Review: Sweetest Scoundrel

Review: Sweetest ScoundrelSweetest Scoundrel (Maiden Lane, #9) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #9
Published by Grand Central Publishing on November 24th 2015
Genres: Historical
Pages: 328
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Loved This One: Sexy, Sensual with One of the Best Non-Sex Sex Scenes Ever

“This had been a mistake. A terrible mistake. The garden was in shambles, the opera didn’t look like it would ever be staged, and Mr. Harte was a brutal animal.”

FINAL DECISION: The plot of the rebuilding a pleasure garden mirrors the rebuilding of Eve’s own life and ability to find joy and happiness and pleasure after a horrible incident in her childhood. Sensual and emotional with a good dash of mystery and action, this is a great addition to a wonderful series.

THE STORY: Asa Makepeace aka Mr. Harte is the owner of Harte’s Folly — a theater and pleasure garden. Rebuilding after a fire that destroyed his life’s work, Asa entered into a deal with the devil when he took an investment from the Duke of Montgomery. Now Asa has the Duke’s half sister Eve Dinwoody looking over his shoulder. The prim and proper Eve has agreed to oversee her brother’s investment. The sensual and physical Asa frightens Eve even as she challenges him. An incident in her childhood has left her with a deep fear of men — especially angry, violent ones. At the same time, Eve finds herself intrigued by the loud and brash Asa.

OPINION: Hoyt once again creates unique characters that dazzle in many ways — and in this case, she gives us regular looking people for the main characters — not models in historical garb.

“His face wasn’t pretty. The exact opposite, in fact. It was strong, lined, and fierce, and everything that was masculine. Everything that Eve most dreaded.”

Asa is bawdy, bold, emotional, earthy, and physical — thus being reflective of the theater world he lives in. Impulsive and a bit wild, Asa is the black sheep and the last unmarried Makepeace sibling (the siblings make appearances here for fans of the Maiden Lane series). His relationship with Eve allows Asa to have quieter, more protective moments — although he also protects her violently. Asa is sexy and earthy and definitely different from the outward appearances of the Makepeace family. Readers of the series know that underneath the reserve of the siblings there is definite heat. For Asa all the passion is on the surface and the quiet and reserve is hidden. Asa is determined, he never gives up. That quality is important here where he has to be patient with Eve, but refreshingly he doesn’t treat her as fragile and unable to deal with life. Indeed, he believes she has been protected too much.

“Eve liked her quiet life.”

Eve is reserved and plain with a long beak-like nose (that Asa rudely insults). She wants a quiet controlled life. For over ten years, Eve has been placed in a bubble and protected from the things that frighten her. A horrible incident as a child has made Eve afraid of being touched by men or even being around angry, violent men. Although Eve sees herself as broken, Asa recognizes her as strong (he calls her a harpy). Eve fights in a quiet and polite fashion but she is strong and determined.

“She should be afraid of this man. Perhaps she was. Perhaps the hammering of her heart, the quickening of her breath were fear.”

What a romance that begins which Asa insulting Eve’s nose! Asa and Eve have a contentious relationship from the beginning. The two fight but when Asa witnesses Eve’s pain, his protective instincts toward her begin to turn the two from adversaries to friends and then to lovers. Asa not only calms Eve’s fears by giving her control and opportunity to rebuild her own sexual identity.

Wow this book is hot. Asa recognizes in Eve a passionate woman hidden away from the world. Because she is afraid of the touch of a man, Asa and Eve have some interesting sexual encounters before they finally engage in intercourse. There is one scene (no I won’t give away spoilers) that is incredibly sexy and hot and the two never touch one another. Sexy and sensual and earthy but steeped in relationship and emotion so these are not gratuitous sex scenes but ones that are vital to the storyline.

The plot involves the suspense of who is trying to stop the reopening of Harte’s Folly and that threatens the lives of Asa and Eve. Closely connected with the couple, this plot is important to the romance itself.

