My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
After reading Lord Ruin, and despising it, I must’ve been crazy to request a review copy from CJ. You ask, why? That’s mainly because, even though I hated some of the other characters, Lucy and Thrale were two exceptions. I’ve been waiting for their book ever since CJ announced that she’s writing. I’m just happy to finally to have read The Notorious Ruin, book 2 of the Sinclair Sisters Series.
For those who haven’t read book 1 of the Sinclair Sisters it was published way back in 2002/2003. I read it about 3 yrs. ago... well, just read my review HERE and be the judge, because I’d rather not repeat myself. Not again. I don’t even think it’s necessary to read this, as book 2 is a very nicely done standalone. You won’t miss much IMO.
The Sinclair Sisters are Anne, Mary, Lucy and Emily, 4 daughters of Viscount Sinclair. Their father is a complete a$$ who has already gambled away the family fortune. Anne, the eldest is the h of book 1, was your proverbial spinster; a ‘Plain Jane’ with a non-existent dowry. But Anne had no big aspirations. She’s smart and knew how to manage a household tittering on financial ruin. She also knew how to handle their self-centered father. Anne was the epitome of the Saintly Sister. But then, Duke of Cynssyr, the notorious rake of the ton who had also been dubbed as the ‘Insincere Cynssyr’ due to his inability to keep his pr*ck in his pants, happens to Anne (don’t even ask me exactly ‘how’, as I might break into another rant). Et voilà, she finds herself married to a Duke!
Their middle sister, Mary, had already been married to Lord Aldreth and has found happiness in a love marriage. Anne despaired of her marriage being a just a shell, when she finds herself falling in love with a man like Cynssyr. Thankfully, for her, he did have a change of heart during the course of the story, with that, quite determined to be monogamous for once in his life.
Thrale was one of Anne’s friends who helped her throughout book 1 in various situations. He, as we find here, is also friends with Cynssyr, Aldreth and the Earl of Bracebridge, Devon. Now Devon, another friend of Anne, I was fond of... until a chapter at the end of Lord Ruin. After reading that scene, I lost whatever liking and respect I might have had for him. It was disgusting to say the least. I hate rakes generally, even then it was gross. I knew from that book that Devon was going to be paired with Emily. Both have feelings for each-other, trying their best to hide it. Emily thinking Devon doesn’t care because she’s so young, and Devon thinking Emily is too beautiful and innocent to be his. Either way, I was more interested in Thrale and Lucy and how things play out between them, mainly because both were rather... mysterious. Not a lot were given but hints.
It’s been 2 or so years since Anne had married and moved away. Lucy, who was already a widow in book 1, has been forced to shoulder the burden of housekeeping and managing their financial woes. Their father is still the same, doesn’t care one whit about the source and how difficult it is for Lucy to scrape by. All he wants is to show off the non-existent money in everything he does, rest can go to hell. Anne (and now Lucy) will manage somehow. End of story.
Lucy’s previous marriage was mired in scandal and until this book, we didn’t know what exactly happened. The most beautiful of her sisters, Lucy was the first sisters to marry off in haste. She’s also the first and only sister to have been widowed. The details of her marriage are not up for discussion and Lucy is determined to keep it that way. She has been dubbed as a beauty without the brains, which is a façade she likes maintaining so that the gossipy biddies and the rest of the world leave her alone. Yet the truth is, as it’s gradually revealed in the story, that Lucy is as smart a woman as they come. And no matter the vicious gossip and ruined reputation, Lucy had loved her deceased husband and misses him dearly. Lucy also has a secret of her own, through which, she’s stashing a bit of coin here and there, in hopes that one day she can escape this house, and her father, to a small cottage of her own. So far, this has what kept Lucy sane and going.
Note that this story heavily revolves around pugilism and its various ideas. I’ll be lying if I said that I know much, so many-a-times, I was confused about the terms and such. But that didn’t hinder my enjoyment.
Thrale is the only son and heir to the Marquisate. Though his main interest has always been pugilism, he’s willing to see through this responsibility. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t train regularly. Thrale is tall and strong, heavily muscled unlike most of his peers. Obviously he’d pursue his interest with more gusto had he also not have to take care of his rundown estate since his wastrel father’s death. Moreover, he’s trying his best to clean up the already besmirched family name, again, thanks to his sire. A notorious rake, the old Marquess made a harem out of their estate, Blackfern, both in looks and reputation. Thrale despised every single moment of it. Since he passed, Thrale had done his utmost to erase everything that his father installed in the house. He sold some of those gaudy pieces to pay the debt, threw away some and gave away the rest. Blackfern now looks all dark, dull and lifeless but that suits Thrale just fine. He’s also, almost a saint in comparison to his buddies when it comes to women. He’s very discreet in his liaisons, never chases women left and right.
