Scoundrel's Vow

 
Once Wicked by Sherri Browning
(Dell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-23528-6
***
Once Wicked is a story of best-laid plans gone awry. Amelia Benedict, haughty heiress and patron of her uncle’s orphanage for boys, has decided to marry. She has her sights set on Lord Chadsworth, the one man among her many suitors who actually seems interested in what she has to say, rather than just the size of her fortune.

Dylan Marlow is the nephew of an earl, disinherited after a prank got him booted out of Oxford. Some years have passed, and now Dylan has found himself owner of the family dockyard after his father’s death a dockyard that is down to one leaking ship. If he’s to bring the business back from the brink of ruin, he needs money. Preferably a wealthy heiress to marry. And in the meantime, he has another plan for raising some cash.

Amelia and Dylan are brought together one night when a highwayman holds up her carriage and makes off with her jewelry. The highwayman is Dylan. Amelia vows revenge. But Dylan already has his sights set on the as-yet-unknown heiress, Amelia Benedict; when they meet formally at a party, he recognizes her but she does not recognize him as the dashing thief who made off with her mother’s precious opal ring.

His first formal meeting with the prickly Amelia does not deter Dylan. Have her he will and her money will rebuild his ship. Dylan begins courting Amelia with a vengeance. Amelia rebuffs him again and again, and pursues Chadsworth while dreaming of the dashing highwayman. When Dylan holds up her carriage a second time and temporarily abducts her, Amelia is even more smitten with the attractive stranger in the dark mask.

Dylan schemes to get invited to places where Amelia will be found, and their paths will ultimately cross at a country party. Will he win his heiress? Will Amelia unmask her highwayman?

It was difficult to warm up to either Dylan or Amelia. This is the story of two rather calculating people who are handed a potential love, but find it hard to deviate from their carefully-crafted plans. Dylan, even after meeting Amelia, is mostly fixated on the fact that she’s an heiress. Amelia, though transfixed by the highwayman, still plots to snare Chadsworth. The result is two people who barely seem to get to know each other, much less care for one another. Dylan lusts after Amelia, but fixates on her money. Amelia is attracted to Dylan, but pushes him away, preferring to focus on the eminently acceptable Chadsworth. Although they do eventually establish some common ground, most of the story has passed and the opportunity to see these two develop a deep romantic bond is lost to the reader.

Once Wicked is technically well-written, and the use of historical figures as secondary characters is interesting. A subplot involving Chadsworth and an older noblewoman fleshes out the story nicely.

As an interesting tale of determined lovers who have their plans turned upside-down, Once Wicked works quite well. The romance, however, may leave readers wanting more.

--Cathy Sova


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