My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
I’ve read and heard many good things about Anne Stuart’s books over the years, which definitely made me wanna read her books. But hers is such a daunting backlist that I wasn’t sure where to freakin’ start! Until recently, I, kind of on a whim, bought one of her latest reissue of an oldie called The Spinster and the Rake. The straight-forward title intrigued me and I liked the blurb cause spinsters and wallflowers are my favorites (by now, I’d be called both if I was living in that era :P). Rakes aren’t my favorite by any stretch of the word BUT an author can make me fall unquestionably in love with one. It has happened so I still take chances on them.
I read Anne Stuart’s rakes are moody and broody… sometimes seriously bad. Something told me she knows what she’s doing, so I went with that instinct and wanted to find out what havoc this latest rake in is wrecking. ;) Our hero, Ronan Blakely, the newly minted Marquess of Herrington, used to be what you’d call the proverbial ‘blacksheep’ of his family. His womanizing was so bad, at one point, when he tried to be off with a married woman someone had to step in. He was made to leave the country at the age of 22. Since then he’s had his share of fun in various European countries including France and Italy (latter is my assumption but no doubt he’s visited many other places too). He was not in the line of any succession but fate worked his way, and he’s back to the bosom of le bon Ton with a new title, and more money than he could possibly know what to do with. After 20 yrs., even with more than a few gray hairs peeking, Ronan Blakely is still as dashing and as devastating as he used to be at 22. And he knows just what to do with all he’s got; open a gambling club with the money and use his suave charm to operate it. Oooh, did anyone say Derek Craven? *imagine heart-eyes here*
But I digress... Let’s talk about our h.
Gillian Redfern is the youngest of all Redferns. She has one elder brother, who is more of a bother than anything else and two meek, sad elder sisters. Gillian is the only spinster at 30yrs. of age, now the ‘favorite aunt’ of many of her unknown but quite the overwhelming number of nieces and nephews. Gillian is, well, she’s not a beauty but not unattractive either. So I never knew why she never bothered to get married. These days, she shifts her time between siblings, living at their home, mainly as an unpaid servant. She takes care of the household and the children. But it’s her brother’s residence where she’s always needed. Derwent is as ill-tempered as they come. He’s also nothing less than a bully and Gillian despises him. But she has to be mostly here cause her sister’s residences aren’t any better than Derwent’s; if anything, worse. Plus when he summons, he expects Gillian to run back, no question asked. Sadly, Gillian could never muster the courage to weather Derwent’s wrath in all these year. After everything said and done, Derwent does take care of her.
So when, one day returning from one of her sister’s houses, Gillian is trapped in the rickety carriage given to her service by her pinch-penny of a BIL, what were the odds that she’d end up meeting Ronan Blakely? After all, she doesn’t go out much, even if she does she likes blending with the wallpapers, and he likes avoiding the Ton as much as possible, though it’s proving to be difficult because of his newly garnered title. Most mamas who would’ve kept their precious daughters away because of his reputation with women, now consider him what you’d call ‘prime meat’, doesn’t matter said daughter is fresh out of school-room and too young for a man of Ronan’s age and sophistication. But no matter, Ronan had to take a wet and shivering Gillian in case it was dark and raining, and she was alone standing on the road because the carriage turned a wheel. On the way back to London, two things happen. Gillian discovers the most attractive man she’d ever set her eyes on, and immediately began the process of being infatuated with him, while Ronan’s friend Vivian, who was accompanying them, started planning a wager to which Ronan agreed to later. Ronan was, though, completely unaware who Gillian was but she knew who he was from a drunk and chatty Vivian, who hadn’t taken much time to espouse on Ronan’s legendary reputation as a ladies’ man. Gillian also recognized him from that long ago scandal that people still whisper about. His new status, of course, now makes him completely clear of any ‘whimsies’ of his younger years. But oh Lord, he’s divine and Gillian is thoroughly besotted.
Though Gillian would’ve loved to keep her identity a secret, hence making Ronan think she’s a maid or at least, a governess of a house by her appearance and out of fashion dress, it was not to be so. They found Derwent waiting for her on the doorstep and any thought of hiding from Ronan Blakely or hide him from her volatile brother flew Gillian’s mind. She had no interest of introducing the two either but that wasn’t necessary. Apparently, both knew each-other quite well; so much so Derwent was spitting mad that Gillian was in his company, whereas Ronan held on his usual indifferent calmness. Gillian had no idea what happened but obviously there was a history somewhere. It was proven as much, when Derwent vehemently asked Gillian to never, ever talk to or acknowledge Ronan ever again in her life. The old Gillian probably would’ve been cowed and meekly listened to his brother. However the ‘new’ Gillian was in deep infatuation with Ronan Blakely’s dark good-looks and that quirky but rare smile. He must be the most excited thing that ever happened in her life, who is Derwent to keep her away from him? After all, she was a ‘hardened’ spinster and has no need to really be concerned about her reputation.
