SWEETEST SCOUNDREL by Elizabeth Hoyt
Maiden Lane Series #9
Release Date: November 24, 2015
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
SHE’S TAKING CHARGE
Prim, proper, and thrifty, Eve Dinwoody is all business when it comes to protecting her brother’s investment. But when she agrees to control the purse strings of London’s premier pleasure garden, Harte’s Folly, she finds herself butting heads with an infuriating scoundrel who can’t be controlled.
HE’S RUNNING THE SHOW
Bawdy and bold, Asa Makepeace doesn’t have time for a penny-pinching prude like Eve. As the garden’s larger-than-life owner, he’s already dealing with self-centered sopranos and temperamental tenors. He’s not about to let an aristocratic woman boss him around… no matter how enticing she is.
BUT LOVE CONQUERS ALL
In spite of her lack of theatrical experience-and her fiery clashes with Asa-Eve is determined to turn Harte’s Folly into a smashing success. But the harder she tries to manage the stubborn rake, the harder it is to ignore his seductive charm and raw magnetism. There’s no denying the smoldering fire between them-and trying to put it out would be the greatest folly of all…
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~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~
Elizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weekly has called her writing “mesmerizing.” She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.
The winters in Minnesota have been known to be long and cold and Elizabeth is always thrilled to receive reader mail. You can write to her at: P.O. Box 19495, Minneapolis, MN 55419 or email her at: Elizabeth@ElizabethHoyt.com.
~ EXCERPT ~
“What do you see when you look at me?”
What did she see when she looked at him?
Eve inhaled, trying and failing to tear her gaze from his.
Mr. Harte sprawled across her dainty settee like a Viking marauder in a pillaged Christian church. His broad shoulders took up more than half the width, his arms lazily draped over the back. His scarlet coat was spread open, contrasting with the sedate gray-blue of the cushions almost shockingly. One long leg was thrust straight before him, the other cocked open and resting on a booted heel. The pose made the apex of his thighs very… obvious… and even as she kept her eyes locked on his she could feel heat rising in her cheeks.
What did she see?
She saw violence and anger, kept under a control that was tenuous at best. She saw power and a strength that could hurt her—kill her—if he so chose. She saw the innate brutality that was, in larger or smaller part, in all men.
She saw her most terrible fears.
But—and this was the truly unprecedented part—she saw more in him. She saw temptation—her temptation—alluring and frightening at the same time, his virility so strong it was nearly a visible miasma in the space between them.
She wanted him. Wanted that brash gaze, those long, muscled thighs, that mocking, insulting mouth, and the shoulders that went on forever, big and brawny and so very, very male.
This was madness—she knew that intellectually. She’d never wanted a man before—was in fact afraid of almost all men, let alone one so obviously, blatantly sexual.
She took a breath, hoping that he couldn’t read all this from her gaze—and knowing it was a lost cause already.
His heavy-lidded green eyes were far, far too perceptive.
“I see…” She paused to lick suddenly dry lips. “I see that your hairline is nearly a perfect arc across the expanse of your forehead. That your eyebrows tilt ever so slightly up at the ends and that the right has a scar through it. I see that when you are solemn, the outer edges of your lips reach just to the midpoint of your eyes, but when you smile, they go beyond the corners. I see that your chin and jaw are almost in classical proportion and that a small white scar forms a comma on your chin just to the right of center.” She finally glanced away from him, breathing heavily, certain that she’d not thrown him off the track with her artist’s eye’s impressions. She inhaled again and ended, “I see every line of your face, every line’s intersection and how they relate. That is what I see when I look at you.”
“And is that all you see? Lines?” His voice was deep and amused.
She chanced a peek.
He still watched her, his gaze utterly unperturbed by her observations about his countenance.
No, she’d not fooled him at all.
She licked her lips again, buying time. “I see,” she said carefully, cautiously, “a very self-possessed man.”
“Self-possessed,” he drawled. “I’m not sure what that means, frankly. It sounds, just a bit, like a coward’s answer.”
Her gaze flew to his, outraged.
But before she could take him down a peg, he chuckled softly. “Tell me, Miss Dinwoody, would you like to know what I see when I look at you?”
She shouldn’t. She really, really shouldn’t.
“Yes,” she blurted, and then winced because she knew well enough what men thought when they looked at her: ordinary, if they were charitable. Plain if they were not.