The book has one of Hoyt’s trademark fairy tales to begin each chapter. Because there are often subtle and clever connections between the fairy tale and main story, puzzling out those connections is part of the enjoyment of the novel for me and I often (as I did here) re-read the fairy tale only at the end to appreciate the full story.

WORTH MENTIONING: The line that made me anxious to read the next book: “Bridget Crumb kept the house of the wickedest man in England.”

CONNECTED BOOKS: SWEETEST SCOUNDREL is the ninth book in the Maiden Lane series. It can be read as a standalone but it closely connected with DARLING BEAST and DEAREST ROGUE (which form a mini trilogy in the series) and I recommend reading those first.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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four-half-stars

Review: Dearest Rogue

Review: Dearest RogueDearest Rogue (Maiden Lane, #8) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #8
Published by Grand Central Publishing on May 26th 2015
Genres: Historical
Pages: 326
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Two People Who Will Not Be Limited By Others’ Expectations of Them

“Wasn’t freedom a universal desire? Something every human being longed for no matter their circumstances?”

THE STORY: Lady Phoebe Batten struggles against the restrictions imposed upon her. She is young and loves the social whirl that she has been almost completely excluded from by her brother, the Duke of Wakefield. Almost completely blind, Phoebe now has to deal with the bodyguard her brother has imposed upon her.

Captain James Trevillion was forced to leave his service in the King’s dragoons by a serious injury that left him with a limp (events depicted in DUKE OF MIDNIGHT). Despite his injury, he is still able to shoot and ride and the Duke of Wakefield has hired him to be the bodyguard for his youngest sister.

When Phoebe becomes the target for a kidnapping, James must risk his life to save her from being forced into marriage.

OPINION: The sister of a Duke and an ex-dragoon are the definition of two people who have no business falling in love with one another.

“She was everything he was not: young, innocent, filled with the joy of life. She had the blue blood of centuries of aristocrats running in her veins. He was a cynical, older ex-soldier and his blood ran common red.”

“Blindness had neutered her in the eyes of the world.”

Phoebe is young, sweet, caring and has the Batten stubbornness and willfulness. As this book opens, she has finally had enough of those who love her trying to protect her. Phoebe has a sweetness but she is not silly or annoying. She is a strong young woman trying to balance her love for others, her own desires and her fears. As the book develops, Phoebe grows and develops more of a tartness that she displays. As a right of passage for all the Batten sisters, she also has to confront her brother, Maximus. Readers of the series will recall that he is intensely protective of those he loves – especially Phoebe. This book wonderfully depicts Phoebe’s point of view including her anger and at times desperation about her blindness, but also her strength in learning to do for herself. As a story about Phoebe wanting and crafting her own freedom, I especially appreciated that she is an active participant in her claiming her own freedom.
`
“He might be a cripple on land but by God in the saddle he was a demon.”

James Trevillion is a man struggling against his own limitations. It is clear from the beginning of this novel that his feelings for Phoebe have moved beyond the impersonal. He cares about her even as he acknowledges that there is no future for them. Instead, he sublimates his budding love for her into a desire to see her happy. A principled man, Trevillion is willing to break rules for a good cause. He is also incredibly strong willed in his own right which is one reason why he and Phoebe clash in such a proper manner before their relationship progresses beyond the proper. One of the nice plot points is how James has his own past demons that prompt him to want to protect Phoebe but he is the first to recognize that she cannot be protected to such an extent that she is smothered.

“Sometimes I rather dislike you, Captain Trevillion.”
“I am most gratified that it’s only sometimes, my lady.”

The disabilities that Phoebe and James possess are their bridge to one another. Neither fits into the place which they had expected to inhabit and, the fact that each is separate from their expectations allow them to subvert society’s expectations. Phoebe, especially, knows that despite her birth, she will never be able to be part of the aristocracy except as a treasured pet.

Phoebe and James have great banter between them. It is restrained and witty and biting and full of meaning. There is a tremendous amount of subtext going on between Phoebe and James from the beginning. His calling her “my Lady” is at times proper, annoying, angry and loving. These two argue with one another in such polite terms that it is funny.

