Sir Alasdair MacLachlan is an unrepentant rogue, who's bedded more women than he can count. He's an outcast to his family back in Scotland, so he made his way in the world by turning to gambling and has become quite wealthy through his endeavors. Despite being thirty-six years old, he has no plans to marry. He's having far too much fun playing the field and living life on his own terms. But that all changes for him when a slip of a girl shows up on his doorstep with a toddler in tow, claiming the tot is his. Alasdair had never planned on becoming a father, much less instantly, and knows he not really fit to be one. He doesn't even remember the night in question when the child was supposedly conceived. But something about the girl and the babe makes it impossible for him to toss them back into the street like her stepfather already has. Not to mention the little girl's distinctive eye color and a vague notion of having done something untoward that night make him believe that the child probably is his whether he wants it to be true or not. So he makes the fiery spirited young lady a scandalous proposition.
After Esmee Hamilton's mother died, her step-father threw her and her baby sister out. He claimed no responsibility for either of them, because he hadn't fathered them, which leaves poor Esmee in dire straits. She does the only thing she can think of, which is taking her sister, Sorcha, to Alasdair, the man her mother claimed did father the little girl. Although it will kill her to do so, she intends to only leave the child with her father and then continue on to take up a governess position with a family she knows is in need of one. But when a desperate Alasdair proposes that she stay on as Sorcha's governess instead and offers her a fortune to do so, she can't resist staying with her sister even though she knows living with a rogue like Alasdair will likely ruin her reputation. And she couldn't have been more right. Soon Esmee is no longer able to resist Alasdair's handsome good looks and persuasive charm, making her wonder if she's more like her mother than she thought. But can an ordinary girl like her bring a rake like Alasdair to heel when no other woman has been able to before?
Liz Carlyle has been a long-time favorite author of mine, but I never seem to get around to reading her books often enough. Since it had been a while, I was excited to pick up One Little Sin. In spite of having somewhat middling ratings at online books sites, it ended up being a very good read for me. It perhaps wasn't quite as compelling as some of Ms. Carlyle's other stories, but I still liked it, enough so that I had a hard time rating it when I was finished. I waffled back and forth between 4 and 4.5 stars and settled on 4, but I have to say that it was a very strong 4-star read. Perhaps the hero and heroine spent a little too much time apart for my taste, but at the same time, I have to admit that the author found plenty of reasons to throw them together again and again to keep the attraction burning. Part of the physical separation had to do with their respective stubborn streaks and fighting their feelings, which isn't usually my favorite conflict trope. Also, I maybe didn't feel quite as deep of a connection to the characters as I normally do with this author's work for various reasons which I'll address shortly. But otherwise, I have no real issues with the book. It was well-written overall and held my attention very well, too, so overall I was pleased with it even though it might not be quite as memorable as some of Ms. Carlye's other books.
I've seen many romance readers complain about historical romance heroes who are said to be rakes, but don't really act like it. To them, I would say, "Read this book.":-) Alasdair is a rake of the first order and he shows it in no uncertain terms. Although part of a well-off family, who technically owns land and title in Scotland, he's something of an outcast who turned to gambling to make his fortune. In school, he excelled at math, but being an underachiever, he only uses his skill at the gaming tables. Besides gambling, he's a notorious womanizer, who has mistresses tucked away all over town and can still never say no to a pretty face. In fact, the story opens with him nearly getting his comeuppance at the hands of an angry cuckolded husband. Then Alasdair, his brother, and his best friend all have their fortune told by a gypsy who says they will pay for their sins. Back in London that night, the fortune-teller's prophecy is borne out when a slip of a girl shows up at his door with a toddler in tow, saying that her mother is dead, her step-father has thrown her and the babe out in the streets, and that he's the child's father. Needless to say, it's a shock to poor Alasdair who's never really taken heed of another soul besides himself in his life.
I have to give Alasdair credit, though, for not throwing Esmee and little Sorcha back to the wolves, so to speak. There was no proof that he was Sorcha's father beyond the child's unusual eye color (a MacLachlan family trait) and Esmee's mother's claim that it was so. Alasdair couldn't even clearly remember sleeping with the woman. He was quite drunk and only has some vague memory of doing something untoward on the night in question. Considering he had limited evidence, he could have easily turned them away, but instead he owns up to what he believes is indeed his mistake and takes responsibility. He knows he's not fit to be anyone's father, but it doesn't stop him from trying his best and soon he finds his heart opening up to the child and wanting to be a better man for her sake. He also finds himself feeling unfamiliar emotions for the little girl's much-older sister, who he hires to stay on as her governess. Despite being thirty-six years old, Alasdair has never even considered settling down. He's merely a party animal, going from one conquest to the next, so in that respect, he perhaps seemed a little immature for his age. But again, he grew and matured quite a bit throughout the story without losing his rakish charm. I think he would have proposed to Esmee much sooner than what he did if her aunt hadn't inadvertently interfered. Instead it gave him time to think about his doubts with regards to the fourteen-year age difference between them, as well as the oddity of marrying his own child's sister, which made him fight his feelings. But eventually he comes around to a place of knowing that he can't let her go, although by then he fears it might be too late.
