A Rake's Guide to Pleasure by Victoria Dahl
Emma Jensen is posing as the widowed Lady Denmore so that she can gamble with the elite members of the ton and make a small enough fortune to live modestly off of for the rest of her life. Her father had been the ninth Duke of Densmore and he earned quite the reputation for throwing scandalous parties before dying and leaving the estate to his Uncle, whom Emma lived with and admired until he died in a house fire. Years before she had met the Duke of Somerhart at one of her father's parties when he had been in attendance and she had been a mere child and since that night she had spun pointless girlish fantasies about her dashing knight in shining armor. When she meets him again at a card party she feels the same sense of connection she had felt years ago, and a very new passion for the handsome man. Somerhart is horrified that Emma is a gambler and that she takes ridiculous risks like skating across very thin ice, but nonetheless he is determined to have her. However he learned his lesson years ago never to let a woman close to him, after being humiliated by a lover, and he vows to keep her away from his heart.
But the more he tries to keep her away the more obsessed with her he becomes. She shows him glimpses of passion in hot kisses and touches but she claims she does not want him for a lover. When a man from Emma's past, who knows the truth about her and who is determined to marry her and turn her into a decent Christian woman, shows up, Emma turns to Lord Lancaster for help. The man is crazed and it shows Emma how close she is to being exposed and losing everything. Somerhart begins to fear that Emma is going to make a fool of him and he tries to push her away but when he becomes angry when she wagers her body in a gambling den, he discovers in the aftermath of his anger that she was a virgin. Unfortunately for him she has chosen this moment to disappear from his life and Somerhart needs to find her- even if he is not quite sure what he plan on doing with her when he does. When he does find her it may be too late as the crazed man from her past has caught up with her too and it is up to Somerhart to save her and prove to both of them that he is capable of love.
So once again Dahl has written some great characters who are very well developed, very likable, and both of them make for interesting reads. Emma is intriguing as the woman who goes to great, and dangerous lengths, to make a life for herself. However in this case I had kind of hoped that she would have wanted more for herself than a quiet house in the country- surely a woman so adventurous wouldn't want to spend her life so isolated from society? However at least that is vaguely explained as it was a place she had felt happy during her childhood. Somerhart, whose real name is never given and he is just referred to as Hart throughout the novel (weird) and whose age is never revealed, is well done as the older man who has sworn off love. A former of mistress of his had published some quite revealing love letters and he had been humiliated by the entire ton so his feelings are understandable if a little cold. What is not so clear to be honest is quite why or how these two fell in love with each other. There is some reflection by Hart that she is innocent and adventurous and strong and some reflection by her that is strong and protective but nothing precisely super love inducing.
Despite that the sex between these two is smoking! even if there is not quite enough of it. They are incredibly compatible in the bed as Emma rather likes being ordered around in the bedroom and even a little bit of submission (her hands being pinned over her head) while Hart is more than willing to do a little dominance. It is nothing extreme and throughout it we're in both their heads seeing how in tune with each other they are and there is a tiny bit of tit for tat in the form of her "making" him masturbate for her. Yea- smokin'! The book is fairly short (289 pages) so the side plot involving Matthew Bromley definitely doesn't draw the book out or make the book just too intense. It is fairly briefly scattered throughout the course of the novel and plays a very important role at the end by doing the romance novel staple- the hero realizes he is truly in love with the heroine when he has to save her from a kidnapping plot. However, it was quite interesting here as there was the angle of religion having driven the man crazy. There was also some very delicious angstiness going on for awhile and I loved it!
Rating: Very great effort from this very great writer. I had some issues with it- I would have liked some more romantic development, but overall quite excellent.