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After meaning to read her books for better of part of this decade, I’m finally on a Anne Stuart roll! I’ve read more books by her this year than ever before!! LOL I can honestly say that there’s something addictive about her writing that makes you read on even if you think this maybe isn’t going to work for you in the end. To Love a Dark Lord was one of those books. I’m very VERY torn about this book as it left me with such ambivalent feelings that I don’t even know where to begin. But I’ll try my best...
To Love a Dark Lord is a standalone dark historical romance set in the Georgian period, more specifically 1775. The story is kind of thrust on your face the moment we find our heroine had just murdered her lecherous uncle, trying to save herself from being violated. Yep, Emma did just that and was promptly saved (her reputation) by our hero, James Killoran, an Earl, within the first few pages of the book. But that was only the beginning of the total mindf*ckery that was this book. Boy, I wish I knew what I was getting into!
After Emma is saved, we learn a bit more about her background from her monologues. That was after she went to thank Killoran for saving her and came away hurt because of his glib reply that practically screamed ‘Yeah whatever. Now shoo!’. Emma became orphan at an early age and been living with her uncle Horace and his daughter Miriam for the past 7/8 yrs since then. Horace was related to Emma by marriage, meaning he was her maternal aunt’s husband. Miriam is in her 40s, a rigid spinster who is also zealously religious and made Emma’s life hell for as long as she could remember. She’d basically lived the life of an unpaid servant, practically hidden away from the world. She couldn’t even go outside without a chaperone and full veil! All because Emma was tall, voluptuous and had a head full of red hair. To Cousin Miriam she was sin incarnate and needed to repent for her invisible sins at least a few times a day. Then there was Horace’s pursuit of her that Emma had to dodge every day. Miriam, of course, always blamed it on Emma’s ‘sinful’ looks and all that. *eyeroll* Emma was fed up and equally miserable but she could see no way out. She had money that she inherited from her father but both Horace and Miriam had their death grip on that and Emma knew she’d never be able to pry a single penny out of them unless she could find some help.
But help is what Emma didn’t have until Lord Killoran who saved her reputation by taking the blame of the murder on himself. Yet he won’t let her thank him. How odd! Super odd for a man, who, before leaving made certain the innkeeper, where the whole debacle happened, gave her some money and directed her to a lady to find work. How the hell did he know she needed help?
Killoran was odd indeed but he also had a very keen mind. Born an Irish, who had to leave Ireland right after his parents were murdered, James Patrick had to find a way to forget his past and reinvent himself. Mind you, being Irish, he was treated like the dirt when he first arrived in London even if he had a title. He’s still treated somewhat inferior, but by now, in the past decade or so, Killoran had... let’s just say, built a reputation. And it wasn’t a nice-boy-next-door image. He was sin incarnate (in real sense); an unrepentant rake who’d bedded most women of the Ton that one could think of. And it included virgins who thought themselves in love with him (something that was repeated a bit too many times for my liking). But Killoran cared not. He didn’t love anyone and didn’t care for anyone but himself. Or so everyone knew him to be. He also had what’d people term is the Devil’s Own luck as no one could beat him in the gambling tables. Same goes for his prowess in dueling fields. He never lost any and he’d been a part of a few that were direct consequences of his dalliances. Whatever the Ton said behind him, they gave Killoran a wide berth when he was near. Killoran knew how to cultivate an image and he did it very successfully. He even convinced everyone, including me, that there was no saving him. He deemed himself an irredeemable soul who lived a fast life and would probably lose it too earlier than many. It was as if he’d come to terms with it as a fact and didn’t care one whit. I mean, he had no one to live for, did he?
Until...until Killoran saw Emma and felt the visceral need to be her savior even if he denied it to anyone. Even to himself. He was in that inn to receive a country relative, a youngster named Nathaniel, whose father thought he needed a bit of ‘town shine’; to see a bit of the world. Killoran knew that Nathaniel’s father was too naïve a man to know what type of ‘entertainment’ Nathaniel could find in London. And he also figured out on spot that Nathaniel himself was the epitome of all that was honest and morally correct. If he found it tedious in the beginning, Killoran was finding some perverse entertainment from the whole messy situation, mostly because he knew Nathaniel knew of his less than savory reputation. First, he’d determined to keep Nathaniel just so he could corrupt him, even if a bit, if the boy would let him. That in itself should be some entertainment. Then there was the girl. The tall, voluptuous girl who made this peculiar impression on him. Killoran did everything that was so totally opposite of his character that it was unheard of! But even if Nathaniel said positive things and the girl tried to convey her gratitude, Killoran was determined to think he did it all for entertainment and nothing else. Not because he was feeling some kind of strong pull towards another living being that he’d never felt before in his life. Not since his parents died and with that, went his innocence and all the goodness that he may have had when he was a young, impressionable lad. Nope, Killoran won’t even think of any of it, especially of the girl, anymore.
The next we find Emma taking the direction given by Killoran, pretty much thinking it’s a bawdy house where she’d have to make her living. Unfortunately at that time it looked to have more prospect than returning to the cold and mean bosom of Cousin Miriam, who right at that moment was probably planning her demise for what she’d done. Even in her innocence Emma knew that Killoran was a dissolute soul. She tried to hate him for the way he dismissed her, but...she couldn’t. Not when she finds that the house she’s gone to is a recruitment agency, where she’s promptly recruited as a governess.
