Author: Karen Hawkins
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Avon (April 1, 2000)
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
Julia is known as the Frant Dragon, she is her cousin's chaperon and is a strict reformist. It's something that wasn't really explained. Throughout the book there are parts where her past is talked about but nothing is ever said or anything. It did make me wonder why she was fighting so hard for the Society.
Alec is a rake, he gambles, boozes and sexes a little too freely. He has to marry, and do it before his birthday in order to recieve the inheritance from his grandfather, and save it from his cousin Nick. The only thing that confused me about that was that in the beginning of the book it was said that his grandfather thought he was a bad seed, but later it comes out that him and his grandfather had a close relationship. A little bit of a WTF moment.
When the two of them finally got together and realized that they were ment for one another, I was so happy. The path their relationship took was a bit weird, but altogether it worked. There was a part where I was actually crying along with Julia, because of things that Alec had said to her.
The supporting characters were pretty funny as well. Lucian is someone who I would love to have a story for. He was a pretty awesome supporting character, and of course Aunt Maddie who was just harebrained. I imagined her as the character Kathy Bates played in Titanic.
Overall a very quick read. Something that wasn't overly sexual and I would feel comfortable recommending to my grandma.
Excerpt after the cut:
The mantel clock chimed the quarter hour and the viscount stared at it as if transfixed. “Damn, damn, damn.” Scowling, he downed his drink in one swift motion.
She lifted her brows in disapproval. “Whatever is bothering you, imbibing that lethal concoction won’t help.
Imbibing that lethal concoction won’t help.”
“Nothing can help now,” he said with a faint sneer. “Thanks to your minx of a cousin.
Julia sniffed and he laughed, pouring another tumbler of punch. He crossed the room and held it toward her. The faint aroma of nutmeg and cinnamon made her stomach grumble eagerly, but she shook her head.
Amusement curved his mouth. “A prude, Miss Frant?
“No. I can’t hold my drink. It’s a curse of the family, you know.”
“An excellent reason, then, to drink more.”
Without giving her time to remonstrate, he pushed the tumbler into her hand. Her fingers curled around the warmed metal and she welcomed the curls of steam that rose to tickle her nose. She would just hold it until it cooled and then she would set it on the table. Surely there was no harm in that.
The viscount sank into the chair opposite hers and stretched his legs toward the weak embers. A blackness hung about him that Julia had never witnessed. And she’d had many opportunities to observe the dashing and dissolute viscount. More than he would ever know.
“I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s happened,” she stated firmly.
His gaze dropped to his tumbler and he stared into it as if seeking answers. “There’s not much to tell.”
Her heart ached at the darkness she saw reflected in his face. “I might be able to help. Two heads are better than one.”
He regarded her thoughtfully, then shrugged. “Why not? I have all the time in the world now.” He leaned his head against the high back of his chair and sighed. “My grandfather was determined to prove the error of my ways.”
Apparently the viscount’s grandfather was a man of some intelligence, Julia thought approvingly.
As if reading her thoughts, the viscount’s silver eyes glinted. “You may not know this, but some call me wicked.”
“Among other things.” At his astonished expression, she hurried to add, “Of course, it’s probably all untrue.”
The viscount chuckled. “Unfortunately, it’s probably much too true.” His amusement faded. “All of us, his children and his grandchildren, were a disappointment to my grandfather.”
“Surely you are being overly harsh.”
“Am I? Grandfather turned my uncle out without a penny for marrying a woman who had . . .” His gaze flickered over her. “Shall we just say she had unusual appetites?”
“Oh,” said Julia, wondering what that meant. She caught the dark gleam in his eye and hastily asked, “And your mother?”
“My mother fancied herself in love with an impecunious Scotsman who possessed no land, no money, nothing more than tenuous claim to a dubious title. She eloped.”
"She must have been deeply in love.”
He scowled. “She was seventeen and wild to a fault. When she disappeared, Grandfather was devastated. He searched everywhere. He finally found them, living in a state of poverty that defies description.” His gaze dropped to the sputtering fire. “My parents died shortly afterwards.”
“So your grandfather raised you.”
