It’s the talk of the town. In a less than sober moment, London’s two most notorious rakes—the Earl of Manderville and the Duke of Rothay—placed a very public wager on which of them is the superior lover. Now it’s too late to retract the foolish bet, but what woman of beauty, intelligence, and discernment, would consent to bed both men—and declare which is more skilled in satisfying her deepest desires?
Lady Carolyn Wynn is the last woman anyone would expect to step forward. She’s a respectable young widow with an icy reputation, which has kept her firmly off the marriage market. She may not desire another husband, but her brief marriage has left her with some scandalous questions about the act of love.
If the men will keep her identity a secret, she’ll decide who has the most finesse between the sheets. But to everyone’s surprise, what begins as an indelicate proposition turns into a most astonishing lesson in everlasting love…
Katiebabs had written a rather impassioned post back in November(?) about this author, and it intrigued me enough to add the book to my tbb list. (Here's Kate's review from RNTV). I had never read anything by Emma Wildes before, but the book blurb definitely caught my attention.
I've read many books where the heroine has never experienced true pleasure until she is in the arms of the hero. In fact not that long ago, it seemed every historical ever written about a widowed woman only depicted her as having either unpleasant sexual experiences, or none whatsoever (i.e. elderly husband). Though Caroline falls into the former category, it didn't feel old or stale, and that's because we see that she represented the women of her time who were considered no more than her husband's property, a person without rights, so she was essentially left helpless, especially if she had no family, or one that was relieved to be rid of her. As a widow, her status gave her reasonable freedom, though it was only because her husband left her with money that she was able to survive without having to remarry, a most unsavory consideration, to Caroline's way of thinking.
But despite her aversion to sex, Caroline also had to wonder if she was really at fault for her bad experiences. She began to question it so much that it was making her crazy, and when she heard about the wager between two of London's most reknowned rakes, she knew she had to find out for sure. She never would marry again, but she could find out once and for all whether her cruel husband was right about her lack of passion, and she was desperate to know for sure, even willing to possibly ruin her reputation in the process.
I liked the characters in this book a lot. Caroline was a smart, compassionate, wistful, lonely woman who's never had anyone really love her, and without realizing it, she was starved for affection. Nicholas sensed this almost immediately, clued in by her reactions and various revealing comments. He chose to take his time with her, which was exactly what Caroline needed. He was perceptive enough to see her fear, her hesitation, and rather than rush her into passion, he listened, and watched. He shared of himself and made her relax enough to seek out pleasure rather than endure it.
Derek also had a sensitive caring side, one that initially scared him when he realized his feelings for one woman was not the casual affection he'd had for most of his lovers but rather something deeper, more substantial. He reacted as most men would in his circumstances - he denied it and ran. And ended up regretting his actions more than he could have ever expected. Nearing 30, he began to see that his priorities were changing, and what he wanted out of life was more about permanence and family.
For my first Emma Wildes book, it was a most enjoyable read. I loved the characters, how they interacted with each other, how they made mistakes, and how they went about fixing them. This time it was Caroline stood out over the the heroes in this book - she was memorable, and strong, and very brave. I was definitely cheering for her while I read this book. Her HEA was definitely worthy of her, and you couldn't have asked for better heroes than Nicholas and Derek, true gentleman who knew how to treat a woman, in bed and out of it. Though Derek was a dunderhead, he redeemed himself quite sufficiently and got exactly what he deserved for it *g*
I certainly look forward to reading more by Ms. Wildes.
Rating: **** out of *****