My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
To Love a Wicked Scoundrel is a debut novel by Anabelle Bryant. I was quite impressed with the author’s writing style because it was so seamlessly flowing. Though, at first, I had some issued with the storyline and its characters, I quite enjoyed reading it.
Isabelle has loved living in the country all her life. Though her father was a nobleman, she has never had any interest in the glittering world of London. It’s probably because her mean father never once made it a secret that she was a sore disappointment for not being a boy. There was also times when he’d go and criticize her gangly appearance and plain looks. Isabelle grew up believing all these negativity about herself, now, at 26, thoroughly resigned to becoming a spinster. Her father, recently deceased, remarried a while ago. Isabelle’s step-mother, Meredith, is much younger than him. They too have another daughter, Lily, who is now 6. Yes, Isabelle thought she’s content to spend time in her garden, chasing Lily around the house or listening to her incessant chattering and curious questions; all things she loves and enjoys. But Meredith has another plan for them. Now that she’s a widow, she wants to ‘enjoy’ life to the fullest. She has a target in her mind too- to peruse the alluring charmer and the favorite scoundrel of the Ton, the rakish Lord of Highborough, Constantine or Con, for a whirlwind affair. It’s said in the broadsides that Con is well-known for his rakish pursuits of beautiful widows, if not for his splendid golden good-looks. So Meredith, being a beauty herself, thinks she has a good chance of starting her time in London with a bang!
Isabelle, on the other hand, has no interest in such things. She rather becomes worried once Meredith tells her of her plans. To Isabelle, Meredith should rather spend more time with Lily, but she has never really been much of a devoted mother. Lily more or less grew up with Isabelle acting as her parents. Not that Isabelle ever minded but a little girl needs her mother’s attention more than anything. But Meredith puts forth some points, like wouldn’t Isabelle want to enjoy some times out of this drab country life? Doesn’t she want to visit London’s ballrooms to enjoy the goings on? Since Isabelle never had a coming out, Meredith is very sympathetic. She somewhat forces Isabelle to come out of her cocoon and move to London with her for the next few months. But the fact is, Isabelle is both scared and tempted. She wants to go there, yet old vulnerabilities have done their work on her self-esteem. But when ‘the force’ in question is her step-mother, there’s no stopping her. Hence, in a few days, Isabelle finds herself in London, in a rented house seated very conveniently opposite to the famous Lord Highborough’s townhouse.
Our introduction to Con wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. By all means, he’s living the life of a charming rake to its fullest. Being the only heir, with his father now deceased, Con is also the Earl, and apparently, he doesn’t care to settle down anytime soon. If possible, not ever, even if to beget an heir to continue the line. Though the broadsides somewhat exaggerate the number of his conquests and escapades, Con is by no means a saint. Many of those stories are true. He loves women and will have a good time with what’s offered to him. He has tasted the charms of many glamorous courtesans and beautiful widows, the Ton loves him for his elegance and golden good-looks. By all means, he is living every man’s dream! But what is the real Con like deep inside? It’s a question Con would never answer to anyone, ever, because he doesn’t want to face the real Con, the vulnerable one who wants nothing to do with this lifestyle. Even though everything is done so that he can forget certain things about his past, it seems his process of doing so has not been successful of late.
Con sees Isabelle for the first time in a ball and he falls head over heels. No, he doesn’t acknowledge it as such but as mere lust for a beautiful woman. I wasn’t very impressed by his very determined pursuit of Isabelle, even knowing she’s a virgin and a spinster. Because, honestly, I didn’t think he had anything more than seduction in his mind. Isabelle, on the other hand, proves to be way too naïve for my liking for a 26 years old. I didn’t know where this is going with that naïve heroine and this too rakish hero who probably has no honest intentions.
Though her meeting with Con remains somewhat of a secret at first (because it was rather accidental), Isabelle doesn’t confide in him of her true identity, thinking she’d never see him again. But she recognizes him instantly when Con introduces himself. His charm, good-looks and his bold appraisal of her, when she has always known herself to be ‘plain’, tilts Isabelle’s much mundane existence. She falls in total infatuation with him. I’d stress ‘infatuation’ because, as I mentioned, she was too naïve to even contemplate the word ‘rakes’ and what they can do. Please remember, I still wasn’t that into Con, no matter how many times the author drummed in his good-looks into the narratives. I don’t fall for rakes that easily. It needs more convincing than good-looks and charming words. Together, I was rather suspicious and apprehensive of what was to come next.
