Alternate Title: She's Having a Baby - Whether He Likes it or Not
The Chick: Helene, Countess Godwin. Married to the Earl of Godwin for ten years (but estranged for nine), Helene's desperate to have a baby - with her husband, if she absolutely must, but anyone with a penis will do.
The Rub: Her husband only agrees to get her with child if she promises to move back into their house ... where her husband's mistress still resides. And if she has a child with anyone else, the Earl will divorce her.
Dream Casting: Gwyneth Paltrow.
The Dude: Rees Holland, Earl Godwin. Ten years ago, he eloped with a sweet young girl who shared his love of music, only to discover she was really a gawky, frigid shrew (surprise?). Good thing he's an Earl and can just kick her out of the house!
The Rub: He's also a composer going through artist's block. He needs someone with Helene's expertise to help him finish his opera. Could she be persuaded to offer her talents in return for his Alpha Male sperm?
Dream Casting: Matt Damon.
Helene: I want a divorce.
Helene: I want a baby.
Helene: I want you to get rid of your mistress.
Helene: I want an orgasm.
Helene: Fine, I'll just have a baby with the sexy Earl of Mayne (future protagonist of Pleasure for Pleasure).
Rees: HELL TO THE NO.
Helene: FINE - do you just want me to leave?
Rees: ... no.
Helene: Let's stay together, then.
Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Year of Bad Sex
1 Lusty Opera Singer
1 Lustier Vicar
1 Secondary Romance (Opera Singer and Vicar)
1 Fabulous Makeover
1 Countrified Anti-Makeover
2 Lacklustre Romantic Rivals
1 Comic Opera
The Word: I read this book very quickly. The writing and the situation grabbed me and I devoured this novel within a relatively short amount of time. However, even while I was reading Your Wicked Ways, I realized it was literary cotton candy. There wasn't a lot of substance and I knew it wasn't good for me. While the writing was lovely and the situations entertaining, the plot, characterization - and worse, the romance - seemed underdeveloped.
Lady Helene, Countess Godwin, personally calls on her husband, Rees, to ask for a divorce. It's not the first time she's made the request, but it's the first time she's been desperate enough to ask him in person, in the very house he kicked her out of nine years ago to make room for his ladies of loose virtue. The reason for her desperation is plain: the swinging pendulum of her biological clock keeps poking her in the uterus every other second, and she knows she's not getting any pregnant-er in her estranged marriage to the Earl.
Rees refuses - partly because he feels it's not worth the expense or scandal, but mostly because he doesn't give a shit so long as his own life is comfortable. And it is - sort of. Mostly. If one considers living in a filthy house (because the outraged servants left) filled with crumpled sheets of paper (his operatic work-in-progress ain't going so well) and a bored opera singer (hired for her musical, rather than sexual, assets) comfortable.
Outraged but undaunted, Helene is determined to become preggers by any means possible. She doesn't need her husband - she just needs a man. Any man. She'll do anything - even if it means cutting off about four feet of hair, drastically changing her style, and wearing a sexy gown to parties. Rees comes to his senses when he realizes Helene's planning to turn her womb into a public attraction and steps in with an offer she can't really refuse: he'll sire her child, and in return, she has to return to their house - even though his mistress is still in residence. If she doesn't agree, then no deal - and if she gets pregnant by another man, Rees will divorce her and leave her destitute.
Rees sees this as an excellent way to kill three birds with one stone: 1) he shuts up his wife, 2) he protects his line of succession, and 3) he can use her musical talents to spruce up his sagging opera. Despite the painful humiliation of such an arrangement, Helene agrees, but is determined to keep her presence in Rees' house a secret to protect her reputation.
Let's start with what I liked about the novel. Eloisa James' writing is as sparkling, detailed, and humorous as always, and the problems surrounding Rees and Helene's marital discord is a unique one: Rees is bad at sex. And I mean bad. Even his mistress doesn't have anything nice to say about it. Essentially, the failure of Rees and Helene's first sexual encounters sparked an escalating round of asshole one-upmanship as each protagonist threw acid on the other's self-esteem and pride to cover up for their own feelings of incompetence. Rees convinced Helene she's an unattractive, frigid stick; Helene convinced Rees he's a disgusting pervert and a second-rate composer, etc.
Rees is a definite change from the run-of-the-mill Dukes of Slut who are born with an issue of Cosmo in one hand and a GoogleMap to the Clitoris in the other. He doesn't have an instinctive knowledge of what women like in bed, so he has to go out of his way to explore and find ways to make sex enjoyable for Helene, and his attempts are very sweet as well as romantic. I also liked Rees' mistress, Lina. Helene moving into the house creates an intriguing conflict in Lina's character that makes her secondary romance with Tom, Rees' vicar brother, just as engaging (if not more so) then Rees and Helene's reconciliation.
So, what didn't I like? Well, Helene and Rees. While they both redeem themselves admirably enough by novel's end, for the better half of the book they are pretty unlikeable people. As harsh as this may seem, Helene really does act like a shrew and her obsessive need for a baby comes across as selfish at worst and shortsighted at best. She harps at her girlfriends and nearly destroys her friendship with BFF Esme twice when her jealous ranting about her friends' happiness goes too far.
But she can't HELP being a bitch, SHE NEEDS A BABY. She'll jump on any dude with a penis - who cares if her husband's concerned a bastard will become his heir? ARISTOCRATIC RESPONSIBILITIES DON'T MATTER - SHE NEEDS A BABY. Who cares if her child might grow up in poverty if Rees divorces her for adultery, that her child might be shunned by society for being a bastard, that her child might not have any marriage prospects thanks to his/her mother's reputation? WHO CARES ABOUT HER CHILD?! SHE NEEDS A BABY! The prospect of motherhood seemed to be all about her, her, her.
However, as irritating as Helene was in the first half of the novel, Rees is worse. On top of the bad sex, he's just a jerk. A workaholic striving to finish his opera before deadline, he ignores or insults pretty much everyone who's not serving his immediate needs. He orders Helene to come back to the house to help him with his opera, but insists Lina stay in residence so that he can call on her to sing the parts whenever he wants. Never mind that Helene finds living with her husband's old ho (no matter that they aren't sleeping together anymore) understandably humiliating. Never mind that Lina is bored out of her skull, would rather return to her old job, and (as we discover later) is allowed out of the house so rarely that no one in London knows what Rees' mistress looks like (creeeeeeepy).
While both characters change, adapt, and improve by novel's end (particularly Helene, who eventually loses both her baby-mama-drama and the stick up her ass), it seemed like too little, too late. The novel is 351 pages long but I still felt not enough time was spent on the romance. The first half of the book is spent with the hero and heroine hating each other, and bitterly bitching about their hatred for each other to their various friends and confidants. The romance doesn't really get going until the halfway mark, and even then Rees and Helene's re-romance has to share space with Lina and Tom's relationship.
My lack of conviction in Rees and Helene's HEA is further compounded by how murky their personal history remained throughout the novel. The rocky start of their marriage is a huge issue they still have to deal with, but it's only vaguely described. We discover only half-heard snippets of how they fell in love in the first place, why and how they eloped, and (the most glaring omission of all) we never actually discover why Rees kicked Helene out of the house to begin with!
So while I found Your Wicked Ways unique and sweet, it still left me somewhat unsatisfied. I grew to like the flawed characters - Helene's desire for a baby is subtly revealed to
be a deepseated need for companionship and affection rather than maternal instinct. Once she and Rees start growing closer, she sees herself more as a woman and less as an empty womb. However, the ending left me with too many unanswered questions.