Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, has a sordid past and a scandalous reputation for his wild sexual needs. When his mistress is brutally murdered in the London slum of St. Giles, Lazarus will stop at nothing to find her killer. Being a nobleman, he isn't very familiar with the area, nor are the people who live there particularly inclined to talk with him, so he finds himself in need of a guide. After spotting a lovely creature stealing through the streets late one night, he decides she will do quite nicely, and secretly follows her home.
Temperance Dews has been helping her brother run a foundling home for the past nine years since her husband died. Unfortunately, the home recently lost its benefactor, and has been in dire financial straits ever since. When Lazarus comes to her with a proposition to pay her in exchange for her help with his investigation, she decides to up the ante. Temperance may know the dark alleyways and people of St. Giles like the back of her hand, making her an ideal person to help him navigate the area, but the home needs far more than a one-time donation. As payment for her assistance, she insists that Lazarus escort her to respectable society functions where she might find a new patron. He readily agrees and so begins their almost nightly forays together to either investigate or solicit funds. During these times in close company, Lazarus's overt sexuality stirs a part of Temperance that she has been struggling to control for years. Lazarus is certain that the beautiful widow isn't nearly as innocent as she seems, and his masterful powers of seduction may prove to be far more dangerous to her peace of mind than the mean streets of St. Giles.
Although I didn't like it quite as well as Elizabeth Hoyt's incomparable Princes Trilogy, Wicked Intentions was a good start to her latest series, Maiden Lane. With all the action and mysteries (the serial murders, the stolen cargo and the ghost of St. Giles), and a large part of the focus being on Lazarus and Temperance's investigation of gory Jack the Ripper style murders, this book was actually a historical romantic suspense. Even though I thought the romance and suspense were fairly well balanced, I can see where there might have been more opportunities for relationship building without all the investigating, which could explain why some readers seemed to be less than enamored with the story. Ms. Hoyt also chose to leave readers in the dark about a couple of things, most likely intending to resolve those mysteries later in the series, and I'll certainly be waiting anxiously to find out the answers.
In addition to the suspense angle, Wicked Intentions also has some other elements that make it quite unique to the historical romance genre. Other than the hero and heroine's attendance at a couple of society parties in search of a new patron for the foundling home, the narrative is completely set in the London slums, far away from all the glitz and glitter of the ton. Maybe it was the setting being so different or perhaps the author didn't quite describe it thoroughly enough, but I did have a hard time picturing it at first. The heroine herself is a poor commoner who spends her days caring for a large group of orphans, while the hero is a wealthy nobleman, making this something of a Cinderella story. I did like the orphanage and all the children even though they didn't play a huge role. Everything just came together to give the book a very distinctive feel unlike any other historical romance I've read.
Lazarus was an intriguing hero. He has earned a scandalous reputation for his "unnatural" sexual proclivities. Although the reader is teased with exactly what it is he prefers in the bedroom, I had my suspicions early on and ended up being correct. Lazarus is also very unusual in that he seems to have an inability to feel emotions, and he is repulsed and feels pain when touched. I could tell that there were things in his past that had likely contributed to his condition, and as some of those things were revealed, I sympathized with him. However, there were a couple of times when I wanted to smack him for being a bit of a jerk. Not only was he overtly sexual with Temperance right from the start which wasn't entirely my cup of tea, he also said some things to her that seemed to be deliberately calculated to cause her emotional pain, and I never quite figured out why he did that. I'll allow that perhaps I misunderstood or misinterpreted his words and intentions, because otherwise, he was rather charming in a dark, sensual sort of way. The other thing I couldn't quite get a handle on was why Lazarus chose Temperance as his guide in the first place. It just seemed a little odd to me that a "gentleman" would pull a respectable lady into what he must have known could be a potentially dangerous, and at the very least, sordid, investigation.