“Yes. Six months ago he died and left me his fortune. My cousin Nick inherited the title and the estate, though it is heavily tied up. He cannot sell it except to a member of the family.” Alec’s mouth thinned. “Grandfather knew my cousin too well to leave it unprotected.”
Julia wrapped her hands more securely about her mug. “What does all of this have to do with Therese?”
“In order to inherit the fortune, I have to marry before my next birthday and live in society for a year completely without scandal.” His mouth curved in a self-derisive smile. “Grandfather feared I was too wild and restless.”
“He probably heard about your lightskirts,” Julia said, breathing in the spicy steam from her own cup.
“Lightskirts?” he choked.
“Or the gambling,” she said with a helpful nod.
A crooked grin tugged at his mouth. “You seem to be up on all of the gossip, Miss Frant.”
“There’s little else to do sitting with the other chaperones. How much time do you have left?”
The viscount glanced at the clock. “Less than two hours.”
She blinked at him. “Two hours? And just how long have you known of the conditions of your grandfather’s will?”
“Since the day after he died.”
“But that was six months ago!”
“I kept hoping that something would happen to stave off this nightmare.” He ran a hand through his black hair, one lock dropping back across his forehead. “But nothing did.”
Julia curled her hands tightly about the mug to keep from reaching over and smoothing his hair back into place. “May I ask why you chose Therese?”
“The will is very specific. I am to marry the daughter of the late earl of Covington if I wish to gain the fortune.” His mouth curved into a faint smile. “Grandfather was certain marriage would settle my unfortunate tendencies.”
“He must not have known my cousin,” remarked Julia.
His eyes gleamed with amusement as he chuckled. “He didn’t. The Covington lands march ours and the earl had a marriageable daughter. For Grandfather, it was more than enough.”
Julia tried to suppress the relief she felt at the news that the handsome viscount had not been head over heels in love with Therese. “Who inherits the money if you don’t?”
“My cousin, Nick Montrose.”
“The new earl of Bridgeton? He’s been whispering to Therese a lot lately.” She frowned, catching herself just before she took a sip of the punch. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they were in it together. Forgive me for saying this, but Therese has always wanted to be a countess and your title, while very nice, cannot compare to an earl’s.”
Alec slammed his fist onto the arm of his chair with such force, Julia started. “Damn them!” he snarled. “May they rot in hell for playing such a trick!” He cursed again and tossed back the remainder of his drink as if it were water.
Julia winced. If he became drunk, no mere kick in the shins would recall him to a sense of propriety. And empty the bowl he would, unless she did something. She lifted the mug and took a deep breath, the scent of cinnamon and cloves making her stomach rumble anew. The warm, spicy wisps of steam beckoned.
She would just drink this one cup. If nothing else, it would be one less cup he would devour. That decided, Julia took a large gulp. The rum spiraled through her and warmed her from head to toe in one delicious swirl. “My, my.”
The viscount roused himself long enough to watch her take another sip. “Careful. It’s stronger than it seems.”
“I am no sheltered child, Lord Hunterston. I am very aware of the indelicacies of life.”
“I’m sure you are,” he said with a faint sneer. “You probably know every soiled dove in London.”
She pointedly ignored his sarcastic tone and took a defiant sip. “I know a few. The Society for Wayward Women has—”
“Good God!” he said, revolted. “You’re a reformer!”
“Call it what you like. I work to better the position of those who are afflicted by the cruel hand of poverty.”
“And what, Miss Frant, do you know of poverty?”
She gripped the mug with both hands. In the dark days following the deaths of her parents, Julia had come face to face with the realities of being a woman alone with no way to earn a living. The memory still twisted her stomach into a thousand knots, yet she managed to answer evenly, “I know enough to wish to see it ended.”
He laughed, the sound jarring in the small room. “We make a lovely pair, don’t we, Miss Frant? You, dying to help others but without the money to make a real difference and me, dying to help myself, yet with no more success.”
She hid her hurt behind a shrug. “I do what I can.” She looked down at her mug and wondered what had become of the rest of her punch. There was barely a mouthful left. She peered at the bottom of the mug to see if it had a leak, but could detect nothing. Reluctantly, she turned her attention back to the viscount. “Have you seen a solicitor?”
