Syringa Melton's dissolute father has left them deeply in debt after descending into a gambling habit following the death of his wife. With his creditors clamoring to be paid, all their worldly possession are about to be auctioned off, including the manor house Syringa has called home for her entire life and her beloved horse, Mercury. When her rakish neighbor, Ancelin Roth, the Earl of Rothingham, overhears her sobbing to her horse, he offers a sympathetic ear. His hardened heart melts a little when he hears of the innocent girl's plight, so without her knowledge he buys everything, including, through a strange misunderstanding, Syringa herself. However, all the money went to the creditors, so the Earl returns home to find Syringa in a state of near starvation. He has no intention of marrying anytime soon, but he takes the girl under his wing and offers her a London season. However, when Ancelin's jealous mistress hears of a young beauty living under his roof, she sets in motion a devious plan to get Syringa out of the way and snare the Earl for herself. Soon Syringa finds herself locked up in Newgate, facing a sentence of flogging and hanging unless, she prays, the handsome Earl comes to her rescue.
The Ruthless Rake is a short, stand-alone historical romance that's set in the Georgian time period. Our hero, Ancelin Roth, the Earl of Rothingham, is an unrepentant rake who is also known to be ruthless in business. One day, while riding at his country estate, he comes upon Syringa, a lovely young woman who is in distress over having to sell her beloved horse after her family has fallen on hard times. Charmed by her sweetness and innocence, Ancelin sends an agent to the sale where all Syringa's possessions are to be auctioned off with instructions to bid on everything, which unexpectedly ends up including Syringa herself. When he returns to the country a few weeks later to find the young woman he's now responsible for practically starving, he takes her to his home to care for her. After briefly toying with the idea of making her his mistress, he instead chooses to take her to London and give her a season in hopes that she'll find someone to marry. But in the big city, the naive Syringa is deceived by Ancelin's jealous mistress, who along with his cousin, comes up with a devious plan that sends Syringa to jail and could result in her being hanged for theft if Ancelin doesn't learn the truth and get to her in time.
After his father frittered away the family fortune, Ancelin spent a great deal of time in India while a distant relative managed the estate at home. He's only recently returned to England, and the first couple of chapters of the books well establish him as the ruthless rake of the title. He has at least two mistresses, one of which he's about to dump, he has no interest in marriage and plans to live it up until old age, and he associates with people who lead decadent, dissolute lifestyles. In an attempt to rebuild the family's coffers, he's become ruthless in business and he's known to dismiss employees without giving it much of a thought. Then he meets Syringa and he begins to change. He can't help feeling sorry for the beautiful young woman who is about to lose everything, but at the same time, she's unlike any woman he's ever met before, sweet, kind, loving, and generous. Although Ancelin tries to tell himself that her problems are none of his concern, he nonetheless sends an agent to bid on everything. Then he accidentally ends up in possession of the woman herself. When he discovers that she and her old nanny have been starving, he takes them under his own roof to care for them. Ancelin considers making Syringa his mistress, but deciding that he can't sully an innocent, he pretends she's his ward to give her a London season. However, he didn't count on his mistress, Lady Elaine, being a jealous shrew who deceives Syringa. When Lady Elaine makes false accusations against Syringa, Ancelin thinks the young woman has duped him, but when she disappears, he sets out to learn the truth, only it might be too late. Ancelin may be a ruthless rake, but Syringa changes him for the better, opening his eyes to many things he might not have thought of before. I was a little disappointed in him for believing the worst of her when Lady Elaine makes her insinuations, but given the type of women (and people in general), he'd been hanging out with it, I suppose it made sense. He more than made up for it with his grand romantic gesture at the end.
Syringa is the stereotypical Barbara Cartland heroine, sweet, innocent, and naive. Her mother died several years earlier, and ever since, her father has been an emotional mess, drowning his sorrows in drinking and gambling. He's run up so many debts, that his creditors have grown tired of waiting for payment and now everything they own is to be auctioned off, including Syringa's beloved horse, Mercury. Ancelin comes upon her one day in the woods, while she's lamenting this fact to Mercury, and speaks kindly with her about it, which raises her spirits. After their encounter, she thinks never to see him again, until she discovers that he's the one who bought everything, including her, after her father made a drunken declaration, putting her on the auction block, too. Ancelin is incredibly kind to her when he discovers that she and her nanny have had little to eat in the weeks since the auction, as the creditors took all the proceeds, leaving nothing for food. Syringa is thrilled to be living at his country estate that she's loved since childhood, and although she'd rather stay there than go to London for a season, she feels it would be inconsiderate to turn down his generosity. While in the city, she meets Lady Elaine and the earl's cousin, who push her to do something that makes her uncomfortable, but she naively follows along so as not to be rude, leading to disaster when she ends up in Newgate accused of theft. Admittedly Syringa is basically a Mary Sue, which is not uncommon for this author. She's sweetness personified and pretty much perfect in every way, only wanting what's best for others while trying not to offend anyone. I know many romance readers don't like heroines like this, but I have a soft spot for them, even though, in Syringa's case, her naivete is perhaps taken a little too far.
In my late teens and early twenties, I devoured Barbara Cartland stories like candy, and adored nearly every one. More recently, I haven't read very many, but I occasionally like to take a walk down memory lane with one of these little romances. Over the years, I've discovered many other authors who write much more complex stories that feed my intellect in exciting ways, but sometimes, it can still be fun to read something sweet and uncomplicated. Barbara Cartland stories are kind of like the Hallmark rom-coms of the book world, nice little feel-good romances that leave me with a smile. For this reason, I think I tend to hold them to a different standard when it comes to rating them. The Ruthless Rake is admittedly not a perfect story. The author has a tendency to go into somewhat tedious descriptions of certain things that tend to slow the pace. The characterizations and plot aren't very deep either and everything happens with little thought going into it, but at the same time, I couldn't help but find it rather charming. Syringa is adorable in her innocence. Ancelin, while certainly flawed, becomes the proverbial knight in shining armor, coming to her rescue in more ways than one. Then the finale of the story gave me all the feels. All the planning and effort Ancelin put into giving Syringa the wedding ceremony and wedding night of her dreams was chef's kiss perfection, swoon-worthy romance at it's best. So I couldn't resist bumping the rating up a little for that. Overall, this was an enjoyable read that reminded me of all the reasons I unapologetically loved Barbara Cartland in my youth.
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