Alternate Title: Never Been Whist
The Chick: Christabel, Marchioness of Haversham. She had the misfortune to marry a lout who ignored her to go to town and gamble. In the process, he bartered away a packet of secret letters to a blackmailer in return for money to pay off his debts - letters that could destroy her family.
The Rub: She knows who the blackmailer is, but the only way to finagle an invitation to his house is to pose as the mistress of notorious gambling-hell owner Gavin Byrne, a man who would like nothing better than to make her his real mistress.
Dream Casting: Sally Hawkins.
The Dude: Gavin Byrne. The illegitimate, unacknowledged son of the Prince Regent, he and his mother were banished to poverty when Prinny cut off his mother's living. Now Daddy Dearest will offer him a title if he helps the Marchioness of Haversham recover an important item from a blackmailing gambler.
The Rub: It doesn't take long for Gavin to discover the letters in the blackmailer's possession have the power to seriously damage the Prince Regent's claim to the throne. He sees this as the perfect way to get revenge. However, if he uses the letters for his own ends, he risks destroying a woman he's gradually coming to love.
Dream Casting: Ewan McGregor.
Christabel: I need to get invited to the party of a cunning gambler!
Gavin: You'll have to pretend you're my mistress.
Christabel: Okay, but no sex.
Gavin: Pretty please?
Christabel: NO MEANS NO.
Gavin: Please please please please please please pleaaaaaaaaaase?
Christabel: Okay, fine.
Gavin: Hooray! What's this, secret letters? REVENGE!
Christabel: That's it - NO MORE SEX.
Gavin: All right! All right! Burn the letters!
Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Fake Mistress
1 Horny Toad Hero with a Perma-Boner
1 Inconveniently Dead Parent (or IS she?)
1 Very Bad Parent
1 Romantically Lacklustre Rival
1 Very Bad Husband (deceased)
1 Bitchy McBitchface
Several Nasty Ex-Girlfriends
1 Game of Strip Whist
1 "No Sex" Agreement Doomed to Failure
The Word: This was my first Sabrina Jeffries novel, and while I wasn't particularly enamoured with this one, I'm already inspired to try more of her books because I received one for free in my RWA goodie bag and also because she gave a truly phenomenal and helpful workshop at RWA about creating a single-title romance series.
However, it was difficult to read One Night with a Prince, since the plot is superficially very similar to Gaelen Foley's The Duke which I really enjoyed. In both novels, the hero and heroine team up under the guise of the heroine being the hero's mistress to catch a nefarious individual.
In One Night with a Prince's case, Christabel, Marchioness of Haversham is in a serious bind. Recently widowed, she discovered her husband had sold a packet of letters belonging to her family that contained confidential information to the aforementioned nefarious individual to clear his prodigious gambling debts. The nefarious individual is now using these letters to blackmail the Prince Regent, and Prinny is breathing down Christabel's neck to get those letters back pronto.
The Prince Regent (who seems like a pretty organized guy in Jeffries' book) also contacts Gavin Byrne, his illegitimate son, to offer him a barony if he helps Christabel in her mission. The villain, it seems, is an infamous whist player whom Gavin has partnered on several occasions - so Gavin could, in theory, use his connections to help get Christabel invited to the villain's house party so she can recover the letters.
However, one can't be a real villain in a romance novel unless one is also a raging pervert, so, as Gavin gleefully explains to Christabel, in order to justify procuring an invitation for her, she has to pose as his mistress as well as his whist partner to fit in with the villain's sexually deviant circle of buddies. Christabel is shocked, but agrees. She already has no reputation to protect and she needs those letters to protect herself, her father, and the English crown. However, she insists that their relationship be in name only.