“Did you shoot someone back there?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Why?”
“It seemed a good idea.”

Like all of the Maiden Lane novels, DEAREST ROGUE is very sexy, but for me the most sensual parts of this book are the incidents where touch is emphasized. Because of Phoebe’s blindness, touch and smell are more important in this book than sight. I loved how Hoyt focuses on the sensuality of simple acts like Phoebe putting her hand on James’ arm and then expands the exploration between the two to putting on perfume and removing stockings.

I am a fan of the Maiden Lane series and while this is not my favorite (I prefer the darker more angst filled stories), it is certainly a good addition to the series. I especially appreciate Hoyt’s reward to longtime fans by giving us glimpses of the lives of characters who have already had their story told.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book introduces the heroine of the next book in the series SWEETEST SCOUNDREL. Her backstory seems to be very intriguing. Fans of the Duke of Montgomery will also be pleased to know that he makes a significant appearance here.

FINAL DECISION: Befitting Phoebe’s character, DEAREST ROGUE is sweeter than others in the series. The story of finding joy in what life gives a person is perfect for these two characters who are genuinely good people. The dark edge of the story is really about other characters whose stories are to be told in the future.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DEAREST ROGUE is the eighth book in the Maiden Lane series. It can be read as a standalone even though fans of the series will be pleased with the continuation and glimpses of favorite characters.

STAR RATING: I give DEAREST ROGUE 4.5 stars.

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four-half-stars

Review: Darling Beast

Review: Darling BeastDarling Beast (Maiden Lane, #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #7
Published by Grand Central Publishing on October 14th 2014
Genres: Historical
Pages: 321
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Bold, Emotional Story

A man wrongly imprisoned, in hiding and keeping secrets to save his life. A woman, desperate to keep her ragtag family together and also keeping secrets. The ruins of a pleasure garden. DARLING BEAST is the story of a rebirth for all of them.

THE STORY: Apollo Greaves,Viscount Kilbourne has escaped from Bedlam where he was imprisoned for four years for the murder of three of his friends. Apollo is lucky that he was not hanged for his “crimes” but rather was committed as criminally insane because of the intervention of the Earl of Brightmore. Apollo suffered greatly during his captivity suffering starvation and beatings and inhumane conditions. He almost died in Bedlam due to a severe beating that robbed Apollo of his ability to speak. Having escaped with the help of his twin sister Artemis and her husband, the Duke of Wakefield, Apollo has been in hiding at the ruins of the pleasure garden known as Harte’s Folly. Before his imprisonment, Apollo had invested the little money he had in Harte’s Folly. Soon after his escape, Harte’s Folly burned to the ground and now Apollo works as a gardener (but few know that he is actually the landscape architect) to rebuild the garden.

Apollo meets Lily Stump who is also living in the ruins with her son, Indio, and a maid servant. Lily is a famed actress Robin Goodfellow and also a secret playwright. She is living in the gardens because the fire also destroyed the theater and she cannot get work until the theater and gardens are restored. When her son sees Apollo, he fears and is fascinated with the “monster” in the garden. The immediate reaction of Lily and Apollo to one another is simple — each wants the other gone from their sanctuary.

Of course, the two keep being pushed together but before they can have any peace, they must discover the secret of who framed Apollo, save him from Bedlam and also uncover the secret that Lily is harboring.

OPINION: Hoyt has an incredible ability to create deeply emotional stories with bold, unique characters. Usually her books contain a great amount of angst and pain so the romance in this book is almost sweet in comparison. The reason for that is that Lily is the light that bring Apollo out of the half-life he has been living since he was framed for murder. Lily is bright and talented and dedicated to her little family even though she has seen much pain and heartache in her life. That lightness of spirit attracts Apollo who, is clear, values family and meaning and a quiet peaceful life after the horrible years he spent chained.

