by Jillian Hunter, historical (2006)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-48760-5
The Wicked Games Of A Gentleman is quite a muddled story as it only gets into the swing of things in the late third or so of the story. Before that, the heroine is running around being besieged by problems after problems while the hero is running around trying to help her solve those problems.
Eloise Goodwin, our heroine, believes that the best thing she can do for herself to become a teacher at Viscountess Lyons' exclusive school for proper young ladies. But first, our companion needs to make sure that her charge, Thalia Thornton, stay a virgin until Thalia's future husband returns from a business trip abroad in two weeks. Thalia, however, intends to throw herself at every rake that pays attention to her. Eloise is frantically searching for Thalia during a ballroom party when she encounters our hero Drake Boscastle. Drake is looking forward to an evening of finalizing whatever needs to be finalized (financial compensations, et cetera) with the courtesan of the moment Mirabella St Ives but he finds himself coming to Eloise's help. When Thalia and her brother vanish the day after, leaving Eloisa and the household help to fend for their own, Drake once again comes to the rescue.
Poor Eloise, she just can't catch a break for the first half or so of this story. She has a past and the man from her past shows up to blackmail her. Then there are her missing employers, of course, and the creditors pounding at the door looking for her missing employers.
Eloise, being a romance heroine, also creates plenty of problems for herself. You see, she wants to be employed by that academy no matter what. Even if Drake is offering her his protection, she can't be a mistress because her moral code doesn't allow it. No, it doesn't! But of course, that may be more convincing if every time Drake touches her she all but bends over and awaits his pleasure. Eloise has absolutely zero self-control where Drake is concerned, which makes her ridiculously fast and easy in this story, and therefore her constant prattle about how being a mistress is not an option rings hollow. Girlfriend here is willing to give everything away for free, after all, so I don't see why she doesn't start charging him, especially when rumors begin to spread about her and Drake. Any rational woman by that time would think that her chances of being employed by a reputable academy would be nil but not Eloise. She'll put out for free, but she won't be a mistress!
She is also a dreadfully dim woman despite Ms Hunter's constant proclamations that Eloise is some kind of smart and take-charge person. I especially love how Eloise knows that the man from the past is out to get her (the knife he is holding when he lets her know of this should tell her something, I'd like to think) but she remains uncaring of her safety. You can imagine what happens at the grand dramatic moment of this story, I'm sure. Likewise, when she finally deigns to be Drake's mistress - much to my relief - she doesn't consider protecting herself from pregnancy at all.
Were not for Drake, Eloise would no doubt be a train wreck ten times over. Fortunately for her, Drake is a capable fellow. He's a standard ex-soldier hero who has turned to drinking and whoring as a way to overcome the blues, but he gets things done. I have my doubts about his constant mauling of various parts of Eloise's body without any invitation from her, but since that silly woman is complete putty in his hands, I suppose it is, er, "honorable" of him of stopping short from rogering her the first time they meet. Believe me, if you have read this book, you have to agree with me that the silly woman won't be stopping him anytime soon. I would agree if someone tells me that Drake comes off like someone taking advantage of Eloise's situation to "persuade" her to become his mistress, but it's hard to be offended on behalf of the heroine when she's so easy where the hero is concerned.
The story improves tremendously when Eloise decides that she'll stop up putting token resistances to Drake's sexual harassment (which fool nobody and only serve to annoy me) and decides that she'll be happier off being his mistress. The two characters stop behaving like silly fools chasing after each other and Drake becomes very adorably infatuated with the idea of making Eloise his wife. The author also has some very amusing scenes involving Drake and Eloise with various secondary characters here.
Oh, be warned, by the way, that there are many secondary characters from previous books as well as stars of future books clogging up especially the middle portions of the book. This book also suffers from being a late addition into a long-running series: everyone seems to know everyone. Eloise's employers are related to the Boscastles and even the Viscountess Lyons is Drake's sister. Eloise could do much worse than to cozy up with Drake because of his connections and the security he offers her.
Dim-witted Eloise isn't going to win any prizes anytime soon but Drake is a moderately charming hero. And the late third or so of the story is pretty entertaining. But for a long time, The Wicked Games Of A Gentleman feels too much like a silly hurdle race where our characters encounter obstacles after obstacles without any clear direction as to where the story is heading.
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