In dire financial straits, Julia Pretiss's uncle is prepared to sell her as a wife to the lecherous, scheming Mortimer Oswalt for the sum of fifteen thousand pounds. Appalled at her uncle's intentions, Julia tries to come up with any excuse to not enter into this unwanted marriage, but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Oswalt is determined to have her and in only five days. However, he is adamant that Julia must be a virgin bride and intends to have her examined to verify her status. While pondering the possible ways that she might prevent her impending nuptials to this vile man, Julia alights upon an idea - if she could loose her virginity, Oswalt would no longer want to marry her. After discarding a couple of notions for ruining herself as being nearly as abhorrent as marriage to Oswalt, Julia remembers a man she had seen at a ball that she had recently attended. All of the young ladies had been warned away from him, because he was rumored to have a black reputation and was a known seducer of innocents. It seems that Paine Ramsden might be just the man she needs to get the job done.
Paine Ramsden is a dissolute rake, the third son of a nobleman, who was sent into exile twelve years earlier for attempting to engage in a duel. While overseas, he made his fortune and has only recently returned to London, where he is viewed with suspicion by the ton. When the lovely Julia Prentiss arrives at Paine's seedy gaming hell asking him to ruin her, he finds her proposition very intriguing. When she informs him that it is for the purpose of avoiding marriage to Mortimer Oswalt, Paine's most hated enemy, he is all too happy to help. Paine and Julia's night of passion awakens unfamiliar feelings for Paine, and he finds himself wanting to do far more for Julia than what she requested. Knowing that Oswalt is more dangerous than Julia even realizes, Paine cannot allow her to leave the safe haven he can provide. Even with Julia under his protection though, it will take a grand scheme of their own to defeat Oswalt and restore Paine's reputation with the ton, but since Julia never asked for anything more than her ruination, it seems that their relationship may come to an end as soon as their charade is finished.
I know that many romance readers simply choose not to read category romances, but in my opinion, passing these by can sometimes lead to missing out on talented authors and good stories. Such is the case with Bronwyn Scott's Notorious Rake, Innocent Lady. I had never heard of Ms. Scott before and after looking up her website, I can see why. This book appears to be only her second published by Harlequin and her fifth overall, yet I thought it showed a lot of talent and the promise of even better things yet to come. I admit that the author used a rather well-worn romance plot, that of the lecherous, old suitor pursuing the innocent young virgin, who is in turn rescued by the handsome rake, but Ms. Scott managed to freshen things up a bit by putting a new twist on each one of these elements to create a surprisingly pleasant read. The story got off to a very provocative start with the first love scene taking place in chapter 3, and it had an exciting, suspenseful and ultimately satisfying denouement. The only part that I found to be languishing were the intermediate chapters, which, aside from one action scene, really seemed to lack any interesting events and did little to advance the story. I thought that this might have been a good place to build more on Paine and Julia's relationship, which I felt could have used more depth and was really the only other thing that fell a bit short, in my opinion.
Paine and Julia, the hero and heroine, were both very nice characters that were easy to like. Paine had a rather sordid and dissolute past which was not surprising for a third son of noble birth, yet underneath his rakish exterior beat the heart of an honorable man, who still had scruples and tried to do the right thing. He had taken the lemons that life had handed him twelve years earlier and managed to make some very tantalizing lemonade, which I thought was also very admirable. Julia was no simpering society miss, but neither was she a shrew. On the contrary, she was a very spirited girl who wasn't afraid to take matters into her own hands to secure her future happiness. Also, whenever Julia found herself in a difficult or dangerous situation, she didn't fret and worry. Instead, she used her intelligence to think things through logically and try to find the best solution. These were all traits that I found very commendable. In fact, there was one point when I thought Julia was making a stupid decision (something that in my opinion was out of character for her), but Paine, as it turns out, was already several moves ahead of her, showing his own cunning intellect, which made for a rather humorous checkmate. I really enjoyed these episodes of sharp-witted banter. As I mentioned earlier, the only thing that I thought would have made these two characters better would have been more relationship development. I've never been a big fan of love-at-first-sight stories, but I can buy into them if I'm given reasons. Unfortunately, I couldn't really find any explanation for Paine and Julia falling in love besides a common enemy and a mutual physical attraction. It just seemed to happen with little rhyme or reason, which is not to say that I didn't like them as a couple. I just would have liked their love connection to be stronger.
There were a few other things which made this tale interesting and unique. While the love scenes were not abundant and most were mainly implied cut-scenes, there were a couple at the beginning which I found to be a cut above the majority of Harlequins in sensuality. This was mainly owing to the hero's extensive knowledge of the Kama Sutra and some very lively and humorous love play early on. Also, the villain was very menacing, having evil designs that went far beyond his lecherous intentions toward an innocent and giving the narrative a slight air of Gothic suspense. Finally, Peyton's two older brother were great secondary characters who created a strong family unit. I loved that they were so willing to help him out, even though he had been out of contact with them for a long time. I finished the story feeling that this might be the beginning of a series since it ended with Peyton and Crispin's status as that of very handsome, honorable and quite eligible bachelors still intact, and Julia's cousin Gray returning on a rather vague note. After checking the author's website, I discovered that my insights were correct. Gray's story is currently available as an exclusive Harlequin Online Read titled Grayson Prentiss's Seduction, which is actually a prequel of sorts to Notorious Rake, Innocent Lady. Also, Ms. Scott is continuing the story of the Ramsden brothers with Peyton's story due out sometime next year. In addition, a note inside the book indicates that it is the first in the new series, Undone!, but at present it is unclear whether this is the title of Ms. Scott's Ramsden brothers series or if it is perhaps the beginning of a Harlequin continuity series. Overall, I found Notorious Rake, Innocent Lady to be a quick, easy and enjoyable read, leaving me open to continuing the series and reading other books by Bronwyn Scott including those written under her real name, Nikki Poppen, for a different publisher.
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