Beauty Like the Night

The Devil You Know

My False Heart

Never Lie to a Lady

No True Gentleman

One Little Sin

A Woman of Virtue

A Woman Scorned

 
Wicked All Day
by Liz Carlyle
(Pocket, $7.99, PG-13)† ISBN 978-1-4165-9492-5
***
Wonderful though most of Liz Carlyleís books have been, Wicked All Day just didnít wow me, though it was an entertaining read.† Maybe it was the length Ė at 421 pages, it just seemed to take a bit too long for the hero and heroine to see what was in front of their eyes.

Miss ZoŽ†Armstrong is the illegitimate daughter of the Marquess of Rannoch, whose own story was told in Carlyleís debut book, My False Heart.†Though raised in the family and doted upon by her father and stepmother, ZoŽ is keenly aware that her birth puts her outside of acceptable society, at least when it comes to marriage.†If no man will have her as his wife, well, sheíll use her beauty to break their hearts.

Two men who are impervious to her wiles are Stuart, the Marquess of Mercer, and his younger brother, Robert.†They are cousins of sorts to ZoŽ, and Robin was her childhood playmate.†Stuart was always more of a protector to them both, though in recent years his attitude toward ZoŽ has ranged from distant to disapproving.†Then one night at a ball, ZoŽ finds out that her father is paving the way for her to marry a widowed nobleman.†In frustration and despair, she turns to Robin for comfort.†What begins as a consoling kiss turns into a more heated exchange, and though both of them quickly realize they donít want anything of the sort, they are discovered in a compromising position by Stuart and his vicious ex-mistress.†Now Robin is honor-bound to offer for ZoŽ, and she can do nothing but numbly accept.

In order to escape London and let the scandal die down, both families journey to Greythorpe, Mercerís estate.†Robin promptly begins to drink himself into oblivion every night at the local tavern.†ZoŽ doesnít want the marriage but canít seem to extricate herself from it without causing further problems.†And Stuart must come to terms with his growing feelings for ZoŽ while dealing with a crisis of his own: his ex-mistress is claiming she is pregnant with his child.††

I thoroughly enjoyed ZoŽ.†Her headstrong attitude is one big defense against the insults of Society, and itís easy to fathom why she acts as she does.†And the girl has a heart Ė she knows this engagement is bringing nothing but pain to her best friend, Robin, and though it takes her a while, ZoŽ finally makes the decision to sacrifice her own future to free him.†I liked her immensely.

For all that Ms. Carlyle writes some of the finest prose around, there were two things about this story that were hard to get past.†First, the resolution is obvious, but it takes forever to get there.† The middle of the book felt about 100 pages too long.†ZoŽ doesnít want to marry Robin, and Robin doesnít want to marry ZoŽ.†Stuart might do what every reader hopes he will and just offer for her himself, except heís waiting to find out if his ex-mistress is really pregnant.†This didnít make much sense, as a child would have made no difference one way or the other Ė Stuart would raise it, and ZoŽ tells him flat out itís what he should do.†A possible illegitimate child was not an impediment.†So the book takes a meandering path while everyone else gets around to admitting ZoŽ and Robin are miserable and probably shouldnít marry.†I admitted to a feeling of impatience.†Luckily, things picked up toward the end.

The huge secondary cast didnít help; there are enough cousins, stepfathers, stepmothers, half-siblings, and family friends to confuse anyone, let alone a reader who hasnít sampled the authorís previous books.†

The other issue was minor, but felt telling. ZoŽ†never calls Stuart by his first name. Heís always ďMercer,Ē and this had the effect of distancing him, both from ZoŽ and from the reader.†And Stuart is the only one in the book who gets this treatment; with everyone else, ZoŽ has an easy familiarity. Itís a small point, but it bothered me that the wall of formality never came down.†And it really made little sense, given that sheíd known him since she was about six years old.†It dampened the connection the author was trying to build.†I really didnít feel a lot of chemistry between them.

All in all, Wicked All Day is an entertaining read, and for those who have been following the authorís previous books, it offers the added bonus of providing a glimpse into the lives of a lot of former lead characters. ZoŽ is pathos overlaid with bravado, and if any heroine deserves a happy ending, itís her. †

--Cathy Sova


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