She braced herself for mockery, but when she glanced again at him, his gaze was hot and hard. Certainly not gentle. Certainly not kind. But he wasn’t dismissing her, either.
He looked at her as if they were equals. As if he really saw her, a woman to his man.
“I see,” he said, his deep voice musing, “a woman afraid, but fighting her fears. A woman who carries herself like a queen. A woman who could rule us all, I suspect.”
She gazed at him, her breath caught in her throat, afraid to exhale and break the spell.
A corner of that wicked mouth tilted up. “And I see a woman who has a deep curiosity. Who wants to feel but is worried—of herself? Of others?” He shook his head. “I’m not sure.” He leaned forward slowly, destroying his pose, and she had to fight herself not to scoot her chair away from him. “But I think she has a fire banked within her. Maybe it’s only embers now, glowing in the dark, but if tinder were to be put to those embers…” He grinned slowly. Dangerously. “Oh, what a conflagration that would be.”
~ UNQUIETLY ME REVIEW~
SWEETEST SCOUNDREL is a vibrant, fast-paced entry in Elizabeth Hoyt’s romantic and suspenseful Maiden Lane series. Eve and Asa are perfect together, and tawny Asa’s sweet, fierce protectiveness is all kinds of sexy. Eve and Asa meet at Harte’s Folly, which Asa owns and Eve’s brother, Valentine, the Duke of Montgomery, has invested in. Since Val has left Eve in charge of his investment, she wants to make sure that Val will get his money back and Asa isn’t wasting her brother’s money. However, Harte’s Folly is still rebuilding from a fire, and it seems someone is trying to sabotage the theater and Asa’s efforts to make it profitable again.
When they first meet, Asa sees Eve as plain, too thin, and an aloof, regal aristocratic. However, as time passes and they get to know each other, he begins to see her true beauty and desires to know her and protect her. It’s obvious by her paralyzing fear of men and reticence to leave the house without her bodyguard that something happened to her. Her combined strength and vulnerability touch Asa’s heart. Their bickering underscores their sexual tension and genuine respect for each other.
Asa patiently and gradually earns her trust, and his protectiveness and caring for her develop into real feelings. Their courtship is a kind of delicate thing, contrasting Asa’s violent instincts and their intense desires, and balances their distinct personalities–Asa is expressive, while Eve is reserved. She is traumatized and has buried her memories, but her unique attraction for Asa motivates her to heal from her past and grow into a sexually empowered woman. Asa and Eve bring unique gifts to their relationship; their love brings Eve back to life and Asa a renewed sense of home and belonging.
The novel also introduces the secretive Bridget Crumb, the Duke of Montgomery’s new housekeeper, and provides a little insight into Val’s questionable activities and mysterious schemes. My favorite recurring character, Alf, reprises her role as the enterprising, street smart urchin girl in hiding, an informant of sorts to these powerful aristocrats. And the new band of villains mentioned in this novel could lead to additional story and character arcs in future books.
I also liked that Eve’s bodyguard, Jean-Marie, wasn’t treated like a servant but was a free person, and that he told his story in his own words. I was glad that Jean-Marie didn’t remain indebted to Val and relieved that Val wasn’t glorified as his savior. Val isn’t known for his altruism but for manipulating people to get what he wants. It’s how Eve loves Val and how Val rescued Eve that humanizes him and makes him so interesting and an antihero worth redeeming.
I can’t wait for Val’s story next and to see if and how he redeems himself. One of the themes I love most about this series is the power of love bridging and healing the gap between the lower and upper classes. So, I’m very much looking forward for Alf to get her happy ending. That girl definitely needs to be rewarded for helping out these wealthy aristocrats!
The ending was a little abrupt, and the epilogue was unexpected and a bit perplexing, unless the reader is completely invested in the allegorical bits at the start of each chapter. As in most of Hoyt’s historical romances, the sex scenes are a little edgy for the genre, but don’t cross over into erotica. Asa was somewhat unrefined, but that was a large part of his sex appeal. He brought Eve out of her shell, and she grew to trust him.
*I received an eARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Content warning: This book references instances of child molestation, PTSD, and violence against women and children.
Historical footnote: Though of African descent, Jean-Marie was given a French name because he was a slave in the French West Indies, on the island of Saint-Domingue. Saint-Domingue was a French colony from 1659 to 1804, and eventually became the Dominican Republic: “As of 1778, the French were importing approximately 13,000 Africans for enslavement to the French West Indies” (Source: Wikipedia)