Eve Dinwoody is the illegitimate daughter of a Duke. Through the generosity of her half-brother, the new Duke, she lives well, but mostly keeps to herself. Events in her past have made Eve fearful of both dogs and men. Aside from her brother and her faithful manservant, she can't bear to be touched by a man. When her brother has to leave town quickly, he places Eve in charge of his investment in the rebuilding of Harte's Folly. When she believes that Mr. Harte, the owner and manager of the pleasure garden, is mismanaging her brother's funds, she feels it necessary to cut him off and goes to see him in person to tell him as much. What Eve didn't expect to find was a bawdy but intriguing man whose passions run deep. His penchant for violence frightens her, but at the same time he exudes a masculinity that speaks to the womanly part of her, arousing unfamiliar feelings and making her curious to know more.
Asa Makepeace, aka Mr. Harte, is working on a deadline. He's determined to have the renovations on Harte's Folly finished within the month for the grand reopening. He doesn't have time for the prim, proper, and plain Ms. Dinwoody, but if he wants her brother's money, he has to make time. Asa manages to convince Eve to keep funding the project in exchange for her taking a hand in managing the books. Soon he can't deny that she's an asset to his theater. And he also can't deny a budding attraction. Asa is a lover of women, but something about Eve gets beneath his skin in a way that no other woman has. He finds himself wanting to earn her trust, uncover all her secrets, and show her just how good a man's touch can feel. But in his heart, Asa feels he's married to his garden and can never be the kind of man Eve needs in her life long-term. Before he can learn to put the garden second and make Eve his highest priority, a series of "accidents" make it appear that someone is out to ruin him before he can ever get Harte's Folly up and running again, and they've also made Eve a target, placing her life in danger.
I'm starting to feel like a broken record. Every time Elizabeth Hoyt releases a new book, I rush out to buy it and read it as soon as I possibly can. And every one of her Maiden Lane books that I've read for the last several years since the series started (well, technically nearly every one of her books that I've read period) has been amazing so far. Out of the thirteen books of hers that I've read up to this point, all but one has received a 4.5 to 5 star rating from me, and even that one odd book out was still a four-star read for me. Yes, she really is that good, at least IMHO, so if you're a historical romance fan and you're not reading her books, you really should be. If you don't, you're missing out on an extremely talented author who really knows how to write an engaging story with relatable characters in compelling circumstances. Her sensual scenes are blazing hot without quite tipping the scales into the erotic, but they do come close. Ms. Hoyt simply knows her stuff when it comes to writing (I can only aspire to be as good as she is someday). Now Sweetest Scoundrel is her latest offering to get my very well-deserved stamp of approval.
Asa is the black sheep of the Makepeace family. He's been estranged from them for years due to his conservative father disowning him for owning and managing a theater and pleasure garden. Ever since Harte's Folly burned down in, I believe, Duke of Midnight, Asa has been working non-stop to rebuild it and make it even better than it was before. He lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes his garden, and doesn't think that he has room in his life for a permanent entanglement with a woman. He's married to the garden and believes he would make a terrible husband, but that all starts to change the day the prim, proper sister of his main investor comes knocking on his door, demanding to know where all her brother's money is going. I really admired Asa's hard work and determination. He's found his life's passion and is relentless about achieving his dream. Now granted he almost lets the best thing that's ever happened to him get away because of it, but thankfully he isn't quite that foolish. I could totally relate to Asa being a disorganized clutter-bug (Sadly I am too.:-)). As a warning to more sensitive readers, Asa has a pretty salty mouth on him, which might offend some. It didn't bother me, because I fully understood that it was simply part of who he is. He's not a proper aristocrat or even a proper gentleman. He's spent a lot of time around people that some might find unsavory, and he's most definitely not above using violence to get a point across. I was rather amused by a scene in which he decks a bad guy. Eve calls him out for it, saying it didn't really accomplish anything, and he answers by saying it made him feel better. LOL! That's the kind of guy Asa is. He's also a lover of women. He doesn't really care what shape or size they are. If she's female, all's good.;-) To be honest, it would be very easy for me to dislike someone like Asa, but in Elizabeth Hoyt's deft and capable hands, he becomes a true hero. I love how he comes to see beyond his initial impressions of Eve as unattractive and uptight. She intrigues him in ways no one else ever has, and even though he fights his feelings for her, I could tell that deep down he wanted something more permanent with her. Best of all, I love how he wiggles his way into Eve's life and heart, making her face and overcome her fears but never pushes too hard. Asa may have been a little rough around the edges, but he really is a trustworthy and honorable man.
