Must say, I’m quite surprised by this new installment of Lords of Chance series by Wendy LaCapra. No, it wasn’t Wendy's beautiful storytelling that always hooks me right into the story. I already knew of it. It’s because on one hand, Markham wasn’t the hero I was expecting to see getting his book so early. On the other, I didn’t think he had quite the depth of character he’d shown throughout Heart’s Desire.
Lords of Chance is a Regency set series with 3 peers of the realm, who are also old friends, as the center of the storyline. They go by sobriquet taken from the game of card—Spades, Clubs and Diamonds. The latest, a new addition to that small group came in the form of Lord Markham; Hearts to complete the circle. He’s also the youngest in the group at 24 and often jokingly called as the ‘pup’. But unknowing to him, he was being groomed by our Spades for an ultimate purpose. No, nothing nefarious but that didn’t mean it was any less important to Spades’ own existence.
In his story, in book 1 Scandal in Spades, we found Giles Langley the Marquess of Bromton, in a dilemma. A big one TBH. He had a very serious family issue that he needed to take care of. It involved the survival of the Bromley bloodline and Giles was ‘trained’ to become someone who’d do anything in his power to keep that bloodline flowing to the next generation. But there was a dark twist in his story which led him to find a proper (or improper, didn’t matter) solution to his aforementioned dilemma. And that’s how Markham came into the picture. There was a card game, naturally. An already set-up game ‘won’ by him which led Giles in search of a bride. Help came in the form of Markham’s elder sister Katherine, the scandalous spinster who made the Regency ‘headlines’ a few times in her life; not because she wanted to make any headline, but because she seemed to had a singularly bad luck where Beaus and fiancés were concerned. But her meeting to Giles was the thing of magic. Full of spark and chemistry that both felt and were unable to deny. Both were scared to fall but fall they did despite everything. I love LOVED that book and highly recommend that you read it first.
TBH, I never felt like I knew Markham beyond how he was called ‘the pup’. He was the youngest one, the happy-go-lucky rake who never really roused my interest even though I knew he’d get his story at some point in the series. Then he went and gambled on Katherine and I was like... uh, okay. But I was quite taken with him while I was reading his book. I knew that despite his immaturity, Markham harbored no ill will for anyone and that he loved his sisters dearly. But his rakish persona simply fell away the moment he figured out all he ever wanted was to find the love of his life, which turned out to be Lady Clarissa, Bromton’s ex-fiancée and Rayne’s sister.
Markham, or Percy Stanley hadn’t really wanted to become an Earl at such a young age, let alone take up on the responsibilities of not only find ways to survive the huge debt their father had dumped on them before dying, but also to take care of Katherine and Julia. But he knew he needed to step up and do his job even if he was quite alone in his endeavors. Meeting Bromley, Farring and Rayne had been the pinnacle of his life because under their expert guidance—from Bromley especially now that he’s his brother-in-law—Percy had simply shone. He’d now almost tackled his financial woes, Katherine is now happily married and though he still worries about the youngest, Julia, he knows she will find her way when it’s her time.
Percy’s background was somewhat discussed in book 1 but since Katherine had her own personal issues that made her unintentionally notorious, a reason why she used to live in their country house instead of living in London attending balls and such, importance was given to her side of the story. We didn’t know how much Percy had, if he indeed, suffered or how he’d dealt with all these issues. In his story you get a good glimpse of his own dilemma, the loneliness and the crippling fear he felt grasping the utter enormity of his situation as an inexperienced youngling. He had very little money, a huge debt that he needed to pay ASAP or lose his remaining asset, with two unmarried sisters in tow. It was inconceivable.
I had my reservations about Percy from the beginning. As I said, I didn’t find him to be that interesting and rakes aren’t usually my favorite hero material. It seemed like Percy had his ways of dealing with the stress. The ‘usual’ way. Truth be told, one thing I appreciated about him that despite all that has been going on, he wasn’t moody and broody. He could laugh and enjoy his life. He liked people, liked interacting with them and he was a likable fellow himself. Percy, it seems, also liked women, mainly experienced older women or rich widows; a means for some distraction. Some of them had also helped him in return with favors he needed. Now what do you call that? But it seemed like even Percy didn’t know he was becoming such a rake until one encounter with an ex-lover became a sore eye-opener where he was all but told that he was a ‘plaything’ and she needed his ‘services’ pronto to distract herself. This woman, Mrs. Sartin, can be seen throughout the story on and off. If you hate OW drama like I do, don’t worry cause she was smarter than I thought she would be even if I didn’t care for her interactions with Percy and Clarissa both. Especially Clarissa. The innuendo they used to talk about Percy was quite cringe-worthy. -_-
Want to note here that Mrs. Sartin has a novella in a box set called Second Chance Love Box Set. I made the mistake of reading that novella before Percy’s book. Let’s just say the experience wasn’t fun cause I was yet to know more about him. So the glimpse of how he had been passed around in a circle of wealthy widows through ‘connections and recommendations’ wasn’t something I cared to read about. I hated it, more so because of how demeaning it sounded when you take their conversation into context. Now that I know Percy better, as I mentioned above, even he wasn’t aware what he was becoming to these women until his last aborted assignation with Mrs. Sartin. I also didn’t recall meeting the widow, let alone her younger secretary who were the main characters of this novella and I was like why the hell does this novella even exist? Who are these people?? o_O I saw nothing I cared to know about and even after reading this book, I give that novella a pass. But to each their own so read at your own peril.
