Alternative Title: Stalker, London Rager
The Chick: Maura Keighly. Twelve years ago, when she caught her aunt and her stepson knockin' boots, she lied about what really happened to protect her aunt, even though the stepson wasn't at fault. Now, she and her family are in London, and the stepson (Lord Everod) returns to settle the score - with seduction, preferably.
The Rub: Even though she knows now what really happened twelve years ago, Maura still loves her Aunt Georgette. She also still likes Everod, even though he makes it clear that he plans to ruin her.
Dream Casting: Gemma Arterton.
The Dude: Townsend Lidsaw, Viscount Everod. When he was but a lad of sixteen, his stepmother seduced him. When they were caught, the stepmum cried rape and her niece Maura supported her side of the story. Thanks to them, Everod was maimed and banished from the family.
The Rub: Now that the family's in London (his turf), he means to get his revenge. But - but Maura's just so pretty! What will he do?
Dream Casting: Tom Hardy.
Aunt Georgette, Evil MILF: Now it's time for a London season, Maura!
Everod: *pops in* Psst, Maura...I know what do you did last summer, uh, I mean, last summer twelve years ago.
Maura: Eek! I am terrified, but strangely attracted to him!
Georgette: Stay away, he's a rake!
Everod's Friends' Wives: Stay away, he's a rake!
Everod himself: Stay away, I'm a rake!
Maura: Oh, but surely despite his words, deeds, and reputation, he must be a good person inside!
Everod's Friends Wives: You're a moron.
Everod: Good enough for me!
Everod and Maura: *sexx0r*
Everod: AWRIGHT! I TAPPED THAT, BITCHES!
Everod's Friends Wives: Butler! Our gelding knives!
Everod: SHIT - Maura, will you marry me?
Maura: Sure, fine.
Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Evil MILF
1 Fake Rape
1 Evil Brother
3 Sensible Wives
1 Use of Bondage
1 Unhygenic Use of Food for Erotic Purposes
1 Bludgeoned Confession
1 Drunken Confession
1 Big Misunderstanding
The Word: Okay, my readers know I hated on the prologue of this book pretty hardcore, so when I saw this book at the library, I thought it was my responsibility to read it and see if it was as bad as I thought it was going to be. The good news is that what I found icky in the prologue was mostly taken out of context and makes more sense in the long run. The bad news is that this book found a myriad other ways to be terrible.
In the ghastly prologue which turned me off before, Townsend Lidsaw, Viscount Everod, is booted out of the family mansion while still recovering from the hideous throat wound his father gave him in a fit of rage when he caught his son having sex with his new wife - Everod's stepmother, Evil MILF Extraordinaire, Georgette. While Everod was a willing participant in their lovemaking, he was pretty young when it happened, so his purply-written wrath at Maura, the evil MILF's 10-year-old niece who supported Georgette's story that it was rape, not adultery, is pretty justified for a boy at that age who's just been through what he's been through.
Twelve years pass, and in the first couple of chapters, my expectations were lifted significantly as many things appeared to be better off than I thought they would be. After twelve years, the Evil MILF and Everod's dad the Earl are still in what appears to be a very happy, amorous relationship. Maura and Georgette also share a fond, loose mother-daughter bond - even though Maura now realizes that Georgette had manipulated her in the whole Everodgate scandal, Georgette still had a hand in raising her instead of her absent-minded scientist parents, and didn't do that terrible of a job. Wh-whaaat? You cry. A villain who's a good mother figure? You don't say!
However, now that they are in London, Everod means to get his revenge. While reading the backcover blurb and the prologue, I was creeped out that Everod wanted to avenge himself sexually on a woman who'd committed her betrayal when she was ten. However, in the first couple of chapters, the author reveals Everod's motives are somewhat less narrow than that. While he hates the Evil MILF with the fire of a thousand suns, he's also harboured a burning anger against his whole family, because they all chose to believe the stepmother over their own flesh and blood.