Despite his past and his painful experiences, Apollo is not really a dark character. He is a gentle giant of a man who is filled with kindness and compassion rather than anger and hate. I loved his character and his deep desire for peace. Once he fixes his attention on Lily, Apollo doesn’t worry about the incongruence of a viscount and future earl marrying an actress. In fact, Apollo frets about his plain appearance in comparison to Lily’s gamine looks.

Lily is a strong, independent woman who takes care of herself and others. One of the great things about Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series is that she crosses all types of social classes. Her books about about dukes and pirates and orphanage managers and actresses and governesses and heiresses. Because of this, her books have a great sense of place and time.

I also appreciated that Lily’s son Indio is such an important character in the book. Readers get a real chance to see that Apollo will make a great adoptive father for Indio. Sometimes existing children are only infrequently seen. Here, readers get a chance to see the relationship develop between Indio and Apollo at the same time it develops between Lily and Apollo. By the end of the book, I was convinced that they will make a nice little family together.

The sex between these two was also really hot. Both are experienced and so there is no virginal trepidation to overcome. Both know who and what they want. At the same time, while the scenes are strong and bold and explicit, there isn’t anything gratuitous about the scenes – just really hot scenes between two grown experienced adults.

Finally, I really enjoyed seeing some of my favorite characters again including Wakefield and Artemis, Hero and Phoebe. We get to learn more about Captain Trevillion in preparation for his and Phoebe’s book DARLING ROGUE which is next up in the series. Readers also get a good look at the Duke of Montgomery who has a very mysterious past and present and is up to something. Readers should not be fooled by his foppish appearance because Hoyt has made such characters very dangerous (see THE SERPENT PRINCE). I’m looking forward to learning more about him and his motives.

WORTH MENTIONING: I loved that Apollo refers to Maximus, the Duke of Wakefield, as “His Grace the Ass” because while I loved Artemis and Maximus’s book, he is kind of an ass!

FINAL DECISION: I love this book. I would read it again (and I’ve already read it twice). I also look forward to the unveiling of the mysteries that this book sets up regarding the motives of the Duke of Montgomery.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DARLING BEAST is the seventh book in the Maiden Lane series. It can be read independently of the other books in the series, but I recommend that a reader at least read DUKE OF MIDNIGHT because it introduces Apollo and provides the setup for DARLING BEAST.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Duke of Midnight

Review: Duke of MidnightDuke of Midnight (Maiden Lane, #6) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #6
Published by Grand Central Publishing on October 15th 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 360
Goodreads
five-stars

How Does Hoyt Turn An Unlikeable Duke Into a Hero?

Spoilers abound so beware…

Duke of Midnight is the story of Maximus, The Duke of Wakefield and Artemis Greaves, the companion of Lady Penelope Chadwicke (the woman Wakefield has decided to marry). Maximus and Artemis do not get off to a good start. Maximus insulted her in Lord of Darkness (book 5) as being “an invisible little woman who trails … like a pale wraith.” Artemis sees Maximus as cold and heartless.

Maximus has created a cold, hard shell over himself after having witnessed the murder of his parents in St. Giles at the age of 14 for which he blames himself. He goes out at night as the Ghost of St. Giles, but unlike the other two ghosts (whose stories are told in books 4 & 5), Maximus does not take on the guise of the Ghost to seek justice or to protect others, but rather to seek vengeance for the deaths of his parents. He has been seeking their murderer for two decades.

Artemis is haunted by the actions of her twin brother Apollo. (Yes, the mythology references are obvious and plenty). Her brother was accused of murdering three of his friends, but rather than being hanged was committed to Bedlam as incurably insane. He has been there for several years but Artemis is afraid that her brother will not live much longer if he is not freed.
One night Lady Penelope goes to St. Giles on a dare. Artemis as her companion has no choice but to accompany her. In St. Giles, the women are attacked and are saved by Maximus as the Ghost. This encounter is the first time that Maximus truly “sees” Artemis, who is ready to draw a knife to protect herself and Penelope. In the resulting confrontation, Artemis comes away with the Ghost’s signet ring and realizes that the Ghost is an aristocrat.

