Rosalind Rutherford is at the mercy of her cruel stepbrother who abuses her. He only wants Rosalind so that he can sell her hand in marriage to the highest bidder to clear his large gambling debts. Hoping that if she ruins her own reputation her brother will send her back to the family's quiet country estate and leave her in peace, Rosalind sets a daring plan into action. She approaches a man whom the ton deems dangerous because of a dark curse surrounding his family history and asks him to ruin her, but she didn't count on him having a gentlemanly side.
Armond Wulf has vowed never to marry or fall in love. To do so would be madness. Centuries ago a witch cursed his ancestor to turn into a wolf on the full moon when he fell in love with another. The curse will be passed from generation to generation unless someone figures out how to break it. When the lovely Rosalind offers herself to him, Armond is sorely tempted, but will not allow himself to loose control. Still, the siren song of his beautiful new neighbor calls to him at every turn until he cannot resist visiting her bedroom in secret. Armond is already a suspect in the murder of a prostitute found dead in his stable, and when another body turns up there and his only alibi is Rosalind, he refuses to put her reputation on the line. When the lady comes forward on her own to save him, the gentleman in Armond can do nothing less than marry her, but even though he declares with his lips that he will never love Rosalind, he cannot deny that she calls to his heart in a way no other woman ever has.
I read the first novella in the late Ronda Thompson's Wild Wulfs of London series quite some time ago and really enjoyed it. I'm not sure why it took me so long to get back to these books, but I'm so glad that I finally did. I have a feeling The Wild Wulfs of London is going to become a new favorite series in the paranormal romance genre for me. Ronda Thompson's writing style is very emotionally engaging. She really makes me care about and relate to her characters. Her love scenes are sweetly sensual and each one builds on the last to propel the story along. The bathtub scene where Armond and Rosalind first share some real intimacy was quite steamy. I also enjoyed the light mystery/suspense portion of the plot too. Although parts of it were rather predictable, I could still feel the air of tension surrounding Armond's investigation of the murders and Rosalind's stepbrother trying to keep her under his thumb. Everything just came together to make this book a perfect read that will definitely be placed on my keeper shelf.
Armond is a man tormented by his family's curse which makes its male members turn into werewolves if they fall in love, so he has vowed never to do that. Of course, he didn't count on the sweet, beautiful Rosalind capturing his heart and stirring his passion from the moment he meets her. Publicly, the ton believes that the Wulf family curse is madness, and because of it, Armond and his brothers have a dark reputation. When the story opens, he is already a suspect in a murder case. In spite of his perceived bad boy image and the beast inside him, it is clear right from the start that Armond is far more honorable and gentlemanly than most human men. Even though Rosalind was throwing herself at him, desperately wanting him to ruin her, he didn't completely debauch her and even gave her a plausible excuse for her absence from the party. Throughout the entire story, Armond exercises incredible self-control which is a quality I love in a hero. It was very sweet how he simply held and comforted Rosalind through the night the second time he secretly came to her room, and even after they were married, he gave her the choice of whether to consummate their union and when. Now that's not to say that he isn't seductive. He told Rosalind up front that he wouldn't play fair, and it was really cute how he asks her every day, "Have I told you I want you today?" I also loved his protectiveness. From the moment Armond met Rosalind that instinct in him came out and only increased as his love for her grew. On the surface, his declaration to Rosalind that he would never love her seemed cruel, but it was really just his determination to protect her from everything, including himself, that made him say it.
Rosalind was my favorite type of heroine, one who is kind, gentle and sweet on the outside, but inside is strong and intelligent. She had been badly abused by her stepbrother and he was now prepared to "sell" her in marriage to a man she found loathsome. In sheer desperation, she thought that being ruined by the most dangerous and shunned man in the ton would be a better option, but she didn't count on Armond having a heart of gold beneath his dark facade. I thought that act alone was a pretty bold move on her part, but time and time again, throughout the story, she shows her bravery. She stood up for Armond when he was wrongly accused of murder and gave him an alibi even though it did ruin her. She willingly married Armond and always saw him for the decent man he was rather than the madman waiting to happen that the ton thought him to be or the monster he saw in himself. She instinctively sensed that he would never harm her no matter what form he took, and he always lived up to her faith in him. Rosalind didn't really want to consummate their marriage until Armond was able to give her his heart, but in the meantime, she could barely resist him. She is very curious and loves sharing intimacies with her handsome husband. Rosalind is also quite intuitive, understanding that Armond's sometimes hurtful words are meant to protect her, and looking beneath the surface to his actions which speak louder than his words. She was very intelligent too, figuring out her brother's schemes on her own and trying to put a stop to them.
There are a number of exciting and colorful secondary characters in The Dark One. Rosalind's stepbrother, Franklin and his accomplice made dastardly villains. The Dowager Duchess of Brayberry was a lively old lady who was a true friend to both Armond and Rosalind. Armond's two brothers, Jackson and Gabriel are introduced as well. Unlike his two brothers who are responsible and hard-working, Jackson is a rake with a wild reputation, but incredibly charming with the ladies. It appears that he is going off on a quest to break the family curse and prove himself by finding and killing a certain witch. His story becomes the next book in the series, The Untamed One. Gabriel is the strong, silent type, a man who is very much tied to the land of the family's country estate. He catches the eye of Rosalind's new friend, Amelia who on the surface is a good girl, but deep down is a very passionate young woman who longs to be scandalous. Gabriel and Amelia's story is the last in the series, The Cursed One.
The Dark One has more of the feel of a Regency-era historical romance with a somewhat lighter paranormal element. Aside from Armond having heightened senses and physical abilities, the supernatural portion of the plot doesn't really come into play until the last quarter or so of the book. The rest of the novel is about the mystery and suspense surrounding the murder investigation, and the emotional turmoil that Armond and Rosalind deal with because of the curse and their gradual growth into realizing how much they love each other. Overall, The Dark One was a well-written, well-plotted, emotionally satisfying story that has definitely left me quite eager to get to the next book in The Wild Wulfs of London series.
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