He sees seducing Maura as the big-ass stone that will bring down all three birds - firstly, Georgette, who cares for Maura dearly and wants to see her satisfactorily married; secondly, his family, who will be humiliated to have their dearest virginal lamb shorn by their supposedly rape-happy black sheep; and thirdly, Maura herself, who lied in her testimony and whom, Everod assumes, cannot have been raised by Georgette these last twelve years without turning into a Deceitful Lying Whore herself, so he's doing the world a favour.
Maura, while remaining loyal to Georgette, still feels guilty over what Everod went through thanks to her, so when he corners her in a bookstore when she gets to London, she wants to give him a chance, even though she's heard terrible stories about Everod's rakehell ways with his buddies, who all form a group called les sauvages nobles.
And now the book starts taking a downturn. While she wants to rekindle a friendship with Everod, Maura wants to tread carefully because she knows her family would be very distressed to learn she's been hanging with the Black Sheep. Yeah, um, Everod doesn't want to do things carefully.
Everod was a real problem for me in his seduction of Maura. With so many huge obstacles set between him and Maura's maidenhead (family history, old hurts, propriety, and the fact that he pretty much tells her every fifth page that he's a minute away from pasting "PROPERTY OF EVEROD" on her ass with his LabelMaker), I expected him to use cunning or charm or wit to snare Maura's affections. Nope - charm and cunning are for sissies, scoffs Everod, not me, an Alpha Male! Seriously, this dude makes the average Lisa Kleypas hero look like a shy country gentleman.
For me, however, that wasn't a turn on. It actually made him more creepy and threatening. First off - he essentially stalks Maura. After meeting her in the bookstore, he sends her gifts intentionally chosen to remind her of the day she betrayed him (like a page turner in the shape of the blade that sliced his neck, for instance). When she sends them back, he has his secret paid spies who are staffed in her own house replace the items in her bedroom. He also shows an unsettling finesse for breaking into the house and the grounds without ever getting caught. He apparently possesses the ability to teleport because nearly all of his scenes begin with him popping up behind Maura when she least expects it, after eavesdropping on her conversations for a few minutes.
Secondly, whenever he's actually with Maura, his seduction methods are physically forceful and aggressive. While he never irrevocably crosses the line between "forceful seduction" and "flat-out rape, y'all", he dances around it too often to be attractive. Instead of plying her with words, more often he applies physical force on her - restraining her wrists, forcing his way into her carriage, trapping her against columns and walls, forcing his mouth on hers, etc, and he always disregards her discomfort and attempts to resist. And she does resist - in the first half of the novel she physically and verbally makes it very clear that his actions are unwelcome, even as her treacherous girly heart is all a-twitter.
When we see things from Everod's point of view, it's just as creepy - he labels her struggles as "charming," convinces himself her heart consents even if her mouth and body don't, and proceeds to ignore everything she says until he gives her an orgasm. Once he has her, he's also violently jealous and possessive - towards her, as well as other guys. To me, his sense of possession over Maura sounded less like, "You're mine, beloved, you belong to me," and more like "You're mine, sugar tits, deal with it." Now, I know that this type of seduction is a point of contention in romance circles, ultimately coming down to taste. Me, I don't like it. I don't like it, Sam I Am, I do not like Rape Eggs and Ham.
And all of this serves to make Maura look like a doormat. Given that everyone and his dog tells her that Everod's out to steal her virginity out of spite, and that he's repeatedly shown that he's unwilling to respect the barrier of her consent, I couldn't understand why she continually contrived to be alone with him. Even Everod's close personal friends are warning her away from him, and yet she still doesn't listen. At one point in the novel, she wonders whether she should judge what people say about Everod or whether should she judge Everod's own actions, and I wanted to scream: "Sure! Pay attention to his actions! Like how he sneaks into your room! Like how he spies on you! Like how he treats you like an object! Like how he disregards everything you say!"
Ultimately, when the time came for Maura and Everod to get down to business (lady business, awright), I just couldn't believe her motivations. Desire, in my mind, is not enough of an excuse or a motivator to relinquish your virginity to a man who's told you point-blank barely a chapter before that he has no intention of marrying you, oh, and that he borderline hates you and everyone you hold dear and thinks "no" means "yes."