In between, we come to learn that Con is an artist. He loves to paint but has no plans of letting the world know about it. Only his staff members, especially his valet Brooks, know about this secret endeavor of his. When a big compilation of his recent art-work is stolen, Con starts an investigation, which leads him to the British Museum. Even that he uses in his continued mission of charming Isabelle into his bed.
Intrigued by this beauty, whom he has tend think of as a ‘Goddess’, Con asks his valet to find more information on Isabelle. Soon he learns that she lives just next door. Lily, the sweet and ever curious child, proves to be a bridge, even when Isabelle was trying hard to show she doesn’t care. In truth, she cared too much. Her heart would beat faster when Con was nearby. And he was nearby too often. Next we find Con paying calls in their townhouse. At that point, Isabelle has become an obsession for him too. He needs to see her every day, using any excuse he can dredge up. Soon things went to kisses and fondlings, to secret midnight meetings. Though Isabelle wants to ‘give herself’ to this man she thinks she has fallen in love with, she knows the outcome would be devastating. It’d break her heart for sure because he probably doesn’t feel the same… In that one midnight meeting, when I was sure Con this time will charm her into his bed, Isabelle, quite reluctantly, decides she can’t go through it.
Meredith, at first, being the flighty woman she is, thought Con’s calls are meant for her. But the truth comes out quickly when it became apparent that Con and Isabelle can’t keep their eyes off of each-other. She becomes mad as a hell cat, calling Isabelle names, that she had ruined her ‘fun’. I was pretty pissed at her because she was being completely childish. She pinches on to Isabelle’s old wounds about her looks and what a disappointment she has always been. That was way too much. Then Meredith commands that Isabelle leave for the country because she can’t bear to see her around anymore. Isabelle, heartbroken, alone and feeling the burden of guilt, prepares for the journey.
On the way, Isabelle is in for a huge surprise. What she thought was the attack of a highwayman turns out to be the kidnapping of her lifetime! Con appears like a highwayman and whisks her away to his estate nearby. I was rather unsure of this development; especially becuase Isabelle was over the cloud to see Con again, when she thought she never would. After receiving the news through Brooks, Con had only one thing in his mind, to get to her. Pretty heroic, right? But I still wasn’t sure of Con’s intentions. And knowing how much of an infatuation Isabelle had for him (it was always his ‘manly beauty’ and ‘dazzling smiles’ that stuck her speechless, over and over again), which I didn’t think was the basis of a solid relationship. To my utter dismay, Isabelle does sleep with Con, thinking it’s ‘that one and only time’ when she gets to taste heaven in the arms of the man she loves. I was surprised she didn’t think of the consequences, namely an unwanted pregnancy, if not her own reputation.
But Con did. And he begins feeling guilty that he has somehow taken advantage of this girl. Earlier, when one of Isabelle’s elderly relatives warns Con about his pursuit, he got angry. The old woman, knowing his womanizing, asked him to shift his attentions to Meredith instead, cause she’s the type of ‘fun’ he loves to have. But Con has already made up his mind because he has began to think Isabelle as his own, however insane that sounded. Though Con could be a big baby at times, and expect to have his way no matter, this struck a chord; especially when the matron tells him that she has a suitor for Isabelle in her mind, someone older and more grounded than Con. He can’t even imagine Isabelle marrying a man so old that he must look like her father! And so, taking Isabelle in his estate to cure himself of this itch seemed to be the only solution. But that’s not how things end, for when Isabelle was about to leave, Con had no intentions of letting her slip away. If possible, ever. He promises to come for her soon and have a talk about what has transpired between them.
The author, meanwhile, gradually began revealing the bits and pieces of Con’s past and why he had scars under his beautiful blonde hair. Just why he doesn’t believe in love or anything that deep or intimate. Why he’s scared of falling in love... and yet, for the first time, with Isabelle he probably has. Apparently, Con’s life wasn’t as perfect and privileged as should’ve been for the only child and heir of an Earl. His father was a brute and abused him often when he was young. Con never forgot and grew up disillusioned. When Isabelle learned of this while staying at his estate, her heart broke for him. They have something in common after all. Con felt the urge to confide in her things he had never told anyone before. The only woman to whom he’s ready to show his real self.
