[Please note - this review was for the original paperback issue of the book. This book has now been reissued with a much better cover!]
Is it just me, or are most Regency mass-market paperback covers just AWFUL? They usually have a scantily-clad and dishy man in a semi-compromising position with a beautiful woman whose dress seems to be falling down. And such was the cover of this book - I wouldn't have bought it if it weren't for the great reviews on Amazon.co.uk. And I am glad I looked beyond the dismal cover as it was a very good book!
Firstly, that cover. Presumably the man on the front (a shiny chestnut-haired, muscular Adonis with slightly tanned skin and a traditionally handsome face) is meant to be Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain and the hero of this story. However, we are told right at the beginning of the story that Dain is actually ugly; well, if not ugly, certainly not your traditional handsome hero. He's got a huge nose, he's half-Italian and therefore very swarthy and he has black curly hair. Oh, and he's enormously tall and very well muscled. Doesn't sound like our rather average-sized hero on the front cover of this book.
Jessica Trent, our heroine, is tall-ish, stunningly beautiful (of course) with long black hair which is usually pinned up in rather bad hairstyles. Now the woman in this picture is probably an amazon as she looks about the same height as the bloke and we have already established that Dain is well over six feet tall. Hmmm. Apart from that she answers reasonably to the description of our heroine.
Yes, it's a waste of time moaning about the cover art but you wonder if the people commissioning the cover of this book actually read it; or, more likely, if they thought rendering an accurate illustration of Dain would frighten people off. And that's what our hero spends his life dealing with - people find him ugly, scary, frightening. They try to beat him up, reject him (his mother runs away when he's eight years old and his father sends him off to school and basically ignores him) and he spends his twenties carousing and womanising like your average Regency Rake. And he has the money for it - he's loaded - so he believes that he can get whatever he wants by paying for it.
Unfortunately for Jessica Trent, her brother Bertie, who is a few sandwiches short of a picnic in the brains department, has fallen in with Dain's crowd and hasn't got the finances for it. Jessica and Bertie were hard-up to start with, being orphans, and Bertie can't afford the wine, women and song that those who run in Dain's set seem to spend their whole time chasing. Thus Jessica, with the help of her grandmother Genevieve, decides to try to separate Bertie from Dain. This involves Jessica actually meeting Dain and at that point it all starts going awry as she falls in lust with the ugly, enormous and very intelligent and witty man. She is also intelligent and witty and so, despite being a lady, which is a species Dain avoids like the plague, he finds himself in conversation with her. Their conversations don't go well as both are so clever that they end up in a kind of contest which both want to win - Jess's prize is that Dain will exlude her brother from his set; Dain's prize is that he will have a beautiful Russian Icon that Jess found in a shop in Paris. And so their initial introductions take place and they both find that there is something very special in the other - and this doesn't escape the attention of the rest of society which causes some problems for them both in terms of reputation.
This is a romance that explores the deeper issues that people have that may cause them to behave in a particular way and a lot of the story is about how Jess slowly draws Dain out of his shell so that she can understand why he behaves the way he does with women. She also causes him to face up to his responsibilities back at home in England and is amazingly accepting of him with his past history. It's a well-written love story with a small side-plot of someone trying to damage Dain and it never gets boring as they move from Paris to Dartmoor. Jess is a really fun heroine (she actually shoots Dain at one point) and he's an interesting hero with far more to him than the usual Regency hero (which is usually just good looks - which of course he doesn't have at all). I felt perhaps that the resolution of their problems unfolded rather rapidly at the end, plus I wondered how she managed to behave like a perfectly angelic wife for a whole month just to make a point (surely this would be impossible for just a day with such a difficult man) but I did find, after finishing the book, that I believed they COULD make a go of it, that their mutual love was understandable despite the differences in their natures, and I was glad that he was a reformed rake and came to terms with himself and his responsibilities, although perhaps rather more quickly than would happen in real life (the work of several years compressed into a month). This was a very good book, though, and I'm going to look out for more by Loretta Chase. I just hope they have less toe-curlingly embarrassing covers.