The Inconvenient Duchess

An Unladylike Offer

 
Taken by the Wicked Rake
by Christine Merrill
(Harl., $5.99, PG) ISBN 978-0373-29624-8
***
Except for a middle section that drags and is filled with introspection rather than action, this story is entertaining and an interesting conclusion to the Silk and Scandal Series of books. I have only read one other of this series, but there is enough here for me to understand and easily follow the threats and obstacles in the way of true love.

Stephano Beshaley, aka Stephen Hebden, aka Stephen Salterham, is a part Gypsy part English bastard of a peer of the realm and a gypsy woman. Stephen was raised for much of his early life as his father’s son, playing with his half brothers, their friend Nathan Wardale and the Carlow brothers, who were neighbors. But after his father died, the family sent Stephen to a foundling home, where he was forced to scrounge for food and thievery. He was ultimately rescued by his Gypsy family and raised with them. At some point in his life, a curse was put on him forcing him to solve the mystery surrounding his father’s death.

The series is based around that mystery, involving several men who were involved in espionage. One was killed, another was accused of the murder and hanged and no one seemed to escape unscathed. Stephen’s father was the one killed and he is determined to find who really killed his father, causing his life to be much less than he anticipated. For the last two years, he has been seeking that revenge on the other families. Several of the acts have resulted in clearing some names from the guilty and slowly uncovering the full secret. He feels he is close and has one more act of revenge to finish.

Verity Carlow is the only daughter of the Lord Carlow who was involved in the scandal. She is twenty-one and innocent – being protected by her brothers much more than most of her age. The story opens as she is enjoying a ball hosted by her Uncle Robert Veryan, who was known as one of the best Spymasters in England. She was shipped to his country estate for her protection, although that is not the given reason. Veryan’s son Alexander is interested in Verity and there is hope of a match, from all but Verity. She is intrigued by a gentleman introduced to her as Lord Salterham. He looks exotic and she is told he has traveled extensively. He attempts to get her into the gardens, which she thwarts, only to be captured by him as she is alone. He kidnaps her and takes her to his Romany camp. His goal – hold her until her father confesses to killing his father. He did not expect the person he got, nor is he prepared for her.

First, Verity surprises him by fighting him. He assumed she was a dimwit and easily walked over. But Verity has a lot of backbone and has been resisting efforts by her family to marry for marrying sakes. She wants love and isn’t willing to settle. Then Stephano is amazed at the intensity of the lust he feels for this woman; a lust that is returned by Verity despite her innocence. Finally he is amazed at her courage. She not only fights him with words but with the vehemence in her loyalty to her father. Verity also charms the Gypsy’s, not something easy to do. He finds himself falling under her spell as well.

Stephano tries to exact his revenge only to discover that his “partner” has not cooperated. Verity’s brothers throw another kink in the plan by trying to ambush him rather than give him the ransom he desired. Now he has been tricked by his grandmother into marrying Verity via the Gypsy way and he finds that he is falling for her. Just as everything seems to be falling apart, he and Verity devise a plan to find the real killer and try to convince her family that they have fallen in love.

There is a large section in the middle of the book where Verity and Stephano are in the Romany camp. There is not much action. Verity spends a lot of time trying to decide how she feels and goes through some long periods of reflection. Stephano keeps trying to talk himself out of his feelings, creating tension that isn’t really there and he too, spends a great deal of time reflecting. I was actually ready to give up on the book as a total loss when the action picked up and the book actually has a very exciting ending.

Taken by the Wicked Rake is the last of this series and neatly ties up all of the loose ends.There is a lot of back story that is alluded to that I ignored since I didn’t know it and yet, the ending provided enough information to keep me invested. Verity and Stepano are both a mixed bag – with some really likable qualities and a few not so likable. Overall, those things together make this story an average reading experience.

--Shirley Lyons


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