Thrale visits the Sinclair house on Lord Sinclair’s invitation with an acquaintance, Captain Niall. The moment I saw Lucy and him together, I knew that they didn’t have that definitive spark. Thrale, though considers Lucy the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid his eyes on, with her dark hair and blue eyes, he also admires intelligence. Hence Lucy has just been Anne’s sister. Yes he felt attracted to her loveliness as any virile male, but that’s about it. The same can be said about Lucy. Thrale has just been a family friend, a rather reserved one who generally prefers staying in the background. But after this visit, it was certain that things were about to change.
Johnson’s famous pugilist institute is here on Bartley Green, near Sinclair estate. Each year, throngs, mostly men, come down to enjoy matches between famous pugilists. Bets fly wild. This year is no different. Lucy, personally, is looking forward to it. As mentioned earlier, she has a secret, something that has to do with her late husband, the famous Irish pugilist, the Devil. Though the starting was rather inauspicious, she being the touted beauty and he coming from the streets, literally, Lucy and Devil were able to make a partnership out of their marriage. Lucy gradually began studying Devil’s profession, learning much about pugilism in general. She also got to know some people, who are now helping her placing bets on her behalf. Lucy had studied the game well, and her hunches are rather good. Actually pretty good. It can be said that Lucy has made a small income out of those winnings. If things go well enough, she’d be able to buy that cottage she’s been dreaming about very, very soon.
An incident regarding the Sinclair Library and a copy of Milton finally blows Lucy’s cover; at least, to Thrale. He notices the spark of intelligence he has never before seen in her. Though Lucy, at first, feels uncomfortable knowing Thrale must know her secret, soon enough things begin to transform. Now knowing Lucy to be beautiful and intelligent, Thrale’s mind begin to wonder in dangerous directions. And Lucy suddenly becomes too aware of Thrale’s presence, not to mention his magnificent pugilist’s body. It’s not as if Lucy is any stranger to that type. It was terrific to know that she wasn’t another fragile young widow who needed rescuing. She was strong and smart, with a healthy appetite for sex, something she never denied to herself or to Thrale in the later parts of the story. Lucy enjoyed every moment of it with her husband. She misses him, and what they had, but she has no intentions of starting an affair or becoming any man’s mistress. She just wants to live her own life and finally have some control over it. Yet Thrale; he intrigues her in a way that Lucy begins feeling overwhelmingly tempted. It only fuels when she finds the same interest in Thrale’s eyes.
If not only the ever growing attraction, their mutual interest in pugilism brings Lucy and Thrale together. Meetings at odd places at odd hours helped too. At one point, Lucy gives up any pretention of a vacuous woman around Thrale. Gradually, she even opens up about her mysterious marriage. This shocks and intrigues Thrale to no end. She was married to THE Devil?! I found it really entertaining when his thoughts would directly dive into the gutter, imagining Devil taking Lucy after a night of intense match. Being a pugilist himself, Thrale can understand. And he envies the dead bastard! I was positively vibrating with glee when they, at last, end up in bed... or on a couch, all in a hurry. I’d say, I loved seeing Lucy’s demanding side, something that even surprised Thrale, but made him no less ecstatic. Rather, it makes him desperate to have her whenever, and, however he wanted to, with Lucy giving herself in abandon. Thrale knew that for the time being he should be happy with it, not wanting to find out where this will ultimately lead them to.
The sex scenes were HOT. I mean, who knew the seemingly aloof Marquess had a penchant for rough sex and light bondage, things that only exhilarates Lucy further. She has heard faint rumors, now Lucy knows what exactly he wants and likes. Thrale was a bit hesitant at first. He thought his crude words and preferences might turn her off. Imagine his surprise and delight finding Lucy reciprocating! I found it so sexy that they couldn’t keep their hands off each-other whenever they were alone or could get a little privacy. And I mean anywhere. *wink*
As for Lucy, she’s determined to avoid any new scandal. She loves being with Thrale. The connection between them, which started out tentative, is now full on madness. She loves every inch of his body, and doesn’t shy away from saying so. Knowing that he feels the same only made everything more incredible. For the first time in years, Lucy begins feeling alive. But she also had no interest of going beyond an affair for the duration of Thrale’s stay. At least, for now, that’s all she can have. And she must be happy with it.
We get to meet some new characters too, childhood friends of the Sinclair Sisters. There’s also trouble in the form of a man Lucy’s husband thought a friend. The same a$$hole who ruined Devil’s financial status. This guy came down for the event, saw Lucy and instantly starts making insinuations. Lucy is also on high alert. Then he starts spreading vile gossip about her. Captain Niall, who was an amiable fellow, begins to give Lucy the eyes that Thrale instantly knew would bring no good. Lucy is beautiful, every man around her wants her; it’s the fact. But that doesn’t mean Thrale would have to like the dirty looks they share. When he hears of the rumor, he’s mad but it’s the sad truth that he can’t do anything to protect her. Not without giving up their own little secret to the world. Thrale suddenly wishes he could protect Lucy always.