Esmee had a rather unstable upbringing. She never knew her father, and her mother had a run of bad luck with husbands dying on her, so Esmee grew up with several different step-fathers. Her mother was more or less a female Alasdair, in that she couldn't seem to say no to a handsome face, so it wasn't hard for Esmee to imagine it was true that Alasdair was Sorcha's father, especially after meeting the blonde Adonis. When she shows up at Alasdair's door, she's in dire straits. She plans to just leave the child and then go to take a position with another family as governess. She doesn't really want to leave her sister, particularly with a man she doesn't even know, so when Alasdair offers his bargain and is willing to pay handsomely for her services, she can't resist staying, even though she knows her reputation will probably be ruined. As her attraction to Alasdair intensifies, Esmee fears she has too much of her mother's passion in her and that it will be her undoing, so she fights her feelings for him but to no avail. When her aunt returns to town, insisting Esmee come stay with her, she doesn't really want to leave, but when she feels like Alasdair is pushing her away, she tries to turn her back on him. It takes a disastrous engagement to Alasdair's friend to make her see the light. Esmee was a very strong heroine who I admired for taking responsibility for her little sister. She's a headstrong and feisty miss who usually has no trouble speaking her mind, so fans of spitfire heroines should like her.
One Little Sin had several memorable secondary characters, some of whom have their own books. First, we get to see Dev and Sidonie (The Devil to Pay) as Dev helps his best friend Alasdair sort things out while Sidonie is expecting their first child. Alasdair's other friend, Quin, is as much of a rake as Alasdair is, but with his father recently deceased, his mama is pressuring him to marry and produce an heir. That's how he ends up in his ill-fated and awkward engagement to Esmee, but toward the end of the book another beautiful woman, Viviana, shows up. Quin's friends make mention of a woman from his past who soured him on love, and it's obvious that there's a connection between these two. The one scene they shared near the end of the book made me a tad uncomfortable, because it almost made it seem like Quin was forcing himself on Viviana. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, though, and hope that this incident will be better explained in the next book, Two Little Lies, where they play the hero and heroine. Then there's Alasdair's brother, Merrick, who is scarred and seems rather jaded. I think he could be an interesting hero and that the right woman could warm him up. He'll get that chance in the fourth book of the MacLachlan Family & Friends series, Three Little Secrets. Long-time secondary character, Isabel, Lady Kirton, a fixture in many of Ms. Carlyle's books, put in another appearance, too. I'd be quite remiss if I didn't also mention little Sorcha. My husband is fond of calling babies in movies who behave perfectly "stunt babies," and that's sometimes how I can feel about the little ones in fiction. Well, Sorcha is no little angel. She's a very spirited tot who can be a handful at times, but I didn't find her to be annoying either. She's just a normal active toddler who has tantrums and difficulties in between her happy times, like most little ones usually do, so I really appreciated the realism in her character, as well as the fact that she talks age-appropriately.
I'm not sure what weaknesses other readers found in One Little Sin that made them drop the rating on it. Unless trying to decide whether to read a book in the first place, I rarely read reviews ahead of time, so I'll be interested to find out what the reasons were. As for me, I liked it quite well. In the end, the deciding factor that made me give it four stars instead of a higher rating is simply that I doubt it will be one that I'll strongly remember in the long-run. That and I do like my heroes to be a little more pro-active about pursuing the heroine and more willing to give up their playboy lifestyle after finding that once-in-a-lifetime love than Alasdair was at first, but I can't deny that he had his good points too. Ultimately the track he took was perhaps more realistic for a rake like him, when I simply have more of a preference for the fairy tale scenario. Otherwise, I found nothing wrong with the story per se, so I have no trouble recommending it to readers who love reformed rake romances. I was definitely convinced in the end that Alasdair's days of being a rogue were finally at an end, so it was a satisfying read that's left me looking forward to seeing what's in store for Quin and Merrick when I continue the series.
Note: Ms. Carlyle didn't used to officially consider her books as series, but more recently she began grouping them together on her website. One Little Sin is now listed as book #2 in the MacLachlan Family & Friends series. However, I would advise readers that Ms. Carlyle's character web is very complex, with past and future characters popping up throughout most of her books. With this in mind, it is my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by beginning with her first book, My False Heart, and continuing to read them in their publication order. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.
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