Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “She looks the way I feel sometimes.”
Blurb: Gareth Fitzallen is celebrated for four things: his handsome face, his notable charm, his aristocratic connections, and an ability to give the kind of pleasure that has women begging for more. Normally he bestows his talents on experienced, worldly women. But when he heads to Langdon’s End to restore a property he inherited—and to investigate a massive art theft—he lays plans to seduce a most unlikely lady.
Eva Russell lives a spinster’s life of precarious finances and limited dreams while clinging to her family’s old gentry status. She supports herself by copying paintings while she plots to marry her lovely sister to a well-established man. Everyone warns her of Gareth’s reputation, and advises her to lock her sister away. Only it is not her sister Gareth desires. One look, and she knows he is trouble. One kiss, however, proves she is no match for this master of seduction. (Goodreads)
Gareth Fitzallen is the illegitimate son of a Duke and. Unlike most noblemen of this period, Gareth’s father not only maintained an amicable relationship with him but also encouraged a relationship between him and his legitimate sons. When the oldest son (and current Duke) dies under mysterious circumstances, Gareth is summoned home at the bequest of his other brothers. A broker of sorts for the autocracy, Gareth’s connections are needed when he is charged with finding some missing artwork that disappeared during the French war. On his arrival to the family estate, Gareth inadvertently runs a young woman into a water filled ditch when his attention wanders to the scenery around him. He is intrigued when his normally winsome charm and good looks don’t produce the reaction he is used to.
“Won’t you allow me to help you carry that? Or better yet, give you a ride to where you are going? It looks like a heavy package, and those shoes must be uncomfortable now.”
“No thank you, I will manage.”
“You dont have to be afraid. I promise to behave myself. I am utterly harmless.”
“I would not accept a ride with you even if I had five miles to walk. Please, be on your way and I will be on mine.”
Eva Russell definitely doesn’t want Gareth’s help as the package she is carrying is a painting she has stolen from his newly inherited home. A poverty stricken spinster, she supports herself and her younger sister by painting copies of famous paintings. Made desolate by her father and brother’s lack of financial know how, Eva loses her fiance and essentially her freedom when she is forced to become the head of the household. A free spirit with a poetic heart, Eva’s goals are more straight forward now-make the money they need to secure her sister’s future. Though her tone and manner are slightly acidic towards Gareth at first, she is not as immune to him as she pretends to be.
She smiled all the way home. How bad can a poor spinster’s day be when the most beautiful man she has ever seen in her life flirts with her?
His Wicked Reputation is the first in Madeline Hunter’s newest trilogy that follows a trio of brothers on their journey to true love. Set up like a traditional historical romance, the infectious balance of humor, wit, decadent love scenes, and hints of suspense and intrigue makes this a unique read in a tried and true genre. Steady pacing, engaging dialogue, and a strong initial storyline setup gives readers pertinent information without overburdening with unnecessary filler. A humorous meet cute sets the stage for the beginning of a friendship that swiftly leads to a glorious romance for the first brother-Gareth Fitzallen.
Gareth manages to insulate himself into Eva’s life rather quickly, using the excuse “I’m new to town and you’re my neighbor” to appeal to her inbred good manners. She introduces him around town while giving the residents a warning that everything that disappeared from his abandoned estate over the years needs to make its way back there pronto. The sharp chemistry that was ignited at their first meeting burns brighter with each new meeting until they are unable to ignore it anymore. Eva begins to find him as irresistible as every other woman.
“Do you always enter homes when their owners are gone?”
Such an unfortunate question. “I am sorry. I should never have entered.”
“Do not apologise. I am glad you came.” His hand fell from her shoulder. Finally. “Come inside. I will show you the improvements.” A slow smile formed, but he looked no friendlier. “Several chambers still require new fabrics and such. You can advice me.”
“I…really cannot…That is, it would not be…appropriate for me to…” Her words died in her throat. He stepped closer. That put her nose at most six inches from his chest.
“Come now, Eva. if it was appropriate for you to enter the house, and appropriate for you to watch me wash-”
“I did not watch you wash!”
“Correction, watch me dress. Even after that you can hardly quibble about your setting foot inside to advise on the drapery.”
Gareth and Eva entertained me from first meeting. Both are strong, intelligent, feisty, and good natured despite their less than stellar upbringings. Neither use their backgrounds as excuses to mope or act the put upon fool. Humorous banter and lush sexual tension keeps the storyline and their relationship flowing smoothly forward.
Neither Gareth nor Eva believe in true love or the all the trappings that come with it. Gareth’s reputation as a hedonistic lover leaves him in much demand but his parent’s own illicit romance showed him that love is a fleeting emotion that causes more pain than pleasure. While Eva does believe in romance, she believes security is more important as she was taught that love can be easily cast aside when circumstances change. Unable to stay away from each other, they begin to engage in a sex only affair, giving each other the passion they crave without the commitment they both seek to avoid. Two wounded souls finding one another is a trope I love and Hunter masters it, developing not only a decadent love affair but a friendship that builds into a true soul match. I enjoyed that the sex isn’t off scene nor inundated with an abundance of flowing purple prose. Though Eva seeks to keep Gareth at arms length, he is a confident, experienced lover who uses his body and mind to trap Eva in her own desires.
She knew, even as she succumbed, that his goal was to master her will.
She did not care.
As their assignations heat up, so does the mystery of the stolen paintings. Gareth’s investigations show him that Eva is involved though the depth of her involvement is yet to be determined. Slow and steady, Hunter intertwines the romance and mystery, allowing them to play off one another and develop at their own pace. Though the mystery is the weaker of the two story lines- it was pretty easy to figure out exactly what was happening- the intrigue lays in the various individuals involved and the ramifications.
Delightful secondary characters add to the depth of the story. I loved the frank speech between everyone involved. Hunter does a fantastic job of creating characters we can relate to. Gareth and his mother are close, as are he and his brothers. I enjoyed their scenes together. All three are an adventurous lot and look forward to their stories. Rebecca, Eva’s sister, provides much entertainment as those around her discover her exceptional beauty hides a razor-sharp mind and tongue. I do hope this ambitious crusader gets her own story.
The main conflict resolves itself admirably (as I stated earlier, it was all very easy to figure out) and the story ends in a delightful and quite unorthodox manner. Ms. Hunter certainly proves her reputation with her latest historical offering and I look forward to reading more about these wicked brothers.