Gavin's inner response to this is, "Good luck with that, sugar tits." While the offer of a barony is indeed promising, he has a better idea of what to do with those letters: get his revenge on the father who ruined his life. His mother was an actress and onetime lover of the Prince Regent, who was supposed to provide her with a comfortable living. When Prinny married Maria Fitzherbert and was ordered to cast off his other mistresses, he tricked Gavin's mother into lying about her son's father, spread viscious rumours about what a whore she was to further discredit any ties to Gavin, and then cut off her living and left her destitute and lacking any way to legally obtain support for her son. Eventually she died in a slumhouse fire leaving an eight-year-old Gavin to survive on his own.
But, hey, just because he eventually plans to screw with the English line of succession with damning information (that would also implicate and disgrace Christabel's father, who was also involved), doesn't mean he can't try (and plead and cajole and seduce and beg) to get into Christabel's pants while he's at it. Gavin is one of the most oversexed romantic heroes I've come across and his single-minded determination to get under Christabel's skirts as well as the constant references to how many women he's banged (including an admittedly funny scene where Christabel finds herself in a room with no fewer than four of Gavin's ex-mistresses) was a little unsettling, and incredibly unattractive.
I wouldn't have minded so much if Gavin's horniness had taken a backseat to the plot, but the training he gives Christabel in whist-playing and his search for the letters isn't given near the amount of attention as his attempts to seduce Christabel, grope her in soft squishy places to make their relationship look more "authentic," or at least call attention to how incredibly horny he is for Christabel. Short of poking her in the eye with his enormous and ever-present erection, he makes sure Christabel is constantly aware of when he is aroused and how silly her refusals are. His "So what if I'm trying to ruin her family? What does that have to do with sex?" attitude gets annoying very fast.
Thank God Christabel says no. Despite her irritating name, I rather liked her as a heroine. While she came off as a little too spunky and self-righteous at the beginning (she once put a bullet hole through Gavin's hat when he tried to claim one of her husband's debts), her instinctive disapproval of "Gavin the amoral gambler" quickly phases into the much more understandable disapproval of "Gavin the manslut." While, yes, she does eventually capitulate to Gavin's "seduction by erosion" strategy, Gavin's manwhoring puts a very real stress on their relationship. While Christabel likes having sex with Gavin, she's not blind to his attitude to sex and has to struggle with how she can trust Gavin's seeming affection for her when he's bedded many (so very many) women.
But Christabel is also endearingly flawed - the daughter of an army General, she married the second son of peer, never expecting to become one herself, and feels uncomfortable in the presence of traditional and highborn girly-girls without seeming like a stereotypical and anachronistic tomboy character. I empathized with how she felt out of place, both socially and morally, amongst the glittering but catty ranks of the peerage. And while she enjoys the nookie, once she discovers the extent of Gavin's true intentions (and the futility of her attempts to dissuade him), she cuts him loose immediately, to Gavin's consternation and confusion.
Ultimately, it was Christabel who saved the book for me, because I never really "got" Gavin's transformation from a callous manslut to a lovable, affectionate and monogamous manslut. It was too much trouble to believe that such a drastic change would occur in a man who, for the first 75% of the novel, thinks it's okay to have sex with a woman he's going to destroy and that it's unbelievable a woman would let something as insignificant as trust get in the way of a good lay. And, hilariously, it's the threat of no more sex that finally "converts" Gavin - when he realizes his options are a) humiliate the Prince Regent and get no sex from Christabel ever again or b) accept a barony from the Prince Regent and have lots and lots of sex from a lady who gives great hand jobs, well, the choice is obvious isn't it? Well, officially the novel implies that Gavin realizes getting revenge ultimately wouldn't make his life any better (and in fact, would make it a great deal harder), but I saw it as Gavin realizing revenge would take away Christabel-nookie.
As for Sabrina Jeffries' writing - it wasn't that bad. She took what could have been a stultifyingly boring subplot (a whist tournament) and made it a significant part of the plot without burying the reader in a tedious description or explanation of the rules of whist. Also, I really appreciated how the protagonists from the previous novels in the Royal Brotherhood series get just enough screentime to explain their relationship to Gavin before they are whisked off never to be seen again. Ultimately, my main problem was with the hero, not with her writing style or plotting, so I'll still give her School for Heiresses series a shot.