When the big event nears, Lucy’s BILs begin to arrive one by one to enjoy it on Thrale’s invitation. Alongside Cynssyr and Aldreth, Devon also makes an appearance. I don’t remember much about him from book 1 but that Devon had a scandalous reputation with an equally scandalous past. He’s the newly minted Earl but Devon is still a pugilist at heart. He loves it, practicing regularly. He’s still crazy about Emily, who, as we find, still feels the same. Only she’s not sure if Devon will ever look at her with the eyes of a man lusting after a woman. Then there was Chapter 40 which gave me hope about Devon and Emily and the sizzling chemistry between them. I might not be averse to their story after all. *heehee*
When his high and mighty son-in-laws are here, Sinclair of course has to show off his new acquisition; a pricey carriage with fine horses. As he begins boasting about it, Lucy begins wondering about the source of the money... which leads her to her secret stash, only to find it empty. It was so heartbreaking to and made me so horribly mad! Earlier in the story, he demanded that Lucy pursue one of the gentlemen, his preference being Thrale. One more rich son-in-law, to him, equals to another source to beg for money. Lucy vehemently denied any help, embarrassed to find Thrale has witnessed that ugliness. The POS returned that ‘rebellion’ this way; stealing her money and spending it on that carriage. Not only that, he also inquires if Cynssyr or any of his other guests would like to buy it! Good God! Somehow, from Lucy’s expression and knowing Sinclair’s disgusting track record, Cynssyr, Aldreth and the rest knew that something must be horribly wrong. But the one who was most enraged, and worried, was Thrale. He already knew of Lucy’s little dream, so he also knew how this will break her spirit.
Thrale would love to tell Sinclair exactly what he thought of him, but keeps quiet just for Lucy’s sake. Even now that their intimacy has grown from mere lust induced haze to something deeper, more meaningful, Lucy still craves secrecy. That connection has only entwined them in a way that Thrale doesn’t see a way out of it. At least not for himself. He never thought himself a romantic, but these days, he keeps thinking of Blackfern, his huge, sterile mansion. It needs to be brought back to life with much love and laughter. Once upon a time, he thought he’d marry out of duty. But now, Thrale can’t imagine being in that house again, all alone, with no Lucy with him in it. Only he can’t really force her to do anything if she doesn’t feel the same. Depressing thought, that.
Lucy, on the other hand, is tempted. When Thrale offers help with her cottage, she declines, again, scared of any scandal. But this time, she’s thinking of Thrale. She doesn’t want to ruin his chances of a good marriage to a fresh debutante. Thrale even offers to help her with the betting, as in he’d place the bets on her behalf but Lucy doesn’t really know what to do anymore. She rather resigns herself to living with her father.
I was scared that I’d have to witness a defeated Lucy and to me, that would’ve been so very unfair. Her life has been mired in vicious gossip. She had nothing to do with any of it, neither was she a fallen woman. Yet, these busybodies made her life hell, making her unwelcomed wherever she went. Her own father is a weak nincompoop. Though Lucy loves her sisters and wishes them all the best, she’s envious of their happy state. Lucy would’ve loved that for herself, would’ve loved children of her own. Yet, fate will not let her be in peace. It was just unfair. I was hoping, praying that Thrale, who I already knew has fallen madly in love with Lucy, could convince her that she doesn’t need to sacrifice her happiness this way. She needed to see that there’s life beyond, that there’s a man who’s willing to stand by her side, rain or shine.
Then it happens, when the whole Sinclair clan and friends are invited to Blackfern; an attempt for Thrale to bring the old days back, just without the debauchery and the gaudiness. Lucy instantly takes an interest in his garden, as it’s one of her favorite pastimes. Thrale loves seeing Lucy taking charge of the manor, just the way he has been dreaming lately. And though he’d surrender to Lucy’s wishes, Thrale had to try, at least once, to see if she’d be willing to be his wife. I can gladly tell you that he was successful in his pursuit.
A Notorious Ruin was such a heartfelt story of two lonely souls who needed to find one-another. I know now I’d be seriously unhappy if Thrale and Lucy didn’t end up together. 4 stars and recommended. Looking forward to the next installment, which I’m thinking, would be of Emily and Devon’s. Just hope I don’t have to suffer through more of his shenanigans in his book.
PS: Don’t remember if Thrale was ever called by his given name, Robert. Then again, knowing CJ’s books, heroes don’t always even have a given name. :p
I received an ARC from the author in exchange of an honest review and I’d like to thank her for it.