COLD-HEARTED RAKE- Lisa Kleypas
England – 1875
Devon Ravenel would rather not have inherited his late cousin's earldom. First of all, he didn't much care for Theo, and the thought of being burdened with the remains of his crumbling and mismanaged estate is unbearable. He should just sell it all and be done with it. Except that there is the problem of Theo's late wife and his three sisters, and all of them are currently residing in the estate in Hampshire. Then there is the issue of how much Devon really enjoyed his life. With literally no responsibilities to speak of, Devon was free to come and go whenever and wherever he wanted, usually in the company of his brother. He hopes to return to that life after he manages to break the entailment and sell off the estate.
When Devon meets his cousin's very young widow, Kathleen, it is under the worst of circumstances. Kathleen happens to hear Devon mention his intentions to his brother, including his plan to send Theo's wife and sisters packing. Devon doesn't feel bad, at least not at first. Kathleen, reputed to be a beauty, has a jointure so she will surely find someone else to marry, and his dislike of Theo is so intense, that he just doesn't feel the sympathy he should. After Devon's token apology, Kathleen storms off and he follows her. When Kathleen removes her widow's veil, Devon is speechless. He has never seen anyone so beautiful. With a bit of coaxing, Devon convinces Kathleen to show him the grounds, and for the first time, Devon realizes he needs to rethink the idea of selling the estate, but he realizes that he is not and never has been a hero. What does he know of farming and running an estate? Meanwhile, Kathleen knows she and her sisters-in-law are at the mercy of the new earl. She finds him to be an utter boor and a rake, but as they come to know each other a bit better, and Devon embarks on a quest of seduction, Kathleen realizes she is desperately attracted to him. What will become of Kathleen and her late husband's sisters? Can she find a way to provide for them and guard her heart?
With COLD-HEARTED RAKE, Kleypas is back in the world of historical romance after an absence (while she delved into contemporary works) of several years. Seems like forever. So then, the bad news first. Perhaps my anticipation was too great, but for me, this was not her best work. I can't really pinpoint it to a particular reason—it was more of a combination. I didn't love the characters—Kathleen is smart, and sharp, but not very likeable. I felt the same about Devon—he is a good guy under all that selfish talk, I guess, but I didn't much care for him. And it bothered me that he was so unapologetically rude to Kathleen at first and then changed his tune immediately after he saw her. So, add shallow to the list. I also got a little too much information about the period. Yes, I like to feel immersed in the time period in historical romances but I don't necessarily want to be distracted by the history either. This is, after all, a romance. Speaking of which, I much preferred the development of Helen and Winterbourne's relationship. And I couldn't really figure out the sisters. They could have been a much more interesting part of the story.
On to the good news. The plot was good, it really had all the makings for a fantastic Kleypas noveland, as always, the dialogue is excellent. She never talks down to her readers; she expects us to be intelligent, curious readers who appreciate a well-developed story. She also is still a master at developing the conflict and her interspersed, not over the top wit is always satisfying. So all in all, this book was well worth reading, and if not one of her very best, it was still miles above the average historical romance, which is why I keep coming back for more of Lisa Kleypas and will eagerly pre-order her next historical (and contemporary) romances.