Season for Surrender by Theresa Romain
Lady Louisa Oliver is more comfortable with books than people, so her London season wasn't quite a success even though she did end up engaged to a Marquess. Unfortunately said marquess fell in love with Louisa's step-sister and the broken engagement and ensuing marriage caused quite the scandal. Alex, Lord Xavier, has his own reputation as a dissolute rake and he is infamous for never losing a bet placed in White's betting book. His cousin, Lord Lockwood, issues a challenge he can't refuse (for fear of losing his reputation) and he agrees to keep a respectable lady at his decidedly unrespectable holiday party for two weeks and they agree on Lady Louisa. Louisa is excited to get out of her sister and brother-in-law's house and wants to enjoy herself and explore Xavier's famed library. To win the wager, Xavier must keep his cousin from scaring Louisa away and he begins to realize he has made a huge mistake. He finds that he cares about her reputation and finds himself drawn more and more to spending time in the library. Louisa overhears Lockwood and Xavier and quickly learns about the bet and it strengthens her resolve to stay at the house party and have an adventure.
The huge party provides plenty of opportunities for Louisa and Xavier to spend time together under the guise of engaging in party activities. While working in the library they uncover a coded a cipher about the history of Xavier's family and they decide to work together to discover the secrets of the past. He realizes that she is far more intelligent than the average woman and she realizes that he wears a permanent mask to convince others that he has no care for others. She wants Xavier to let go of his reputation and be a better person and he knows that if it will ever happen that she is the woman who will help him. But Lockwood remains bitter about their families' pasts and is determined to get his revenge on Xavier by any means necessary, including taking Louisa down with him. Xavier is forced to choose between his reputation and the woman he loves and finds that he can face anything as long as Louisa is by his side.
Louisa was a likable heroine for being an awkward blue stocking who wanted to find some way of making her life more adventurous and her determination to avoid becoming a boring spinster. Nonetheless, I found her rather bland and boring, perhaps because there is not enough inner dialogue or because the writing style just did not add any excitement to her character. Xavier was really not that different from many romance novel heroes; a rake whose reputation has been exaggerated and wears a mask and secretly years to be wanted for who he his. I felt like too much was made of this fake reputation and it made him seem rather childish for continually seeking challenges and wagers purely to maintain this reputation. I did like that they spent quite a bit of time together, but there was a lot of boring and pointless verbal sparing, and it was remarkably unexciting. There was some sexual tension, but it was barely a simmer, and was not consummated until one very brief, lukewarm scene at the end that I skimmed.
The house party was a fun experience and I liked the myriad characters who livened up the story a little bit, even if their many drunken exploits served merely as an excuse to show how Xavier was growing tired of this lifestyle in the most heavy handed way possible. Lockwood was a nice two-dimensional villain who added some spark to the story even if the scene where he gets his comeuppance was absolutely ludicrous and abrupt. I believe I had the biggest problem with the writing style of this book; it's short and yet it took me a long time because it was so unengaging and the characters did not draw me in at all. The romance was lacking and I did not feel a spark between the two protagonists and really felt like this book lacked enough plot to make a real book or a lengthy review.
Rating: I did not enjoy this book but it did have some interesting side characters and did not cross into absolutely awful territory too often.