Nathaniel Spencer, the Fourteenth Duke of Kirkbourne wakes up with an almighty hangover and a wager note in his pocket stating he has agreed to marry the Earl of Brackingham’s daughter. And he can’t even remember ever meeting the chit. Clearly his drinking has got out of hand. Lady Sarah Steele is horrified when her father announces that the Duke of Kirkbourne has agreed to marry her and even more horrified that her father wagered her hand in a game of cards. Not only that, but the earl has not told the duke of the riding accident that left Sarah paralyzed when she was sixteen. But he’s dying and she knows he wants to see her settled before the inevitable happens.
Despite Nate’s drinking and Sarah’s possible complicity in the earl’s plan, they agree to marry. But when accidents start to happen, the newly-weds must deal not only with the fact they are practically strangers, but they must find out who is trying to kill one or both of them. Nate’s drinking problem and Sarah’s disability are only a couple of the hurdles they must face to find lasting love.
Publisher and Release Date: Em Taylor, August 2014
Location and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 Stars
Review by Susan
A duke and the daughter of an earl are thrust into a marriage arranged by the young lady’s father, the Earl of Brackingham in Em Taylor’s Regency Romance A Desperate Wager. It’s a situation which the duke and lady fear will turn into a nightmare. Instead, the author writes their story as a fairytale, a type of fantasy that two wounded souls attain when led by the hand of fate. The premise will pique romance readers’ interest, although the development of the plot isn’t as refined as it could have been.
Nate Spencer, the Duke of Kirkbourne is discovered wallowing in his misery at the start of the tale. He and his friend Crosby had previously engaged in a curricle race but when Crosby’s carriage crashed and killed him, the cross which Nate bears is suffocating him and causes him to become a careless drunk. The Earl of Brackingham believes he has the solution to the duke’s sorrow – marriage to his crippled daughter, Lady Sarah Steele.
The characters’ inconsistencies come to light early in the story. For instance, Nate comes off as a reckless reprobate instigating a hazardous race with his best friend, though he turns honorable when he finds a note in his pocket informing him that due to losing a game of cards with Brackingham he has agreed to marry Brackingham’s daughter. He honors the wager and marries Lady Sarah, then goes on to becoming a sensitive and responsive husband to her. What happened to his careless ways? It’s a tad too far-fetched for this spoiled duke to suddenly become such a paragon. This part of the story seems influenced by a female sense of fantasy, making it hard to believe that Nate’s abrupt turnaround is plausible.
Sarah’s behavior is also contradictora. As someone who is partially paralyzed from the waist down due to a horseback riding accident, she is miraculously able to walk without her crutches at certain points in the tale and able to feel pleasure in her lower limbs during the couple’s intimate moments. It is admirable that the author has fashioned a heroine with a physical disability and a hero who has an emotional one, but these handicaps only hamper them when the author chooses to acknowledge their impairments, which confuses the audience.
The story contains an element of danger as someone is out to destroy the couple. This question mark entices the reader to stay involved in the plot, although it’s a disappointment when the villain is revealed. The motive for the villain’s actions is flimsy and ends up making the story anticlimactic.
While reasonably entertaining, the story could be better polished and the dialogue could show more action. It’s a very restrained read as the characters are all mild-mannered and express a handful of emotions that are well under control. The language is stiff and the lives of the characters have an easy flow making it difficult for readers to identify with them. The love affair of Nate and Sarah is picture perfect giving the story the traits of a fairytale but not something which readers can apply to reality.