Her Secret Affair

Once Upon a Scandal

Tempt Me Twice

Too Wicked to Love

With All My Heart

One Wild Night
by Barbara Dawson Smith
(St. Martins, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-98229-1
There once was a group called the Lucifer Club, filled with men who were into debauchery and chicanery. A short-term member was Brand Villiers, then an untitled nobleman who wanted attention and got it by being a rake, a gambler and a mischief-maker. The club was disbanded and Brand moved on. He never fully approved of what went on in this group, but it was something to do at the time.

Several years later, Brand has inherited the title the Earl of Faversham. His uncle and cousin have died of cholera. For a reason revealed late in the story, Brand feels responsible. Even now, a few years later, he is a rake and feels he doesn’t really deserve the title. He has vowed never to marry, as many rakes do, yet he has a gentler side too. Very few see it. One of those is his grandmother, one of three matrons known as the Rosebuds.

The Rosebuds are involved in a carriage accident, injuring all three. They come to Brand’s townhouse to recuperate, where they are visited by Lady Charlotte Quinton. Charlotte is the granddaughter of one of the Rosebuds. She and Brand were friends when they were children, but an unfortunate series of events occurred when Charlotte was just 16 that put a rift in that relationship. Charlotte was injured in a fire, leaving her arm scarred. About that time, she determined to gain the love of Brand’s friend Michael. To do so, she tried to frame his betrothed by accusing her of being a thief. When her ploy was discovered, she was banished to the country, where she has remained until now.

Brand is less than happy to see Charlotte. But Charlotte has grown up and is now a mature, intelligent and genteel spinster of twenty-nine. When they discover that there is an apparent plot to murder all the members of the Lucifer Club, and that the carriage accident of the Rosebuds may be connected, they set out to discover the culprit.

Brand doesn’t want Charlotte’s involvement but accepts it and actually gets her embroiled in many an adventure. Most of these adventures are not suitable for a lady of the ton, but all Charlotte is concerned with is protecting her grandmother. Brand takes Charlotte to places where men only take their paramours, leading many to assume that Charlotte is his mistress. Charlotte willingly sacrifices her reputation to save her grandmother, and in the course of all this, realizes she’s loved Brand for years. Brand is attracted to Charlotte, and though he wrestles with his conscience, he desires her more and more.

Sound familiar? Much of this story can be found in other tales set in the same era, with a reprobate rake who is really now reformed. Charlotte is the classic spinster, determined to live life to the fullest, and that means experiencing bedroom love with the man of her heart. I could go on, but you have read it before and I think you can see the picture.

The mystery is rather mundane. The murdered men are unknown to the reader, and are not close friends of Brand, so no one seems to care that they are dead. The concern is for who will be next. After a few more murders, it is clear that Brand is too smart to be killed and isn’t in real danger, so who cares about this plot thread? The author throws in a counterfeiting side bar that just confuses the mystery. The end result leaves not quite a sour taste, but not exactly a pleasant one either.

There are several areas that did not work for me. At the opening of the story, Charlotte is betrothed to a man, but when she discovers he was once a member of the Lucifer Club, and is now a suspect in the murders, she puts him off. He never really is a part of the story, other than peripherally. I think this tells us something about his lack of real love, but she never sees it.

Charlotte disappoints because she talks a good fight but doesn’t seem to have a healthy amount of self-respect. Brand acts too much the rake, without revealing his charming, reformed self until it is too late. And a little pet peeve - The title One Wild Night is a misnomer. There is no wild night, just several adventures that are above the norm for a lady of the ton.

One Wild Night is not a badly written book. At times, it is entertaining. But it has been penned by too many authors with too much similarity to be more than just acceptable.

--Shirley Lyons

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