In the meantime, Ronan was also quite intrigued by this meek hen he just met. No idea why, but he couldn’t keep her out of his head. But that wouldn’t do. He isn’t going to involve himself into Derwent Redfern’s business once again. He’s older and, likes to believe, much more matured that he was before. But when Vivian approached with a bet that he can’t compromise the reputation of the honorable Miss Gillian Redfern within the few weeks, Ronan only smiled and accepted the challenge. He was growing bored even with the workload of the new gambling house he’d opened. He needed some new and fresh distractions. Gillian Redfern seemed ripe, quite ready to be plucked. Game on!
Of course, Gillian had no idea what was going on. She was too busy keeping Derwent’s eldest daughter, Felicity in check. At 18, Felicity is a stunning beauty and the toast of the Ton. Gillian has no idea how can two rather very normal looking parents (neither Derwent nor his obese wife, Letty were lookers if I have to go by the hints in the book) created this stunning flower. However, Felicity was also pretty air-headed and stubborn. And she’s been in love with a village vicar (albeit super good-looking vicar) since she turned 15. Derwent had already dismissed Liam Blackstone as unsuitable as ever, which the suitor himself had accepted and backed off, devoting himself in God’s work here in London. However, there was no stopping Felicity who was quite mad for Liam and wouldn’t marry anyone. She was blindly devoted to him, even though he’s been trying his best to push her away. Though he wanted her, Liam wasn’t brave enough take any steps, neither did he have any money to do anything about it. He’d already began considering her a distraction to his work. But if you know Felicity, you know she will find a way to visit him whenever she can, however she can, using her own beauty and charm, if it means manipulating people along the way. So you can say Gillian had her hands quite full of that one bubblehead, let alone 1000s of other chore she had to maintain cause all Letty liked doing all day was to lie in the settee, act ill and eat chocolate, then sigh tragically over...whatever it was. The complications that Lord Marlowe aroused within her were something she didn’t know if she could handle at that point. She kept telling herself he can’t be of any good to her in any way imaginable; neither to her reputation nor her peace of mind. But when he kept turning up everywhere she went, how could she keep her mind in check of the dashing and intense Lord Marlowe?
Most of the story takes place from Gillian’s side so it was more than obvious that she was crazy for Ronan within a few weeks. His stolen kisses and touches weren’t doing much help either, especially for an innocent like her who only dreamt of such things. It’s true that Ronan pointed out how misused she was in the hands of her family (no one took Gillian seriously, except for when they needed her for something...even Felicity was like that). Also that she spends more time taking care of other people’s children than think of herself. Gillian knew the truth but what could she do? She also, deep inside, knew that an affair with him will go nowhere but an utter ruination of her. But she was a moth to a flame and couldn’t help falling for Ronan. Soon enough, Gillian was hopelessly in love with a man who has never promised anything to her, but has, many times, expressed how much he despised marriage. That he had no interest whatsoever of ever getting married.
I don’t quite remember how it happened but then one day, she ended up sleeping with him. One night to cherish for the rest of her life and all that crap. *eyeroll* By then though, Ronan was questioning the wisdom of compromising someone like Gillian, whom he already knew to be a total innocent. He liked her enough to wanting to back off at first. But he loved women and he had wanted Gillian for a long time, so he gives in. Was he still acting on that wager? At that point, neither I nor Ronan had any idea if he was. However, the next morning, Vivian stops by early and does everything in his puny power to destroy all of Gillian’s dreams and Ronan’s fragile hopes around something like happiness (maybe love too) by mentioning that wager. She was still in bed with him... *sigh* Things were about to get worse for poor Gillian. When downstairs trying to get away, she meets a flamboyant beauty. A bit older in the years than her, the woman claims to be Lady Marlowe coming to visit her husband! Oh boy!
