLean does an amazing job with sexual tension and Cross trying to keep away from Pippa while at the same time trying to teach her something about temptation, lust, luck, and life, was the highlight of the book for me.
It’s common when a hero has a Deep Dark Secret that makes him unworthy that it turns out to be a little less dramatic than he thinks, and if only he’d been a little less narcissistic, he would have realized this and gotten on with his damn life. I would say Cross skirts this line but doesn’t cross (ahem) it. He really does have something to be sorry about. I felt that the resolution of his backstory storyline was a tad rushed, in part by a very cartoonish heavy who plans to use Cross’s secrets — and Pippa’s transgressions — against him, but who, it turns out, is pretty easily foiled.
I really liked this book. Why? I’ve mentioned the sexual tension. Another thing is the discussions the hero and heroine have, which are fun, smart, fairly wide-ranging, and, of course, sexy. In this way MacLean reminds me a little of Meljean Brook. I just liked watching them spar.
I also like the world MacLean has created. All the main players are interconnected, and more than that, they have each other’ s backs. They are all funny and attractive and interesting and smart. Kind of like Julia Quinn’s or Lisa Kleypas’s books.
And I really liked Pippa, and her honesty, which meant the reticence a heroine of her type typically feels in her sexuality was absent:
She spoke to her hands. “It’s just that . . . since we met, I have been rather . . . well, fascinated by . . .”
Say it, he willed, not entirely certain what he would do if she did, but willing to put himself to the test.
She took another breath. “By your bones.”
Would she ever say anything expected? “My bones?”
She nodded. “Yes. Well, the muscles and tendons, too. Your forearms. Your thighs. And earlier— while I watched you drink whiskey— by your hands.”
Cross had been propositioned many times in his life. He’d made a career of refusing women’s requests. But he had never been complimented on his bones.
It was the strangest, sexiest confession he’d ever heard.
And he had no idea how to respond.
He didn’t have to, however, as she was pressing on. “I can’t seem to stop thinking about them,” she said, her voice low and filled with utter misery. “I can’t seem to stop thinking of touching them. Of their . . . touching me.”
God help them both, neither could he. He shouldn’t ask. He shouldn’t.
But the King himself could have stormed into the room and it wouldn’t have stopped him. “Touching you where?”
MacLean, Sarah (2013-01-29). One Good Earl Deserves a Lover: The Second Rule of Scoundrels (Rules of Scoundrels Book 2) (p. 218). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
I thought Cross was a tortured romantic hero in the best sense and Pippa was a refreshing, smart, plucky heroine. Definitely going to complete the series with book 4.
PS. Dear publishers, next time the heroine wears spectacle, please have her actually wear her spectacles.