A Notorious Ruin by Carolyn Jewel

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All the widowed Lucy Sinclair Wilcott wants is to save enough money to move to a cottage of her own and keep her younger sister safe from the consequences of their father’s poor judgment. No one is more aware than she how thoroughly her first marriage ruined her. She could not remarry if she wanted to. Then the Marquess of Thrale comes to visit and long-absent feelings of desire surge back.

Everything Lord Thrale believes about the beautiful Mrs. Wilcott is wrong. The very last woman he thought he was interested in proves to be a brilliant, amusing, arousing woman of deep honor who is everything he wants in a lover, for the rest of his life. If only he can convince her of that.

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Publisher and Release Date: cJewel Books, September 2014

RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 3
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Lady Wesley

This is the first full-length Carolyn Jewel title that I have read, and I am very impressed by her writing style. She has a lovely way with the English language.

I have not read the first title in this series, Lord Ruin, which involves the “forced” marriage of the eldest Sullivan sister, Anne, to the Duke of Cynssyr. Our heroine, Lucy, was in London at the time and apparently met our hero, Lord Thrale, and I think that neither one was impressed by the other.

Years earlier, Lucy had married Jack “Devil” Walcott, a man far beneath her, who had earned fame and fortune as a professional boxer. He wanted her for her beauty, and Lucy’s spendthrift father wanted the £50,000 Devil offered him. Two unexpected things happened: Lucy became an expert on boxing, and she grew to love her husband.

After Devil died and Lucy returned to her father’s home, she was shunned by village ladies of Bartley Green. Anne had been the sister who managed her father, his estate, and her younger sisters. Now, the widowed Lucy is trying to fulfill that role, but she is struggling. Her sister Mary is happily married to a baron, and Lucy is determined to protect her youngest sister, Emily, from their father’s machinations. She plans to send Emily to live with their sister and remove herself to a cottage in the country, dreaming of contentment in her poetry, her flowers, and her elderly wolfhound mongrel, Roger.

As the book opens, Lord Thrale and Captain Niall arrive to spend a few weeks hunting, fishing, and perhaps attending a few “mills” (Regency slang for boxing matches). Boxing plays a central role throughout the plot, as Bartley Green is home to the renowned Johnson’s Academy of Pugilistic Arts, where both high-born gentlemen and the “flash” come to practice and watch. In fact, using the expertise she learned from Devil, Lucy is funding her escape plan by saving up money that she wins from secretly betting on local boxing matches.

Thrale and Lucy are polite but distant with one another. (Major hint: Roger the hound is immediately in love with Thrale.) Thrale sees Lucy as cool and empty-headed, which is exactly the façade she has adopted to conceal her deeper emotions and hurts. Ms Jewel is very good at showing, not telling, us the two different sides of Lucy’s personality. For her part, Lucy sees Thrale as just another spoiled, selfish gentleman with no purpose in life beyond his own amusement. She finds herself attracted to him, but she doesn’t really like him, and indeed, he is not terribly likable at the outset.

I’ve always enjoyed romances set at a country house party; there are so many opportunities for a couple to become better acquainted, meet accidentally in romantic locations, and be tempted into misbehavior. Carolyn Jewel puts this setting to good use in that regard, and after an initial, rather shocking, naughty encounter, the romance between Lucy and Thrale builds slowly, with unexpected twists and some rather exciting sexytimes along the way.

There were some things, however, that kept me from enjoying this book as much as I had hoped to. There is a great deal more discussion of boxing than I care to read. I did not enjoy the rough sex nearly as much as Lucy and Thrale did. There were some scenes that ended abruptly without the expected follow-up, and there were loose ends that I felt should have been tied up. For example, Lucy’s father commits an utterly unforgiveable act toward her near the end of the book, but neither she nor Thrale confronts him. In fact, he is so completely horrible that I was disappointed he never got what he really deserved.

As mentioned at the beginning, Carolyn Jewel has a lovely style of writing, so let me just close with an example, where Lucy ventures to a local soireé filled with hostile ladies and lusting gentlemen:

A hush fell like snow across a field when Mrs. Wilcott walked into the Glynn’s parlor. Thrale schooled himself against any visible reaction. Niall was less circumspect. Like most of the men in the room, Thrale watched her. Breathtaking. Heartbreaking. Skin pale as cream contrasted with the inky black of her hair. A spray of tiny yellow rosebuds was affixed in her hair.

This could not be the woman with whom he had sparred. Eyes bright, focused, intent. Astonishingly fast. This remote beauty was not the sort of woman who would adore her late husband’s mongrel dog nor demonstrate, convincingly, the weaknesses in his pugilistic technique.

It ought to be impossible for a woman to be that beautiful.

* * *

His glimpse beneath that veneer of thoughtless perfection laid waste to his indifference to her. No longer could he see her and think, yes, beautiful, and be so little moved by that beauty.

Mrs. Wilcott moved easily through the crowd, or, rather, the crowd parted for her. He watched her with new eyes, and it occurred to him that at moments like this, there was never any sign of the clumsiness in evidence when she was among intimates. She was another woman altogether. She smiled at everyone and at nothing, and as Thrale watched, he saw a woman who’d turned her beauty into a fortress.

He studied her. Constructed and reconstructed everything he knew about her until his head swam, until his chest clenched with the enormity of the truth about Mrs. Jack Wilcott. She was among the enemy here, and she had come in the only armor she possessed.

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