Lady Julianne Gatewick has had a crush on her brother's best friend since she was a little girl. Having fallen completely in love with Hawk four years ago when he danced with her at her come-out ball, she dreams of him proposing to her this season. With Julianne's brother having appointed Hawk as her temporary guardian, it seems like the perfect opportunity for them to spend more time together. Julianne is thrilled when Hawk dances a sensuous waltz with her at the first ball they attend. The pair become so lost in each other's eyes that they don't even realize the music has ended, leaving them standing on the dance floor alone, surrounded by an applauding crowd. Julianne is stunned and hurt when Hawk brushes it off by declaring to everyone present that she is like a sister to him. At the first opportunity, Julianne flees the ballroom with her two best friends, and the trio proceeds to consume an entire bottle of wine while bemoaning the trials of young ladies during courtship. After regaining her senses and with the help of Hawk's Aunt Hester who is sponsoring her for the season, Julianne concocts a scheme to secretly write a pamphlet of scandalous advice on how to bring these scoundrels to heel.
Marc Darcett, the Earl of Hawkfield, has always thought of Julianne as a sister until dancing that waltz awakened his senses to the desirable woman she has become and set his body on fire for her. Best friend's sisters have always been off limits to rakes like him, not to mention as her guardian, he can't possibly reveal his feelings. However, try as he might he just can't seem to resist being in Julianne's presence and now he's experiencing something that feels a lot like jealousy every time the young bucks come to call on her. A dark secret in Hawk's past has him convinced that a bad boy like him can never have happiness with someone like Julianne, but everything about her calls to him like the lure of a siren. Will Hawk and Julianne ever be able to overcome all the obstacles that litter their path to happiness or will their secrets get in the way of the future with one another that they both desire?
Ever since meeting Hawk and Julianne in Vicky Dreiling's debut romance, How to Marry a Duke, I have really been looking forward to reading their story. I thought they showed great potential as lead characters, and for the most part, they were still pretty likable in How to Seduce a Scoundrel. The book got off to a wonderful start, with the first few chapters brimming with repartee that was fresh, clever, witty and occasionally just a bit wicked. While reading these parts, I spent a lot of time smiling if not outright laughing. I also liked that they had known each other and been comfortable friends for many years. Unfortunately, things started to get a little off track for me from the moment Hawk accidentally dissed Julianne after their waltz. From that point and throughout most of the rest of the book, I felt like both characters were often being too stubborn for their own good, but in the end, everything came together to make it a pretty good read.
Hawk is an utterly charming rogue. In spite of his wickedly rakish reputation, his best friend, Tristan, trusts him implicitly to act as temporary guardian to his sister, Julianne, so she won't have to miss the season's festivities while Tristan tends to his wife who is nearing her time to give birth. Hawk would do anything for Tristan, but still isn't entirely thrilled about having to escort Julianne around to all the balls and parties. However, he finds himself not minding as much as he thought he would, mainly because of Julianne herself. Almost from the start, Hawk begins to see her as the desirable woman that she is rather than the little girl who used to be his partner in mischief. That scares him to death, partly because best friend's sisters are off limits and partly because he has his own scandalous secret that makes him feel unworthy of a woman like Julianne. I thought it was quite amusing how Hawk was so protective of Julianne and jealous of all her suitors, but was so clueless about his own feelings, he didn't realize it at first. The reader also learns that his devil-may-care attitude is just part of the armor he uses to shield himself from the pain of past mistakes. I liked how he was able to grow though all this and become a better man in the end.
I thought it was very sweet that Julianne had had a crush on Hawk since she was a little girl (and had even proposed to him back then), and fell completely in love with him when he danced with her at her come-out ball four years earlier. Since then she's had numerous marriage proposals and turned them all down, never even allowing herself to be kissed, because she dreamed of Hawk being the first. Julianne may have been adorable in the beginning, but when Hawk got her hackles up, the claws came out and she could be pretty stubborn. I know that she felt Hawk publicly embarrassed her by saying he thought of her only as a sister after they had shared a particularly sensuous waltz, but for her to completely give up her long-held tendre for him over it, and so quickly, seemed perhaps just a little extreme for the circumstances. From that point on, Julianne seemed to alternate between being incredibly astute in her assessment of Hawk's behavior and not really seeing what was right in front of her. I did enjoy how Julianne slowly wised up as she came to realize that courtship wasn't as easy as she thought it was for the gentleman and that maybe she had been wrong about some things when she decided to write her scandalous pamphlet. I think the whole process was a good learning experience for her.
The dialog and overall narrative is fairly snappy, giving the impression that the novel is fast-paced, but in reality the plot progresses rather slowly. In my opinion, Hawk and Julianne's relationship kind of stagnates due to their frequent arguments. Although the couple's bantering could be rather amusing at times, I really hated to see them constantly at odds for such a long stretch. When that happens in a romance, it tends to put a damper on the emotional connection for me. I'm also not a fan of game playing in a relationships or the frequent small misunderstandings between them which led to an overall sense of distrust. I thought it placed a little too much distance between the pair when sexual tension should have been building instead. It was refreshing to not have them jumping into bed in the first chapter (in fact that doesn't happen until about ¾ of the way into the book), but I still think the story could have used a bit more steam in general and the love scenes needed a little more pizazz too. Vicky Dreiling tends to write these scenes at a moderate level at best, and I definitely don't mind that. However, I've read other authors who write mild to moderate love scenes with a lot more emotion and overall romanticism. With Ms. Dreiling it almost seems like she's trying too hard to hold back the sensuality level and as a result, I thought these moments came off feeling rather rushed. Hopefully, this is something that will improve as she gains more writing experience. The author is also very slow to disclose Hawk's secret. While I do like for a book to keep me on pins and needles waiting for the reveal, I thought perhaps she could have dropped a few more clues along the way. As is, she just kept reiterating that Hawk felt really bad about some big mistake he'd made in the past and then suddenly dropped it like a bomb. Lastly, Ms. Dreiling can be very good at allowing her characters to emote in just the right way to create a truly romantic air, but at times, I thought there were places where a little more subtlety would have been better.
The author did make good use of her secondary characters. Hawk's Aunt Hester was a hoot, especially in the beginning. I thoroughly enjoyed her blunt talk with both Hawk and Julianne, as well as how she was a kind, motherly figure to them both. I was a little disappointed that we never found out for certain that her "friend" was the true love from her youth she spoke of to Julianne, but I still liked that she got to have a little romance herself. I thought it went to show that love isn't just for the young, but the young at heart. Also, several of the bridal candidates from How to Marry a Duke returned, with Georgette and Amy front and center as Julianne's best friends and confidants. I liked plain, shy Amy right from the start, so I'm very happy to know that she gets to be the heroine of the next book in the series, How to Ravish a Rake. She will be paired with Hawk's errant younger brother, William, whose rakish reputation is just as bad as Hawk's, if not worse. He finally returned home at the end of the book, but was never in any scenes, so it will be quite interesting to see how he and his seeming opposite get along in their own story. In spite of feeling like a few things could have been better here and there, I found How to Seduce a Scoundrel to be a pretty enjoyable read, and I'll be looking forward to the next book when it is released in the spring of 2012.
Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher, Hachette Book Group, in exchange for an honest review.
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