A Desperate Game

A Lady’s Mischief

A Gentleman at Heart by Barbara Pierce
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7090-X
Don’t be fooled by the cover of this book. With its ornate lettering and depiction of a beautiful, romantic bedroom, it may lead one to believe that this is a cozy, lighthearted tale. This really couldn’t be further from the truth. A Gentleman at Heart portrays a darker side of the Regency period. The book is filled with nasty, miserable characters and the violence they inflict on innocent people. In fact, the darker aspects of this story are so prevalent that it’s hard to focus on the romance.

Wynne Bedegrayne is a 23 year old spinster. Her beauty, combined with her intelligence and her outspoken manner, has frightened all of the eligible men away. Wynne is not overly concerned. She’s too busy seeking out those less fortunate than herself and offering them help, a project she refers to as the “Benevolent Sisterhood.” The book opens with Wynne attempting to rescue a young girl about to be put up for auction by her drunken father. Things get pretty ugly, and Wynne is soon put into a situation that she is unable to handle.

Keanan Milroy is a prizefighter who has just fought his last fight. He sees that Wynne is having some trouble and rescues her. He is immediately drawn to her beauty, intelligence, and courage.

Keanan is a troubled man, to put it mildly. He is the illegitimate son of the Duke of Reckester, a good-for-nothing gambling, womanizing drunk. Although he was the duke’s first-born son, he will never have a title or the respect of society. That title went instead to the duke’s second-born son, Drake, Lord Nevin. Keanan is out for revenge. He has been saving his vast winnings and slowly acquiring all of the properties his wastrel of a father has been gambling away. He is full of rage towards both his father and his half-brother.

After meeting Wynne, Keanan, who has (somewhat incredibly) gained entrance to society, seeks her out at a ball. He is shocked to find out that his brother, Drake, is courting her. This motivates him to seduce Wynne as a means of gaining further revenge against his family. Keanan proceeds to pursue Wynne with a single-mindedness that is actually rather scary. Wynne, in spite of the fact that she has doubts about the whole thing, is obviously up for some kind of adventure, because she continually puts herself in risky situations with Keanan. She allows herself to be in his company unescorted on several occasions, showing a rather frightening lack of common sense. Wynne seems excited and fascinated by the risqué nature of it all. In fact, she seems more in love with the illicitness than with Keanan himself.

As the story plods on, Keanan continues to attempt to exact revenge on his family, fighting everyone who stands in his way. He eventually settles into an uneasy (and quite unbelievable) truce with Drake. His father and his father’s wife, Rae, are another matter. They have a very peculiar love/hate relationship, and are so disturbed that there is no way Keanan could ever make things right with them, even if he wanted to.

Wynne and Keanan never feel real. Keanan is a dark, rough, unhappy kind of character, and it’s hard to believe someone like Wynne would actually fall for him. Not that Wynne is perfect by any stretch - she is impulsive, lacks common sense and her outspoken nature seems just plain argumentative at times. The passion between them feels desperate. It isn’t as though they are meant for one another, it is more like they are both just very lonely and need someone - anyone! Ironically, the one character out of the whole book that I ended up liking is Drake. It is hard to believe that Wynne would pass up the man with the title and the better personality for Keanan.

This book has somewhat of a split personality. There are lighthearted passages sprinkled throughout, which seem quite out of place in a book with a very dark tone. Any humor that is present falls flat, since readers will be imagining what horrible thing may happen next. Overall the writing is clear, yet there are some awkward moments of dialogue that interrupt the flow of the story.

This book is not for the faint of heart. The characters are hard to like, and the violence can be disturbing at times. A Gentleman of Heart is actually a sequel to A Lady’s Mischief. I haven’t read A Lady’s Mischief, and won’t be seeking it out. This type of Regency is just not my cup of tea.

--Kerry Keating

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