Isabelle, the only woman who has ever shown him ‘light’ with her artless innocence.
When Isabelle was on her way home, news arrives of Lily’s illness. Very worried over it, she returns to London. Thankfully, in the meantime, we find Meredith not holding any grudge anymore. Her daughter’s grave illness has shaken her to the core. This time Meredith seemed rather mellow, being more of a mother to Lily than she has been in the past.
In London, Isabelle sees Con again but they don’t have a chance to talk about their relationship. But Con is in love and he wants marry Isabelle. It was that simple to him. Can you tell I was more and more beginning to feel for him, not only because of his vulnerabilities that was so achingly portrayed, but also because of his determination of having Isabelle in his life? Against all odds, even when no one believed that he’s capable of tender feelings, not even his friends. He gets annoyed when he hears that the only suitor Isabelle had in that quaint little village, Lord Lutts, has proposed to her. Lutts was, however, gotten rid of rather conveniently for my choice at the end of the story. I personally didn’t think Lutts’s sudden proposal and riddance added anything interesting to the story. To taste Con’s patience, that old relative of Isabelle’s brings in the other old suitor to meet her as the story progressed. Con couldn’t believe the competition! LOL But that man was also gotten rid of soon enough.
But fate was going to intervene and not make it as easy for them. Con’s art-collection is found and he becomes involved in a rather messy affair with the individual who stole it. It lands him in jail. He spends a couple of days there, having to depend upon his 3 other close friends to get him out. His friends, for the first time, could see Con’s desperation and restlessness to reach this elusive woman. But the time wasted here, unfortunately, creates a misunderstanding between him and Isabelle, for Con is finally out of jail, he finds she has already left London.
It was all because of that particular news in the gossip sheets which effectively shatters Isabelle’s world. Something she has always been secretly scared of. Apparently, a woman, one of Con’s past lovers, has proclaimed that she’s pregnant with his baby and it’s all over London. Dejected, Isabelle promptly decides to leave London, thinking she was just another in the long list of Con’s conquests. Little Lily has already been charmed by Con and his dazzling smiles, gifts of paintings and what not. She pouts about it but Isabelle can’t stay here anymore. Meredith, on the other hand, suddenly transforms into the wiser of the two. When a letter from Con arrives explaining why he’s being delayed, Isabelle destroys it without reading. Meredith warns her that she might regret it later. Indeed Isabelle does, not knowing that Con has already met with that woman and it has been confirmed by the physician that the baby is not his. She also never learns that he has spent the past week in jail, all the while impatient to be with her.
This time I was annoyed at Isabelle’s swift judgment of Con. If she loved him that much, she wouldn’t have sneaked away the way she did. It was just not done when the man in question needed her understanding. Which is why I kept thinking, was she really in love with him? TBH, even till the end, I was more convinced of Con’s feelings, rather than Isabelle’s because of the way he shows it in the end. He rides hard and fast to reach to Isabelle, to convince her of his feelings and intentions. He’s the one who asks for her forgiveness. I was only glad that Isabelle doesn’t make him wait in misery, granting him his heart’s wish soon thereafter.
I also appreciated that the author made me have a total change of heart where Meredith was concerned, so much so, now I want her story too! As she realized just how deep things have gotten between Isabelle and Con, Meredith was the one who encourages Isabelle to give him a chance. I loved that finally she thought that she must explain exactly why Isabelle’s ‘father’ was such a complete a$$hole to her, a secret that he never divulged until Meredith’s prodding. She has always been concerned about his treatment of Isabelle but sworn into secrecy, she never could tell until he passed away. It was a shock to Isabelle but at last, she could come to terms with a few things and make peace with her life. Then there was Con’s compete surrender to her.
I do believe, in the end, everything turned out to be for the best for everybody, especially true for little Lily, now that Con is her brother-in-law. :p Good story. The next, Duke of Darkness, is of one of Con’s friends’ book. I’m hoping to catch up on that soon. 4 solid stars and very much recommended!
This ARC was provided to me by Carina UK via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.