No, don’t think that was the beginning of good fortune for Emma. Umm, nope. It was just the beginning of a crazy, wtf-is-going-on story between her and Killoran that I had the devil of a time with. A big chunk of it I spend trying to figure out Killoran than enjoying it. He was much older than Emma who was 19. Killoran was in his early 30s with at least 15 yrs. between them. He was so jaded that oftimes I thought he’s a lost cause. There were unsavory bits about his life that I didn’t like knowing. He indeed was a rake whom you’d never trust with your well-being. He could be cutting and ruthless all the while not giving a f*ck about you. Yet, as I saw from the story, when Killoran was invested (read: obsessed) into something or someone it could surpass all his good senses. If he had any good sense that is.
And Killoran was extremely obsessed, to the point of loco, about Emma even though he always dismissed it as first as entertainment, then his need to avenge the death of a girl years ago. He wanted to use Emma to lure in the girl’s brother who was the culprit, the reason behind her death. Maude was rumored to be Killoran’s fiancée and had Emma’s coloring. He knew that Jasper, Maude’s brother, had a fondness for redheads. Don’t ask me how or what happened but it was sickening. So after Maude died, Killoran has been plotting revenge. Though we later learn that he’d never really been involved with Maude in any way and they weren’t engaged. But he was eaten up with guilt because in his selfishness he hadn’t protected Maude when she asked for it.
And so it went, after Emma got into trouble a few more times—in a few of those she’d beat the man up to save herself, which became a private joke between them later—and every single time saved by him, Killoran finally brought her to his home, explicitly telling her what her purpose was. I can’t tell you if it was fate or Killoran’s shrewdness but it was as if they were fated to meet each-other. Of course, while she settled into his townhouse, Killoran also quite coarsely informed Emma that he wanted her in his bed. But first, she’d be made the lure to bring Jasper Darnley in. And for that she must remain a virgin. Emma, who was already feeling the world of gratitude and well on her way to fall in love with her savior, all the while not quite understanding him or his true motives. Like how can you when someone is determined to make you think the worst of him, all the while doing everything in his power to keep you safe? Even if he says it was for his own selfish purpose, then goes as far as to ‘showcase’ you to the query in question (AKA Darnley) so the trap is set? How could you even begin to feel anything for a person who would do anything to care for you, yet he’s always reminding you that you have no value to him other than the explicit purpose he’d brought you in for? Killoran was an enigma and a supreme PAIN IN THE ASS. He was that ‘itch’ that never goes away. You hate him, then you love him, then you equally want to murder him and hold him to your bosom when, once in a while, in his private moments his bloody mask would slip giving you a glimpse of his vulnerability. The mask that fooled the world; the mask he used to make certain Emma never got close to him. Any closer for his own peace of mind.
Lord help me from these PITA rakes and their shenanigans! *SMH* I was never quite okay or comfortable around Killoran. Knowing his unsavory past, I wasn’t even sure I’d want to be comfortable with him. That I can trust him. I don’t have Emma’s level of innocence any longer which gave me the pause. I felt bad for Emma cause she wasn’t really a match for Killoran’s character even if he liked to think her strong and bla bla. Emma was an ingénue with a peculiarly bad luck who had a particular savior who’d decided he wanted to keep her for himself. Even if it took him a while to get to that point of acknowledgement. Not a big feat for him cause Emma had been his ever since he saved her the first time, and even after all the hurt he’d caused her by pushing her away numerous times, Killoran had no issues getting her into his bed again.
The saving grace of the story was Barbara and Nathaniel’s very unlikely romance and I wish the author gave them more chapters. Maybe even a separate novella. Barbara was one of them fast and adventurous socialites who could keep tallies of the men they’d slept with and still would forget some. An exact opposite of Nathaniel even though he was 2 yrs. older than her. Killoran had more than once called her a whore, even in her face but it was always laced with a curious affection as if he could identify himself with her. Yet, even though Barbara wanted to sleep with him, Killoran won’t be lured. I won’t explain why because that’d lead to some sad revelations about her past. The author didn’t describe it all but you could still read between the lines. She and Killoran had this weird relationship that you can’t really term. But there was affection no doubt and if they were involved, they probably could’ve pulled it off together. However, I was glad that they never were lovers cause they didn’t really share any chemistry of that sort. Barbara was way better off with Nathaniel who fell for her on spot and remained as devoted as one such as him could be to a woman. It was something Barbara had never known and was scared to acknowledge at first. But of course, she was smart enough to know she’s got the deal of a lifetime. She took it, opened her heart to him and that was that. Uh. Made me so happy! :D
In the end, I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed To Love a Dark Lord even if I was strangely hypnotized by Killoran and his various shenanigans. His dubious charms and everything else that made him The Dark Lord. But it always felt like something was missing and I never really knew him well. Regrettably, I never connected with Emma at all, though I sympathized reading the way Killoran treated her at times. He’d tell you he was being cruel only to be kind, and I’ll call it BS because after they finally married, they were spawning brats like there’s no tomorrow at the end of the story. Don’t ask me how many cause I lost count. LOL It made me eyeroll but also laugh at the irony of it all. 3.5 stars.
PS there was not enough dirty talk in this book that I thought only Killoran could pull off. I’m sad about that too. -_-