TBH, that was the point where I kinda lost it. I mean seriously? WHAT THE HELL?? *facepalm* How much can this poor girl take? The humiliation of becoming compromised because of a wager, while thinking she’s in love? Then finding the center of her utter infatuation, and destruction, is also married? No way!!!!
Sooo, here is my take on why the last couple of chapters were the downfall of this story:
1. I did love the story until Ronan and Gillian slept together. I was enchanted by Ronan’s personality myself and was hoping the story would take a different turn. He knew his power over women. It’s one of those things some men are born with. Some use it to destroy lives while others to snare the women they love. You gotta pick and choose. But in between, when someone is willing and has no other expectations, then why not? I get that. I get that Ronan had his ‘history’, fair enough. But I also would’ve loved to have those where they belonged, in the past. I get why Gillian was infatuated but, for me, their chemistry was never quite explosive, mostly because Gillian transformed into a complete doormat. She was no match for Ronan. Also knowing that Ronan wagered about her downfall was something that never quite sat well with me. So when they slept together I was in a ‘wtf’ moment for a while. That was NOT the right moment for a one night stand or whatever. Nope.
2. In the middle of the story, at a clothing store where Gillian and Felicity were visiting, Ronan finds them. It was hinted that he was there with a woman but never revealed as to who she was. In fact, Gillian never questioned him either so everything was hushed away. From all things and considering his reputation, we can only guess that had to be his latest lover/mistress, even though throughout the author gave me an impression that he was too busy for anything else. He was also chasing Gillian with a pointed resolve. So can I safely assume that while he was chasing Gillian, he was also sleeping with other women? The thought of it is something I’d rather not contemplate at all. I’m glad Gillian was okay with it, even if it made her sad.
3. At one point of the story, when Ronan decided to twist Letty Redfern’s arms to get an acceptance out of Liam Blackstone for Felicity, I was surprised. Why would he think of Letty Redfern among all the people in the world? But not for long when he reveals that nugget of information weighed in gold. That it was because of Letty Redfern that he had to flee the country. They were lovers when Letty was young, and I can only assume, newly married to Derwent. Obviously attractive enough to catch Ronan’s fancy. That explained Derwent’s utter despise of him and Letty’s perpetual air of tragedy, even though that didn’t stop them from having gazillion children afterwards. -_- I was rather green around the gills while Gillian took the whole thing in as if it’s a quirk of some kind. That’s how Ronan is so you just go with the flow? :/ I was stunned that, while I wasn’t sure what to feel about this information AND the man himself, she talks with him as if they were chatting about the weather. She even suggests that Felicity maybe his daughter, but Ronan declines because Felicity was born least a year and a half after his departure. “Yikes!” was all I could say.
4. After her colossal humiliation, I thought Gillian would now stay the F away from Ronan. I mean, lesson Learned? Run away and never look back?! Let him chase her again, and find her, then grovel his heart out if he really felt anything for her. I wanted groveling, damnit! But oh no! A few words in favor of him from ex Lady Marlowe (they were divorced a long time ago though how Ronan wasn’t aware of it, no idea) and current Contessa Albina, and Gillian is good to go. Running to see him, then falling head over heels in love once again cause he’d drunk himself into a stupor for the past couple of days since her departure. REALLY GILLIAN?? OMG. I was like, wow! You must be really desperate honey. -_- Where is the meek, yet practical Gillian I saw in the beginning? I wanted to ask exactly why are you in love with him? He did NOTHING to show he loved you beyond the obvious. I mean, c’mon! So in the end, Ronan had to do nothing to get her back, for what he did. I don’t even remember if he said sorry, cause I was that disgusted. She simply ran back to him and that was that. I don’t even wanna think of how she kissed him while he was supposed to be drunk and out for lord knows how many days, AND I’m guessing, going without any form of cleanliness. Even a dashing rake can’t smell amazing with that routine and in that condition. Nope.
I know, I know. I’m special that way. I was, in fact, thinking of how unpleasant it would be to kiss someone like him in every sense of the word. Couldn’t help it. -_- But oh well, that was me. I wasn’t in love with Ronan so……….. *shrugs*
All in all, my first foray into Anne Staurt’s books wasn’t a smashing success. BUT I did like her writing and how she built up her characters to keep me hooked for the better part of the story, enough to check out some of her other novels. I also heard this one’s not her best but I like to judge a book after I experience it myself. This one, personally, I won’t recommend. However you may not be as bothered by Ronan’s shenanigan and Gillian’s sad transformation as I was so it’s your call. 3.5 stars.