Putting the clues together, Artemis soon realizes that Wakefield is the ghost and decides to blackmail him in order to gain Apollo’s release. Her blackmail attempts puts Maximus and Artemis together alone and the two begin to be attracted to one another. Eventually, Maximus agrees to free Apollo because of his feelings for Artemis and hides him in his London home. Artemis arranges to be a temporary companion to Wakefield’s sister so that she can come into Wakefield’s home and be with her brother.

While under the same roof, however, Maximus and Artemis begin an affair. She has no hope of marriage because of her station. Maximus, because of his guilt about his parents, has devoted himself to the duty of being the Duke and thus must seek an appropriate wife – not one whose family is tainted with madness. The two, however, are enamored of one another and Maximus quickly realizes that while the Duke cannot marry Artemis, Maximus, the man, needs her in his life.
Of course, the situations are resolved and the HEA is well-earned and satisfying. I found it
beautiful and compelling.

This is the sixth book of the Maiden Lane Series. My absolute favorite of the series was book 2, Notorious Pleasures. In that book, the Duke of Wakefield was incredibly unlikeable. I came close to hating him for the way he interfered between Griffin and Hero. Wakefield has made some cameo appearances in the subsequent books and while I had moved from hate, I certainly did not view him as a hero, even as I could see that Hoyt was going to pair Artemis and Wakefield together. It is the magic of Hoyt’s writing, that by the end of this book, I not only loved Wakefield’s character, sympathized with him, and rooted for him to have his HEA, but I also could understand his actions in Notorious Pleasures.

Oh, Hoyt! How do you make me love your characters so much, even when I am reluctant to do so?

The book has one of my favorite ending passages ever. (Not in the epilogue, which is in true Hoyt fashion a teaser for future books). The language of the last few paragraphs was definitely something to sigh about. It was the perfect way for Maximus to communicate that Artemis would never be unworthy of being his Duchess. Loved it. Beautiful!

My only tiny, tiny complaint was that I didn’t find the fairy tale story accompanying the text as compelling as other ones in the series. The last two were so wonderful that I guess I had somewhat of a letdown for The Legend of the Herla King. The fairy tale, however, continues to operate as a mirror and a contrast with the main story, an interesting device that Hoyt uses in all her books.

I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I have a policy of never giving a book 5 stars upon one reading, so I finished it once on the day of release and then turned around and read it again the next day. I’ve been intrigued by bits and parts of it in the subsequent days and have gone back to read certain passages. To me, that signals a book that I will re-read again and again. So definitely 5 stars.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series. The Epilogue was very intriguing!

five-stars

Review: Lord of Darkness

Review: Lord of DarknessLord of Darkness (Maiden Lane, #5) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #5
Published by Grand Central Publishing on February 26th 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 360
Goodreads
five-stars

Intense, Emotional Romance. First, a warning. The main characters in this book: Godric St. John and Lady Margaret both have been in love before. Some readers may not like that neither prior love was venal or unworthy. These are two characters who loved before and are not looking for love again. But that is one of the reasons that I love this book. The characters struggle with feeling of betrayal and uncertainty. Hoyt always manages to expose the flaws and emotions of her characters. I always feel like I know her characters and that is one reason why I find her books so compelling. Even when her characters make poor decisions and mistakes, I still understand them — even when I don’t have sympathy for them. That makes a great read for me. I believe these characters. When they change and come to love one another, I feel that I have been on the journey with them and I am happy to have spent time with them. As the fifth book in the Maiden Lane series, I was smiling when my favorite couple in the series — Hero and Griffin (from the second book of the series, Notorious Pleasures) make an extended appearance. Loved, loved. loved this book!