After being widowed nine years earlier, Temperance has devoted her life to serving the orphans alongside her brother at the foundling home started by their father. She struggles constantly against her passionate nature, feeling that there is something wrong with her for having such strong desires. At first, she is almost as emotionally closed-off as Lazarus, but with him, she finally finds the freedom to be the person she truly is inside. Temperance harbors a dark secret that has controlled her actions since her husband's death, and while I don't feel that she should have punished herself indefinitely, I did have mixed feelings about what she had done when it was finally revealed. In some ways it made me loose a little respect for her, not only because of the nature of the secret, but also because it made her seem less charitable to me, like she didn't truly enjoy working with the children and only did it because she felt she had to. However, the risks she took to protect a couple of the children I think proved that she did have a good heart and cared for them very much. I also like that she was able to intuitively sense Lazarus' inner pain the first time she touched him, even though he put on a brave face, and that she was completely accepting and even understanding of his "kinks" and why he needed those things.
As a couple, Lazarus and Temperance were good for each other, but they didn't quite spark off the pages for me like Elizabeth Hoyt's other heroes and heroines I've read to date. I think part of the reason for this lay in them both being so emotionally aloof for a large part of the story. I know that Lazarus couldn't exactly help being the way he was, and Temperance had her own demons to battle, but it often seemed like they were two separate entities rather than a couple in the making. I initially had a hard time making a connection with either one of them, but it did get better as the story progressed. My favorite parts were when Temperance was caring for Lazarus after he'd been wounded, and then toward the end when they both, in turn, gently pushed each other to face their pasts. As always, Elizabeth Hoyt knows how to write some incredibly steamy love scenes, and I will forewarn sensitive readers that the ones in this book are barely this side of erotic. I certainly didn't mind though, as I happen to think that Ms. Hoyt writes some of the best sex in romance today.;-)
In Wicked Intentions, Elizabeth Hoyt has also created a wonderful palette of supporting players, giving herself an enticing array of characters to work with as potential heroes and heroines of future books. Lady Hero Batten is a very nice young woman who treats Temperance with kindness and respect. I found it interesting that she's the sister of a duke, but seems to long for a more "normal" life, and I'm excited to see she is the heroine of book #2, Notorious Pleasures. Temperance's sister, Silence, is sweet and lovable with her ineptness with household tasks. What she lacks in basic skills, she more than makes up for in love and loyalty for her husband. What she does for him in going to the notorious pirate, Charming Mickey, was very brave, but no one believes the bargain she struck with him. Charming Mickey is well...charming, in a devilish sort of way. I wasn't too certain about him initially, but was left wondering if he wasn't quite the villain he seemed. I must admit I'm incredibly curious about exactly what transpired between these too, but alas it is one of those things that Ms. Hoyt left to the imagination but will hopefully be revealed in their book, Scandalous Desires, due to hit bookshelves in November (2011). I was very intrigued by Lazarus's one and only friend, Godric St. John. He seems to be a very kind, intellectual man who loves his wife dearly, but she appears to be not long for this world, which could free him in the future to be a great hero. Temperance's brother, Winter, is such a good man. He is completely committed to the foundling home, working himself almost to exhaustion, and is always gentle and caring with all the children. He's protective of Temperance, but never unreasonable with her like their other brothers can be. I just read breaking news on Ms. Hoyt's website indicating that he will become the hero of Book #4, tentatively titled, Thief of Shadows due for release in the summer of 2012. (Hooray!:-)) Last but not least is another of Temperance's brothers, Asa, who is quite mysterious. We see very little of him in this book, but there is just enough to make me think he might have a fascinating story to tell.
Other than the few small issues I've already outlined and the author's overuse of the question, "What?" which seemed both repetitive and anachronistic, I thought Wicked Intentions was very well-written overall. I enjoyed following along as Lazarus and Temperance solved the murder mystery, and I'm still eagerly anticipating finding out more about the questions that were left unanswered. Perhaps I didn't always relate to the hero and heroine as well as I would have liked, but they were still good characters, and if my speculation is correct, the supporting cast has left me with a tantalizing taste of what's in store for the rest of the Maiden Lane series. I'm really looking forward to the release of book three. In the meantime, I still have one more volume to keep me busy, and I can't wait to find out if Hero makes as great a heroine as I think she will.
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