(The Rakes of Cavendish Square, #2)
Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bedding Proposal comes a seductive new novel about the most devilishly dangerous men in London…
When Lady Esme Byron happens upon a gorgeous naked man sleeping beside a secluded country lake, she can’t resist the impulse to sketch him. But when her highly improper drawing is mistakenly revealed at a party, she finds her once-pristine reputation in tatters.
Gabriel, Lord Northcote, may be a notorious rakehell, but he is still stunned to find himself accused of despoiling a duke’s sister—especially since he’s never set eyes on her. When Esme’s six irate brothers demand a hurried trip down the aisle, he has no choice but to comply. He thinks he can forget about his inconvenient bride but Esme Byron is no ordinary woman and Gabriel is about to learn just how unforgettable she can be.
I really enjoyed this second book in Tracy Anne Warren’s Rakes of Cavendish Square series, which features one of my favourite tropes where two strangers end up being compromised and are forced to marry under less than auspicious circumstances.
Lady Esme Byron is the youngest of the Byron siblings and her family have always supported her unconventional lifestyle, allowing her the freedom to pursue her love of drawing and painting as well as her penchant for rescuing and caring for sick and wounded animals. She also chooses not to eat meat.
All her siblings, bar one, are happily married and they want the same for Esme but she has no intention of marrying for a long time yet. However, one impulsive act is about to change everything. While out one day, she comes across a mysterious, naked man asleep by her neighbour’s lake and simply has to draw him, never imagining that her drawing will become the source of a public scandal.
The sketchbook flew out of Esme’s grasp, pages fluttering wide before the book spun and skidded to a halt on the floor.
She bent quickly to retrieve it, but Lettice Waxhaven’s loud gasp let her know it was already too late. Everyone else was turning and looking too. Breath froze in her chest, her thoughts tumbling wildly one over the other as she tried to think exactly how to explain the page with the gloriously bare, unforgettably gorgeous male specimen lying open for all to see.
Now her fate is sealed – marriage to a stranger.
The subject of her drawing is Gabriel Lansdowne, Viscount Northcote, an inveterate rake infamous for his debauched lifestyle and scandalous erotic art collection. He is at a total loss when six angry Byron brothers, including his next-door neighbours, Leo and Lawrence Byron, invade his house and threaten him. Having no idea what they are talking about, he proceeds to antagonise them even more but, eventually he convinces them that he has never actually met their sister, but unfortunately the die is cast and he has no choice but to marry Esme.
I love how the focus of the story is on Gabriel and Esme’s developing relationship. No distracting mystery to solve, just two people on a journey of discovery about themselves and each other and ultimately falling in love. During their honeymoon at Gabriel’s house in Cornwall, they enjoy each other’s company and their compatibility extends to the bedroom too. Esme had few expectations for the marriage but…
…day by day she fell deeper under his spell, enjoying more than his touch, but his company as well. His clever mind and his sharp wit. His unexpectedly generous nature and his willingness to share—everything, that is, but almost nothing about his past or his family, whereas he knew practically everything about her own.
Gabriel has never known the love and loyalty of a family like Esme’s. Knowing details of how he was abandoned, abused and betrayed by the people who should have loved and protected him made it easy to understand how those experiences shaped the man he became…a cynical man who is afraid of love.
Love was weakness and he would drive its nascent tendrils from his soul before it had a chance to dig in and take root.
So, when an old friend observes that he is in love with his wife, Gabriel realises that he is coming to care for Esme but fears becoming emotionally involved because he knows from experience it can only lead to heartbreak. So, he panics and, after leaving Esme at Ten Elms, his estate in Derbyshire, he heads for London.
He needed space, a bit of separation between them, so he could get his emotions under proper control again. This thing between them—whatever it might be—was dangerous and had to be stopped.
Although, at first, justifiably angry and hurt, I love Esme’s determination to get her husband back. She knows that Gabriel is a good man who hides his true self beneath a cynical façade. She sees it in the kindness he shows his servants and his acceptance of her menagerie of animals and she feels it in his kisses and touches. She knows that he is capable of love but she must earn his trust first and I like how she compares Gabriel to one of her wounded animals.
She had worked with enough wounded animals in her time to know that you couldn’t smother and push them too fast to accept you or they would remain wary of even the most tender care. Gentle, consistent handling and affection were the keys to their hearts. She just prayed they would prove the keys to Gabriel’s heart as well.
Just as a HEA seems within their grasp, there is another obstacle to overcome. At this point, I wanted to shake some sense into Gabriel when the fool believes Esme would betray him with another man, but I love how Esme stands up for herself and matters come to head, forcing Gabriel to finally admit his love for her.
I love the scene where a bold Esme sends Gabriel’s despicable uncle packing and gives his servant spies their marching orders. There is also a very poignant and emotional scene where Esme gives Gabriel a gift of a rare Cornish silver pocket watch which has special significance for him.
I enjoyed the humorous interactions between Gabriel and the Byron brothers, especially Leo and Lawrence.
MY VERDICT: Although not quite as good as the previous book, this is still a delightful, witty, entertaining and romantic story.
REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: WARM
The Rakes of Cavendish Square series (click on the book covers for more details):