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Monday, April 13, 2009:
"Indecent Proposition" by Emma Wildes - (2009)

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.
Lady Caroline Wynn cannot believe she's contemplating being the woman who decides who is the better lover: Nicholas, the Duke of Rothay, or Derek, the Earl of Manderville. Both men are gorgeous, rich, and extremely popular with the ladies, and she finds them both very attractive. But having only ever been with one man, her now deceased husband, and not having a very enjoyable time of it, Caroline is young enough and determined enough to discover if she was at fault for her miserable time in the marriage bed. Demanding complete discretion, Lady Caroline agrees to meet with both men to convince them to choose her, and from there decide upon a course of action.
Both men are surprised when they learn it is the coldly distant yet very lovely Lady Caroline who has stepped forward to accept the wager. While both men undoubtedly find her attractive, neither one would have ever guessed she was the woman behind the veil. She is a widow with an impeccable reputation, and one who has always turned men away, rather than inviting them closer. But her reasoning makes sense, and bedding her would not be a hardship. Both men agree, and Nicholas especially seems most eager to get on with the proceedings.
Derek, on the other hand, is less eager. Having lost the woman he loves to another man, whom she is soon to marry, he had entered into the bet as a means to forget, but Annabel is constantly on his mind. However he is determined to move on, and what else but being in the arms of a beautiful woman would help him forget his broken heart?
After some discussion, it is decided Nicholas will be able to clear his schedule and attend to Lady Caroline immediately at his country estate. Though she might not have been a woman he would have attempted to seduce before, he cannot help now being fascinated by the lush yet reserved beauty. As they talk about what is to happen between them, he discovers exactly how miserable the marriage bed had been for her, and realizes that he cannot approach her as he would any of his previous lovers. He admires her courage, for it is evident she is fearful of what is to come due to her limited and rather painful sexual experience, and she has no clue as to what to expect in Nicholas' bed. He intends to show her pleasure the likes for which she's never imagined, but first, he decides to get to know her. He is pleased to discover an intelligent, honest, forthright, caring woman. She evokes feelings in him he's never experienced before, and this throws him off balance. Yet when their time is up, he lets her go, knowing full well that she intends to share his friend's bed.
While Nicholas is hidden away in the country with Caroline, Derek is feeling utterly miserable in London, watching as Annabel prepares for her wedding to another man, a most pleasant and caring chap who certainly has her best interests at heart. Derek knows he's hurt her badly, and now he must pay the price by watching her get married to someone else. Now that she knows about his impulsive and silly wager, she is more angry with him than ever with him. When Lady Caroline returns to town, he seeks her out, and soon discovers she may be the answer to his prayers. For all is fair in love and war, and Derek is determined to do whatever necessary to win back his love....
My thoughts:
Without going into too much detail, this is obviously a different book that one may be expecting. For one, Lady Caroline is not an experienced, jaded woman who has left a trail of numerous lovers in her wake, and neither Derek nor Nicholas are cynical, bored aristocrats without care for a woman's reputation nor anyone's pleasures but their own. Instead we see that all three characters are at a turning point in their lives, brought on by the outlandish wager, which though foolish, has created these circumstances that bring about each individual's deepest desires.

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 *****

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  1. I have been reading Wildes for years when she wrote for Ellora's Cave. This was just the right amount of erotic with characters you can find an emotional attachment to.

  2. You said it Kate. I wasn't disappointed in the direction the story took, though I'm sure it could have gone the other way as well. I'm looking forward to her next story.

  3. Hey, Stacy! Hope you had a great holiday. I skimmed only because I'm about to read the book. I did check for your star rating and you have me excited to read it!! I'll be back again once I read the book.

  4. Excellent summary and review Stacy. I have to say, I'm not a huge historical romance fan. However, this book does sound intriguing.

    I perhaps will give it a try when I can make room on the TBR shelves.

    I hope you enjoyed a nice weekend

    Best Regards

  5. This sounds really really intriguing. I may have to put it on my shortlist. Where is that Borders coupon anyways? heh.

  6. Arggghhh - I'm trying to cut back on my book buying. This most excellent review isn't helping me Stacy.

  7. Barbara, I'm looking forward to your thoughts. You give such heartfelt reviews - I learn a lot from you!

    Lea, historicals rule my life. I'm so addicted. Fortunately I also have a taste for contemps, and even a yearning for a paranormal time and again. Love me some variety.

    Sula, without giving too much away, it's more emotional than erotic, but no less enjoyable. I thank Kate for bringing it to my attention.

    Sorry Kristie, but now you know how I feel, when I visit your blog :) Which I do everyday, even if I don't comment. I just like seeing what you're up to, and nodding my head at those "have you ever..." posts. Rather embarrassing how often I do that *g*

  8. Wow, what an interesting premise. Adding to the TBR list...

  9. What Stacy said :) My TBR list keeps growing exponentially, but reviews such as this one....I just can't help but add the book!

  10. Thanks for the review. The books sounds quite intriguing :)

  11. Nicola, I hope you enjoy it. Just...never mind. I don't want to give anything away.

    Orannia, if I can pimp in anyway, I'm happy to do it :)

    Maija, it is intriguing. But also emotional. Which to me is a very good thing.

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