Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
After Miss Louisa Oliver broke her betrothal to Viscount Matheson, her step-sister and former intended was subjected to quite a scandal, due to the gossipping ways of Matheson's friend, the dissolute Alexander Edgware, Lord Xavier. Matheson and Louisa's step-sister got married, and the scandal passed, but Xavier isn't really a favourite in the Oliver or Matheson family circles any more. So when Louisa, with her formidable aunt as chaperone, receives an invitation to his house party, rumoured to be quite a raucous event, she's puzzled, but intrigued and accepts. Having accepted her likely fate as a spinster, she'd nonetheless like to experience a thrill or two, and what better way to practise flirting or stealing a kiss or two than at Xavier's wild party?
Lord Xavier was orphaned at an early age and has had the wealth and freedom to do as he pleased since for as long as he can remember. Drinking, gambling, debauchery and wagering, he's done it all, but it's starting to lose some of its charm. Yet he's known to never turn down a wager, so when his malicious cousin bets him that he can't make a proper lady of good family attend his house party, no matter how shocking, and stay the full two weeks, he accepts. He had never expected his cousin to pick the bookish Miss Oliver, whose reputation he's sure his cousin intends to tarnish. He needs to make sure that nothing too shocking occurs to scare Miss Oliver away, while guarding her virtue without being too obvious about it.
Early on in the visit, Louisa overhears Xavier and his cousin speaking about the wager and realises how much is at stake about her presence there. She decides to teach both the men a lesson and pushes herself out of her comfort zone, engaging in the festivities with an enthusiasm that surprises everyone. Xavier tries to keep her from harm by distracting her with his large and comprehensive library, but finds what he most wants to do is spend as much time as possible with her there. Louisa discovers that if you're going to improve your flirting and kissing, there's no one better to practise on than a rake in want of reforming.
My biggest problem with the first book in this series was that there just wasn't enough plot to fill a full novel. At least in this story, I didn't have to feel that, but there are still slow patches. The book starts a little before the house party with the wager, but the chief portion of the story is at Xavier's country estate, with a largeish cast of characters, among them Xavier's cousin, Miss Jane Tindall, whose mother is nominally the hostess of the gathering, but seems to spend most of her time drunk or asleep. Jane appears to be the heroine of the next book in the series.
Louisa is really quite happy with the idea of staying unmarried, but at the same time she's been organising the library at her new brother-in-law's house and several months of watching the newly-weds be sickeningly happy could make anyone feel a bit down, even someone who hadn't originally been engaged to the groom. Feeling very much the third wheel, she's quite relieved to be invited to a house party, even if the host is the duplicitous Lord Xavier. It doesn't take her long into her visit to discover that he wasn't quite as dastardly as to besmirch her step-sister's reputation to one and all, but he did confide in someone he shouldn't. Used to being in the background, quietly observing everyone else, Louisa is quite the study of human nature, and is amused to discover that much of Lord Xavier's behaviour is merely a clever veneer, applied to fool those around him that he's as carefree, rakish and dissolute as his reputation claims. She becomes determined to make him reveal the person he really is, and is willing to use any means necessary.
Lord Xavier does indeed do very little without planning and forethought. He has a series of numbered expressions that he pulls out at the appropriate occasions and having been quite bored by his lifestyle for a while, he's nonetheless careful to cultivate the appearance of being the consummate rake, because he can't yet imagine what sort of a person he could be instead. A victim of his reputation, he believes it would be impossible to change now. He's very aware of how easily Miss Oliver could be ruined by mere hints at impropriety, yet cannot keep himself away from her. Initially, he tells himself it's too keep her safe, but the more time they spend together, the more obviously the attraction between them grows. He still thinks she's far too good for him, and even tries to send her away to protect her, not that it does a lot of good in the long run.
Theresa Romain remains an author who is perfectly decent, but who as of yet has not truly wowed me. I really did like this book, but I doubt that I'll particularly remember the details of the story in a month or so. Still, I keep seeing her books highly recommended, and can't seem to stop buying them in e-book sales, so I will continue to see if there is an exceptional book in her yet.