Eve is a woman who has lived most of her life in fear. She doesn't go anywhere without her loyal friend and bodyguard, Jean-Marie. He's the only man besides her brother, Val, that she trusts and will allow to touch her. If any other man lays a finger on her, she'll have a panic attack. It all traces back to some mysterious event in her childhood which also made her deathly afraid of dogs. It's fairly easy to extrapolate what happened to her, but we don't find out the full horror of it until near the end. As a result, Eve is a very prim, proper, controlled young woman, who is basically a loner. She sits at home painting miniatures and rarely leaves her house. In the previous book, Dearest Rogue, she attended one meeting of the Ladies Syndicate, but after what Val did to Phoebe, one of their members, Eve doesn't believe she'd be welcomed any more. Meeting Asa does wonders for her loneliness in more ways than one. At the end of the last book, Val put her in charge of his investment in Harte's Folly. Believing that Asa is mismanaging her brother's funds, she goes to his apartment, fully intending to cut him off. Instead she pretty much becomes a managing partner in the gardens, getting Asa's bookkeeping organized and helping solve the problems of some of his performers. I really enjoyed watching Eve grow as a person and gain some confidence, while most importantly mastering her fears. She may not have been be too eager for Asa to touch her at first, but she's a curious woman who wants to understand the unfamiliar feelings Asa arouses in her body.
The sensual scenes are where Elizabeth Hoyt is a master. I love her creativity and how she gets around the no-touching rule. I don't think I've ever read scenes so steamy without the characters touching each other at all. It was truly wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Asa explains to Eve why he loves women so much, how he goes about pleasuring them, and how that brings him enjoyment as well. When Eve finally gets to a place where she's comfortable having Asa touch her, their first love scene is sweet and tender. I love how slowly Asa goes, asking Eve's permission before doing each little thing. It was completely seductive and proved what a gentle lover he could be. He was thoroughly immersed in giving her pleasure and making it great for her.
There are also some notable secondary characters in Sweetest Scoundrel. I'd dearly love it if Ms. Hoyt someday does a next generation of the Maiden Lane series. There are some compelling young characters in these books, not the least of whom is Alf. She's a street urchin masquerading as a "he" to avoid being preyed upon. We've seen her in previous books, but in this story, she's acting as a personal liaison, delivering messages to and from Eve's brother, Val. She's a great secret-keeper and apparently the only person who knows exactly where Val is hiding. Although Val himself is only briefly seen at the end of the book, his presence is strongly felt throughout the story. Eve owes her very existence to him, so even though she knows he's done some terrible things, she still loves him dearly. He gets to become the hero of the next book, Duke of Sin, due to be released in May 2016, and it can't get here soon enough for me. Val is a character I want to dislike for some of the things he's done, but like Eve, I just can't. It'll take some doing for the author to redeem him, but I already have a very good feeling about it. We're also introduced to Val's soon-to-be heroine, Bridget Crumb, who happens to be Val's new housekeeper. She's been skulking about his house at night, searching for something, and I can't wait to find out exactly what it is. On her late night forays, she's been getting a constant eyeful of a nearly nude Val (in a portrait) that's already setting up some sexual tension.
Well, there's not much more I can say about Sweetest Scoundrel. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent reading it. The characters were wonderful, the story was wonderful, and the love scenes were amazing as usual. I really enjoyed learning about the inner workings of an 18th century theater, enough to do a little research on my own. I also loved visiting with the entire Makepeace clan, especially since Silence and Mickey were present, and how Eve gets Asa to call a truce with his estranged family. The accompanying fairy tale, excerpts of which begin each chapter is a little darker than previous ones, but a great compliment for the story. Elizabeth Hoyt is a master at what she does. She's yet to falter in my eyes, so her work keeps me clamoring for more. I'm extremely eager for Val's book, and I'll be sitting on the edge of my seat for the next five and a half months, waiting for it to arrive on store shelves.
Note: While the content of the sensual scenes are only borderline erotic, the author does employ some frank language that's usually only seem in the erotic romance genre.
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