Back to Heart’s Desire. Lady Clarissa was introduced in book 1 but in brief cameos. She came off as a character who is very distant, as in, someone yet to flesh out. The only daughter of a Duke and Rayne’s sister, Clarissa had led a privileged life but with the forced aspiration of becoming a Marchioness one day. Other than that, she was largely ignored by her cold and callous father because she had no other value to him. She didn’t have a strong bond with Rayne either because he rather took after his father and kept himself distant. I could totally identify with her issues; with the male dominated society where she hated to be the submissive one, being totally under control. Never having her own identity in return. All that training to become Bromton’s Marchioness and yet that didn’t even turn into a reality. It seemed like Clarissa has had enough of this chauvinistic behavior and was determined to become a spinster, living life on her own. Her parents were now dead and Rayne had abruptly left for the continent without even informing her anything, leaving her all alone. She had inheritance enough to make it as she liked it. But could she even pull it off? Clarissa had no idea but she was determined to see it through.
When she became the center of a wager of particularly bad taste because she refused to smile at an a$$hole and his coterie of sycophants, and Percy came to know about it, the decision of living her own life was taken away from Clarissa. Now she had a problem in her hand and she needed male protection whether she liked it or not. Percy, the Knight Gallant he is, would protect Clarissa at all cost. He tries to save the day by telling everyone that she’s secretly engaged to him. Yet the real problem here was not with the wager, because Percy loved telling everyone that he’d engaged to Clarissa even though he knew the probability of it becoming a reality is very slim. He knew quite well he’d just made a big muck of things, because despite their differences where it seemed like Clarissa never approved of Percy’s lifestyle—especially of his rakish behavior—and kept her distance, Percy had fallen for her somewhere along the way. He just loved everything about Clarissa. Her regal way of carrying herself, definitely her dark haired beauty, even her distant demeanor and her cute little scowls directed his way. Damn but Percy even counted those. He knew he had a big problem but he didn’t know if there was, or ever would be, any viable solution. Even if he wasn’t thinking of repercussion from Rayne at the moment, Percy wasn’t certain how to handle Clarissa when she’s notified of the aforementioned muck that he’s created. Oh boy!
But Clarissa would have to be notified, so Percy figures Farring could help him. He also asks for the help of his sisters who were very good friends with the lady in question. He didn’t want Clarissa to think of him as a bumbling buffoon, definitely not the horny buffoon he was right now because all he could think of was her. Day and night. He didn’t care for his usual route of distraction any longer because Clarissa has taken hold of his daydreams and nightly imaginations. But what he didn’t know is that Clarissa had always noticed him, even when she didn’t want to. The awareness had always been there since she’d met him. Life would’ve been easier if she could just not be attracted to a man, especially Percy who she couldn’t even take seriously. Yet it was there, the awareness. So, despite the fact that she didn’t want any sort of courtship, let alone marriage, Clarissa rather welcomes the idea of being courted by Percy.
I’d say that the courtship part was the most fun in the story. Even though Percy was courting her in earnest in hopes he’d pull it off in the end, something Clarissa didn’t know of course, she welcomed the idea of knowing more about sex through him. With him. However it could happen. The few kisses they’ve shared were so explosive that Clarissa couldn’t believe what she was missing out on! That sudden realization drove her to be bold. She knew she could enjoy it without being leg-shackled. She never plans to marry so why not? She already knew Percy was insanely attracted to her, and somehow, she knew she could use this power to be the bold one in the bedroom despite having no practical experience of sex.
Percy, on the other hand, acted like someone had handed him the moon when Clarissa propositioned him. I mean he was so smitted, it’d be funny if I wasn’t finding it all so charming. On one hand, he was so horny and wanted her so much that he felt like a green boy even if he had more than enough experience. On the other, it was something he never thought would ever happen, Clarissa in his arms, on his bed... He’s daydreamed enough, that, for him, the possibilities were endless!
I loved knowing more about Clarissa and Percy and their odd chemistry that turned too deep too soon when they finally begin communicating in real sense. The first scene between them, where both discover the hidden nuances of their passion, was utterly delightful! It was breathtaking without being too in-your-face. But was I surprised to find Percy having a hidden submissive streak that’s being talked about? Oh, for sure I was somewhat surprised to find a scene like that existed in this otherwise straightforward historical romance. But for some reason, I wasn’t surprised that he let Clarissa take control. I figured early on in the story that Percy would do anything for the people he loved and cared for, which is very admirable on its own. He’d indulge in their whimsy and delight in it too. That he’d simply let Clarissa love him the way it suited her wasn’t surprising. I also wasn’t surprised to find he reveled in it himself.
Even though it took me a bit of time to connect with the story in the beginning, I loved how it went. There was a bit of silly misunderstanding in the end but that didn’t ruin my enjoyment. I was happy for Clarissa and Percy because they absolutely deserved that happiness. Right now I’m eagerly waiting for Rayne and Julia’s story. 4 stars for Heart’s Desire.
ARC received from Entangled via NetGalley, thank you. :)