The Wicked One
by Danelle Harmon, historical (2001)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-80909-5


Lucien de Monteforte, the Duke of Blackheath, is about to have the erection of his life. That is, if Eva de la Mouriére has her way. Armed with a gun and that potion of aphrodisiac last seen in The Defiant One, she awaits Lucien in his bedroom. She will force him to quiff the aphrodisiac, check to see if his Mr Wonky is hard enough to hammer nails and crack walnuts, and then give the potion to Marie Antoinette.

Things go haywire, and from hereon, it's a cat-and-mouse game between both. Such silly games can only lead to one thing: Eva pregnant and Lucien doing his best to coerce her to marry. The aphrodisiac subplot is then thrown out of the story in favor of Lucien's plot to get his sister Nerissa married going haywire (that's putting it mildly) and he has to fix matters or lose everything he holds dear.

Yes, Lucien realizes that being a control freak can have devastating consequences on those he manipulates. The Wicked One does an excellent job in knocking him in the head hard and giving him a true soul mate. A rabid man hater and a control freak - if that is not a match made in heaven, I don't know what is.

I must confess, the first half of The Wicked One is silly and even addled at places. Eva goes over-the-top in her demonizing of the male species, while Lucien's arrogance can go off the meter too. Both are caricatures, chasing each other in a plot right out of the Bugs Bunny-Elmer Fudd courtship story. But it's still fun, and it demonstrates the amazing versatility of Lucien's tongue in the most amazing places.

But the second half, when both Eva and Lucien's house of cards start tumbling down, is where the payoff is more than satisfying. Eva has to face the consequences of her childishly rash behavior in The Defiant One as well as in this story, while Lucien realizes for the first time how damaging his manipulations can be when his sister is caught in the crossfire. What could have been a standard marriage-by-necessity tale is turned into a tempestuous story of two stubborn mulish people with rigid, unbending principles forced to find middle ground. Eva and Lucien become human with real pains and confusion, a change catalyzed by the realization that they are more fond of each other than they would have liked.

And by the last chapter, I feel as if I'm been on some wild roller-coaster ride. Wow. Eva really gives back as good as she gets, and what could have been a big misunderstanding issue (when Lucien's tangled web crashes, boy, it crashes big) turns into a beautifully fiery moment - Eva really lashes out good, really taking no nonsense from her man. It takes a dramatic, life-threatening moment for Lucien to realize that for the first time, he loves, oh he really loves. I find myself shedding a tear or two at that.

Sure, the writing can be a bit on the unpolished side, and the first half really can run in all directions without a clear focus, but the coherent, well-written second half more than makes up for all its flaws. Lucien's behavior is explained by his childhood, but that is no excuse. Likewise, Eva has to face the consequences of her actions as well. In the end, both she and he are better and stronger people for their love. That's nice, really. Very nice indeed.

Rating: 90


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