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five-stars

Review: Thief of Shadows

Review: Thief of ShadowsThief of Shadows (Maiden Lane, #4) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #4
Published by Grand Central Publishing on June 26th 2012
Genres: Historical
Pages: 360
Goodreads
five-stars

Another Hoyt Masterpiece. Thief of Shadows is the fourth book in Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series. It tells the story of Winter Makepeace and Lady Isabel Beckinhall. If you haven’t read the other books — don’t read this one first. Not because the story isn’t self contained. It definitely is. But there are things revealed in this book that are secrets in the first three books. The romance between Winter and Isabel is hot and yet sweet and deep. Both characters have secrets. What Hoyt does in a magnificent fashion is layer her characters. They are never stereotypes. They are memorable and bigger than life and thus impossible to forget. I’ve read all her books multiple times because I continue to think about the characters and the language that Hoyt uses is compelling and lyrical. I highly recommend Thief of Shadows and any and all of Hoyt’s Maiden Lane books.

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five-stars

Review: Scandalous Desires

Review: Scandalous DesiresScandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #3
Published by Grand Central Publishing on October 24th 2011
Genres: Historical
Pages: 370
Goodreads
five-stars

Who Can Resist a Not So Good Pirate? The third book in the Maiden Lane series does not disappoint. The story of Silence Hollingbrook and Charming Mickey O’Connor is a definite treat. For me one of the most interesting parts of the story is how we learn that the night when Mickey “ruined” Silence by having her spend the night with him (even though nothing happened) changed not only Silence’s life, but also Mickey’s. I always enjoy how Hoyt has characters develop and evolve though her books. I also really enjoy how her Maiden Lane series uses the characters throughout all the books. The incident from book one of the series, spawns this story. While one does not need to read all the books, there is certainly a more layered and interesting storyline being developed throughout all the books. That being said, I hope that Hoyt will give us an update on Mickey and Silence in a future Maiden Lane novel.

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five-stars

Review: Notorious Pleasures

Review: Notorious PleasuresNotorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, #2) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #2
Published by Vision on February 1st 2011
Genres: Historical
Pages: 371
Goodreads
five-stars

I’m in love with Griffin Reading! Notorious Pleasures is the story of Griffin, a second son, and Lady Hero Batten, who is engaged to Griffin’s older brother. Griffin and Hero have one of the best meeting scenes ever as they meet when Griffin in literally engaged in a scandalous sexual encounter with another woman. I always enjoy how Hoyt confounds the expectations of stereotypical characters. Griffin, who should be the one who reluctantly loves, instead is the grand romantic hero. **small spoiler** I was enthralled by the scene where Griffin goes to his brother and begs him to release Hero from their engagement. He does this despite his poor relationship with his brother because he loves Hero and understands how special their love is. Hero and Griffin are my favorite Maiden Lane couple and I absolutely love when they make appearances in subsequent books. Definitely a sigh worthy book.

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five-stars

Review: Wicked Intentions

Review: Wicked IntentionsWicked Intentions (Maiden Lane, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #1
Published by Grand Central Publishing on August 1st 2010
Genres: Historical
Pages: 382
Goodreads
five-stars

Story of a Sinner and a Saint. One thing I love about Elizabeth Hoyt’s books is how she takes characters who are not always loveable and attractive at first to a reader and then through the story brings the reader to care deeply about the characters and their happiness. She also has a way of taking characters that appear to be opposites and then has them struggling with a similar problem in different ways. Wicked Intentions is the story of Temperance and Caire; she is a “saint” who hides a dark secret and he is a “sinner” who hides a vulnerable and caring soul. These two tormented people learn to accept and love one another. I’ve now read this book three times and I love it more and more as Hoyt contiues to add to her Maiden Lane world. I never give five stars for a book I read only once. I reserve my five stars for books that I consider compelling re-reads. Hoyt is building a whole world of interesting, compelling characters who interact with one another. While one can read any book apart from the others, the real depth of her storytelling is in the accumulated stories that she is telling.

five-stars

Review: Sweetest Scoundrel

Sweetest Scoundrel
Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Loved This One: Sexy, Sensual with One of the Best Non-Sex Sex Scenes Ever

“This had been a mistake. A terrible mistake. The garden was in shambles, the opera didn’t look like it would ever be staged, and Mr. Harte was a brutal animal.”