“Dozens of them, the damned leeches.” With a bitter smile, Alec rose and refilled both their tumblers. “It is over. I played the game and lost.”
His fingers brushed hers when he handed her the mug. Julia could feel the warmth of his hand through her thin gloves, the touch leaving her yearning for more.
To steady her erratic heart, she took a deep drink. Immensely fortified, she felt as if she could solve every problem. No wonder her father had been so adamant about the medicinal properties of rum. She wondered if anyone had ever thought to bottle it.
“There must be a way ‘round this,” she announced loudly.
This time his laugh had a touch of genuine humor. “Do all Americans believe they can work miracles, Miss Frant?”
“I was raised to value candor and hard work, Lord Hunterston.”
“You are a complete contrast to Therese, aren’t you?” He leaned a broad shoulder against the mantel, his eyes twinkling a silvery gray.
Julia looked down at her overly large feet with a twinge of regret. “Yes, a complete contrast.” There were few things she envied her beautiful cousin, and the questionable attentions of the most notorious rake in London should not have been one of them. But there had always been something, a certain glimmer in his reckless smile, a certain wistfulness in his glance, that made her yearn to know more about him.
As if aware of her thoughts, he sighed. “We should return to London.”
His words brought a moment of panic. She knew that once they left the enchanted confines of the parlor, things would return to normal. He would become the unapproachable, faintly dangerous Devil Hunterston, while she once again faded to obscurity as a lowly chaperone.
Hastily, she downed the few sips left in her mug. “I need more punch.”
A surprised quirk lifted the corner of the viscount’s mouth, but he agreed. “After today, I may not be able to afford such luxury.” He walked to the table, pulled out a bench and offered a graceful bow. “Will you join me, Miss Frant?”
She stood, noting that the room had taken on a swirling quality that made it difficult to navigate. Fortunately she managed to make it without tripping over any of the wavering furniture. She sat beside him and held out her mug.
He refilled both tumblers. “We’ll have to get more punch.” He pushed her mug across the table and reached toward the empty bowl.
A rustling noise halted him and he frowned, removing a crumpled paper from his coat and tossing it on the table. “I won’t need this now.”
Julia rested her chin on the edge of her mug and breathed in the spicy sweetness. A warm glow settled around her and the small parlor became cozier and more intimate. She squinted unabashedly at the viscount’s profile, noting the length of his lashes and the proud curve of his mouth.
He looked up and caught her gaze. For a split second she couldn’t breathe. Then she found herself adjusting her spectacles and blindly reaching for the paper. “It’s a Special License,” she said stupidly.
Alec nodded, returning his preoccupied gaze to his empty mug.
The license was dog-eared and crumpled with his name scrawled elegantly across the bottom. “Alec Charles MacLean, Viscount Hunterston,” Julia mouthed silently.
She sipped her drink. It was, she decided, even sweeter when taken from the bottom of the bowl. The innkeeper must have forgotten to stir. She swished the punch about her mouth, her idle gaze falling back on the paper. “You didn’t finish filling it out.’”
“I didn’t have time to stop and ask her entire Christian name, so I just wrote ‘Miss Frant.’” The viscount shrugged. “It served. The Archbishop did not question it.”
Julia waited for him to say more, but he returned to his own dark reflections, his attention sliding away from Julia all too easily. She sighed and pulled her mug across the crumpled license. Maybe the heat from the warmed metal would iron it out.
Her father had always taught her the importance of neatness. She smiled wistfully at the thought. Though he had died over five years ago, she thought of him daily. She especially missed his ability to see right to the center of the most difficult situation and point out the one, logical answer. It always angered Julia when Therese sneered at her father. It was true he had left England and ignored the position his father had wished for him, but he had acted with the purest, most noble of intentions. He had acted for love.
Love. An idea slipped into her head with an almost audible thunk.
“I know how to help you,” she said wonderingly.
Alec lifted his brows, his eyes the color of frosted glass. “How?”
“Simple. Marry me.”