Wild Conquest by Hannah Howell
Pleasance Dunstan has lived her life in the shadow of her very beautiful younger sister. But even Pleasance almost rebels when her family tells her that she needs to throw over Tearlach O'Duine just because her sister has suddenly decides that she wants him, conveniently after he has already shown a preference for Pleasance. But the kicker comes when her sister Leticia requests that she break into Tearlach's room at the inn to steal some love letters she wrote for him and a silver tankard she gave him as a gift. When Tearlach finds her in his room he is still upset at her for throwing him over and believes she did it because she thinks she is too good for him. So he decides to get even by pressing charges, never imaging that her family will utterly abandon her to her fate and even turn against her by painting her as a common thief and a whore at the trial. To save her from prison Tearlach decides to take her on as his indentured servant for a year. Pleasance is furious, but knows that with the whole town against her telling the truth will do nothing. So she heads off into the wilderness with Tearlach who imagines he will certainly enjoy having a woman grace his bed, do his chores, and take care of his half-Indian sister, Moira.
Pleasance knows that her reputation is lost anyway but she still does not want to immediately fall into Tearlach's bed, and he certainly tries his best to get her there. Tearlach is determined that he will not fall for Pleasance again as he has already pegged her as a spoiled, pampered, Englishwoman (although she is a colonial) and knows that she thinks she's too good for him. So he plans to keep distance from her- keep her actions in his bed at night completely seperate from her duties as his servant during the day. But this is not enough for Pleasance who falls in love with this man despite his admittedly shabby treatment of her at some instances. She knows she needs more from him than he seems willing to give, and she decides that she will try to win him over before her year with him is over. First Pleasance is forced to come face to face with Tearlach's greatest enemy, his sister Moira's father and his mother's rapist, and face him down. When her brother Nathan comes to take her away Pleasance accompanies him and it is up to Tearlach to make the grand gesture and go after her- if he can admit that he truly needs her, and not just as a servant.
I really wanted to like this book so I kept trying to overlook some of it's flaws but one thing I could not overlook was how repetitive it got and how ridiculous the characters were. Tearlach has to save Pleasance from being raped not once but twice, she and he argue about how he treats her numerous times, he goes out hunting and gets gravely injured not once but twice, and he leaves Pleasance and his sister alone at the house after he knows that some madman has been spying on them while they made love in the barn. And I can not really figure out how/ why she falls in love with him or why she continues to succumb to his advances despite his shabby treatment. He really does treat her really horribly and she talks about how it makes her feel like a whore to sleep with him and he makes no attempts to help her get through this. This book is filled with times where real, very important conversations, are cut short by lovemaking. I also could not help but want to just sock Pleasance in the face for the way she acts when it comes to her family. I was really hoping that just once in the book she could... get back at them some way for their just atrocious treatment of her.
I was glad the book did not drag on, and indeed it was very short (only 330 pages) and certainly a lot happened. There were escapes, kidnappings, a madman trying to break into a house and being shot, attempted assaults, and a daring rescue! I couldn't tell if there was too much to fit into such a small book and began to think that without all of that I would have been left with a book with far too little romantic development between the characters. It is far easier to determine why Tearlach fell in love with Pleasance than she with him. She works hard, she treats him well, she is kind to his illegitimate sister, etc... and in exchange he sleeps with her and makes it clear that she is his servant and he does not want to marry her. However it was certainly fun to read about him battling his emotions as they come through the forefront and as he tries to convince himself that he doesn't really love Pleasance. There was quite a bit of angst caused of their supposedly unrequited feelings for each other and there was an amazing amount of steam although it is not precisely what I would call hot. I really enjoyed the end and the resolution at the end was really perfect.
Rating: I really enjoyed reading something from a new author and Lord knows I REALLY wanted to really like this book and I did, but there was so much about it that frustrated me.