FINAL DECISION: The plot of the rebuilding a pleasure garden mirrors the rebuilding of Eve’s own life and ability to find joy and happiness and pleasure after a horrible incident in her childhood. Sensual and emotional with a good dash of mystery and action, this is a great addition to a wonderful series.

THE STORY: Asa Makepeace aka Mr. Harte is the owner of Harte’s Folly — a theater and pleasure garden. Rebuilding after a fire that destroyed his life’s work, Asa entered into a deal with the devil when he took an investment from the Duke of Montgomery. Now Asa has the Duke’s half sister Eve Dinwoody looking over his shoulder. The prim and proper Eve has agreed to oversee her brother’s investment. The sensual and physical Asa frightens Eve even as she challenges him. An incident in her childhood has left her with a deep fear of men — especially angry, violent ones. At the same time, Eve finds herself intrigued by the loud and brash Asa.

OPINION: Hoyt once again creates unique characters that dazzle in many ways — and in this case, she gives us regular looking people for the main characters — not models in historical garb.

“His face wasn’t pretty. The exact opposite, in fact. It was strong, lined, and fierce, and everything that was masculine. Everything that Eve most dreaded.”

Asa is bawdy, bold, emotional, earthy, and physical — thus being reflective of the theater world he lives in. Impulsive and a bit wild, Asa is the black sheep and the last unmarried Makepeace sibling (the siblings make appearances here for fans of the Maiden Lane series). His relationship with Eve allows Asa to have quieter, more protective moments — although he also protects her violently. Asa is sexy and earthy and definitely different from the outward appearances of the Makepeace family. Readers of the series know that underneath the reserve of the siblings there is definite heat. For Asa all the passion is on the surface and the quiet and reserve is hidden. Asa is determined, he never gives up. That quality is important here where he has to be patient with Eve, but refreshingly he doesn’t treat her as fragile and unable to deal with life. Indeed, he believes she has been protected too much.

“Eve liked her quiet life.”

Eve is reserved and plain with a long beak-like nose (that Asa rudely insults). She wants a quiet controlled life. For over ten years, Eve has been placed in a bubble and protected from the things that frighten her. A horrible incident as a child has made Eve afraid of being touched by men or even being around angry, violent men. Although Eve sees herself as broken, Asa recognizes her as strong (he calls her a harpy). Eve fights in a quiet and polite fashion but she is strong and determined.

“She should be afraid of this man. Perhaps she was. Perhaps the hammering of her heart, the quickening of her breath were fear.”

What a romance that begins which Asa insulting Eve’s nose! Asa and Eve have a contentious relationship from the beginning. The two fight but when Asa witnesses Eve’s pain, his protective instincts toward her begin to turn the two from adversaries to friends and then to lovers. Asa not only calms Eve’s fears by giving her control and opportunity to rebuild her own sexual identity.

Wow this book is hot. Asa recognizes in Eve a passionate woman hidden away from the world. Because she is afraid of the touch of a man, Asa and Eve have some interesting sexual encounters before they finally engage in intercourse. There is one scene (no I won’t give away spoilers) that is incredibly sexy and hot and the two never touch one another. Sexy and sensual and earthy but steeped in relationship and emotion so these are not gratuitous sex scenes but ones that are vital to the storyline.

The plot involves the suspense of who is trying to stop the reopening of Harte’s Folly and that threatens the lives of Asa and Eve. Closely connected with the couple, this plot is important to the romance itself.

The book has one of Hoyt’s trademark fairy tales to begin each chapter. Because there are often subtle and clever connections between the fairy tale and main story, puzzling out those connections is part of the enjoyment of the novel for me and I often (as I did here) re-read the fairy tale only at the end to appreciate the full story.

WORTH MENTIONING: The line that made me anxious to read the next book: “Bridget Crumb kept the house of the wickedest man in England.”

CONNECTED BOOKS: SWEETEST SCOUNDREL is the ninth book in the Maiden Lane series. It can be read as a standalone but it closely connected with DARLING BEAST and DEAREST ROGUE (which form a mini trilogy in the series) and I recommend reading those first.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.