Too Wicked to Love is one of my favorite books of 1999 - but this latest offering falls just short of the mark.
Lady Alicia Pemberton's brother Gerald, Earl of Brockway, loses what is left of the family fortune at Drake Wilder's gambling hall. Aside from her family's declining social and financial status, Alicia must care for her mother, who has fallen prey to dementia. It's up to Alicia to save the family once it is clear that the debt of 20,000 guineas will send them to ruin.
Drake is not prepared for the woman who offers him her virtue as payment for her brother's debt. He demands marriage, not just sex, and not because of any tender feelings, but because his bitter enemy - the father who won't acknowledge him - Lord Hailstock, wants Alicia for his own. To Alicia, who wishes to marry neither man but is instantly intrigued by Drake, the choice comes down to who will be considerate of her mother. Because Hailstock insists that Lady Brockway be kept out of their lives, Alicia chooses to marry Drake, as long as their marriage is a chaste one. Drake, who has agreed to no such nonsense, figures his bride will soon succumb to his considerable charms.
Drake's motivations (or seeming lack of common sense) were a little too convenient to the plot. Aside from forcing Hailstock to recognize him in the eyes of the society he'll be a part of, Drake would "raise his social consequence" if he marries Alicia. Oh, really? Alicia's family was nearly ruined, even before the disastrous loss of 20,000 guineas, and they've been selling off family possessions and Alicia's clothes that are not suitable for any sort of Season. Add to this the well-known dementia of the Dowager and you have, in Alicia, a girl that no one interested in social climbing would marry. Drake is kind and generous to every pregnant maid, orphan, brain-rattled former boxer, etc., that he meets - this felt a little manipulative after a while.
While Alicia manages to convince herself that she is marrying Drake to save the family, especially her mother, she soon discovers that she is attracted to her charming husband. Misplaced pride keeps her from her husband's bed, and her only recourse when she finds herself about to surrender to Drake is to hurl insults at him. She started off as a likable, capable heroine, but she is also ready to believe the worst of him, even though he has been nothing but kind to her family.
There were other problems with this book, the worst of which was Gerald's painless cure from his gambling addiction, and his new career as counselor, working in Drake's hall. Anyone, with any form of addiction, will tell you that his recovery was just a little too swift to have any degree of verisimilitude.