A scarred, sharp-tongued nobleman meets his feisty match in Howard’s (What a Scot Wants, 2013, etc.) historical romance.
It’s 1819, and 25-year-old Lady Astrid Everleigh, a cash-strapped Englishwoman, must find a way to save her 16-year-old sister, Isobel, from getting married off to the loathsome Earl of Beaumont; Astrid previously refused his proposal herself, and as a result, he ruined her reputation and marriage prospects with a “horrible lie about her lack of virtue.” For hard-to-understand reasons, Astrid’s only hope is to marry the wealthy, powerful, and single Lord Thane Harte, Duke of Beswick, and she puts the proposal to him after barging in on his bath. Alas, she’s horrified by the scars, left by French bayonets years ago, on Thane’s face and body—a result of Beaumont’s abandoning his post, and a subsequent French ambush. Thane’s temper earned him the moniker “the Beast of Beswick.” Fortunately, she observes, the French spared his “luscious mouth,” “burning” eyes, and muscular torso—among other body parts. Instant bickering ensues, and when Astrid installs herself with Isobel at Beswick Park to catalog Thane’s Ming porcelains, the attraction between Astrid and the duke grows. The young noblewoman also voices feminist theory, which Thane eagerly appreciates—though sometimes less for what she says than how she says it: “Her eyes shone with indignant passion, lips parted, breasts heaving.” Their wedding night comes rather early on, but Howard successfully keeps the sparks flying thanks to Thane’s self-pitying mood cycles—worried that Astrid will leave him because of his scars, he gets cold and nasty; Astrid snaps back and maddens him with scandalous gowns, and bodice-ripping follows. The author’s reprise of “Beauty and the Beast” motifs effectively mixes Jane Austen–ite manners with lewd mores. However, it’s full of anachronistic language—“I don’t want a fucking prince, you idiot. They’re too pretty, too full of themselves, too much maintenance”—and suffers third-act problems as long-anticipated comeuppances fizzle inconclusively. Fortunately, vigorous prose, lively characters—including Thane’s Aunt Mabel, who beds all the footmen—and lubricious rounds of fighting and sex will keep readers turning pages.
A lasciviously entertaining Regency romp.