Wicked All Day by Liz Carlyle
Zoe Armstrong is the illegitimate daughter of the Marquess of Rannoch and while she is quite the beauty and her family does not treat her differently than her legitimate siblings, no one in the hoity toity ton will let her forget her roots. Knowing that she will never make an ultra proper marriage Zoe has consigned herself to be the premier flirt of the ton. Rannoch has been very lenient with Zoe but she has been out for five years now and he has grown tired of her behavior, so he tells her she must either get married or move to Scotland with the sheep. Our of desperation she makes quite the mistake and ends up caught in a very compromising position with a (very distant) cousin of some sort. Robert Rowland is a carefree rake and he is not at all pleased to find himself engaged to Zoe, but his brother Stauart, the Marquess of Mercer, is even more upset. Mercer has spent his entire life getting Zoe and Robin out of scrapes but he's always felt as though he's on the outside looking in. He doesn't realize until it is too late that Zoe is more to him than just a family friend and he doesn't think there is anything he can do to put a stop to this marriage.
Neither Zoe nor Robin is excited about this marriage but when both their families head up to the Mercer estate to escape scandal, Zoe tries to make the best of it while Robin decides to get drunk and go whoring every night. Everyone knows this is not a love match but that does not make Mercer feel any better about lusting after his brother's fiance. Once again he is thrust into the role as Zoe's protector as he comes to her aid when she feels helpless and desperate. He has always thought of Zoe as a flighty young girl but watching her deal with this crazy situation forces him to acknowledge that he has never really known Zoe. In the same vein Zoe has always thought of Mercer as the stern, judgmental older brother figure and now, when she learns about passion from him, she knows that there is so much more to this man. Before they can figure out what to do Robin is gravely injured while riding a horse and their plans are thrown all up in the air. Zoe can not abandon Robin after he is scarred and left with a limp, but Mercer is not at all amenable to losing the woman he has always loved to his brother. Both need to throw off their expectations, their gloom, and find that love can work through the most dire of society's consequences.
I absolutely loved the premise of this book: a man in love with his brother's fiance and fighting his honor to do the right thing with his desire for her. And of course a woman fighting her attraction for a man she believes is absolutely wrong for her and knows she can't have. I knew that such a plot would necessitate quite a bit of angst but I was unprepared for the gloom that seemed to hang over the novel. There were some parts where Zoe just seemed to wallow in depression and it seemed so out of character for someone who was constantly grabbing life and being wild. Mercer was not exactly likable as the brooding did get a little much for me, but at least his actions as the honorable and tortured older brother is not a complete surprise. Robin was also in this book quite a bit and I was more than a little annoyed at what how utterly awful he got with his drinking. Carlyle tells this story very well from Mercer and Zoe's point of view and making how they're feeling very clear and explaining their motives and she also does some brief scenes from the point of view of Robin, Evangeline- Zoe's stepmom, Rannoch, and Jonet- Robin and Stuart's mom.
I very much enjoyed this book up until Robin's horse accident when it really did get to be a little too depressing for me. I felt as though this book dragged on quite a bit at the end and it was indeed very long for a typical romance novel. Unfortunately I wanted to grab both Mercer and Zoe and shake them and tell them to get over everything and just admit they loved each other and get married. There were some obstacles in their way but I really could not understand why they could not just get over them. Mercer's ex-mistress was vindictive, but they could get over that. Robin and Zoe obviously did not love each other so that should not have been a problem and no one in either of their families would have minded at all. As usual Carlyle is quite adept in writing some very great steamy scenes, although there is very little build up in this novel as they kind of explode on each other. I absolutely loved that part of the book, but I wish both of them had not been so gloomy and wracked with guilt about the whole thing.
Rating: A very promising premise that ends up bogged down in far too many words (there is a reason why romance novels usually cut off at 370 and not 421) and it just ends up depressing and gloomy.