And Georgette. Oh, Georgette, you despicable Evil MILF. She was a continual disappointment, mostly because whenever I thought Barbara Pierce might be making her into a three-dimensional character something comes up that reveals, nope, I was right the first time, she's just plan eeeeeevil. First - there's the fact that at the novel's start, her husband still adores her after twelve years of marriage. That kind of affection over that length of time isn't achieved through lust alone - surely she must be doing something right. Second, she's shown to have an interest in herbs, and has made lots of medicines that she uses to help her staff. Really? You mean she has actual skills and interests that lie outside hatching evil schemes? Third, she cares for Maura and wants to see her safely married, and at least some of her fears at Everod's return concern Maura's reputation as well as her own.
But it doesn't take too long before we're shown she still fucks everyone with a penis (you know how dem evil womens luv the secks), she's using her herbs to poison people, and she wants to marry Maura to Everod's brother Rowan (whom she's planning to fuck herself on the sly). Cue massive eye-rolling. Okay, so she still cares a bit about Maura, but the novel never spends a lot of time exploring this, preferring to make her the eviliest person she can possibly be because that means the ending can be more pat.
And oh God, don't even get me started on the ending. I've encountered conclusions I've felt have gone on a little too long, but I've never encountered one that happened too soon. This one gave me a bare page to enjoy an HEA (however contrived) before END SCENE. I felt the ending came out of nowhere, way before the hero and heroine properly recovered from a huge relationship dust-up only a chapter before. It was based on a split-second decision, and never resolved one of the book's biggest conflicts - namely, a reconciliation between between Everod and his family, particularly his father. I don't care if I'm spoiling this, because if anyone wants to read this book wanting to find out what happens when the truth comes out, I'm saving you 306 pages.
There's such a massive build-up of bad blood between Everod, his father and his brother thanks to Georgette's lies, that I simply couldn't imagine the book would never deal with this.When Everod (literally) chokes the truth out of Georgette, Daddy Dearest's unconscious and Little Bro's in Scotland vomiting up his own deus ex machina confession to Maura. So on top of a terrible plot, we don't even get a resolved terrible plot! Three-quarters of the way through the novel, the one thing that kept me eagerly reading was the expectation of the scene where Everod's father and brother would have the chance to react to the truth about Georgette, and come to terms with the fact that they exiled a loved one while cherishing a viper in their midst. This never happens. It's not even that they don't try to forgive Everod - it's that the book ends before they can. What the HELL?
For the more nitpicky things I disliked about the novel - have I mentioned how I hate it whenever Everod's man-team name les sauvages nobles comes up? The French-immersion-taught child in me screams at the grammatical error - it's nobles sauvages! Not sauvages nobles! Quel dommage! Also, while the historical setting is for the most part solid, a few words stuck out - were children described as "kids" way back when? As in "she wants to have a dozen kids"?
And as for the sex scenes - there's a particular one that I'm sure the author thought was steaming hot but I just thought was gross. Not in the raunchy way, though. In one scene, the hero, being the creative bloke he is, ties Maura up and applies strawberry jam to a particularly sensitive part of her feminine anatomy - this didn't make me think, "ooooh, tasty." It made me think, "Ew! Seeds! SEEDS!" and of that one episode of House where the patient comes in with a nasty yeast infection because she mistook strawberry jelly for prophylactic jelly.
Now, on to the things that I did like about the novel - it's obvious that this is the latest book in a series, because a great deal of the secondary characters show up, dragging their backstories behind them. However, instead of finding them grating, they were rather charming. Particularly the wives of the other sauvage nobles. Everod made it pretty clear to just about everyone what his dastardly plans for Maura were, and while his male BFFs hemmed and hawed and shook their fingers disapprovingly at him, the wives refused to deal with Everod's bullshit and teamed up to properly warn Maura. It wasn't their fault Maura was a besotted doormat with a "kick-me" sign on her back. Also, when Everod makes his Big Mistake near the end of the novel, none of the wives are willing to brook his excuses, and justifiably treat him like shit, which I admired. It almost wants to make me read their respective books.
So, yeah, the novel wasn't about a guy who gets off on choking ten-year-old girls. Hurray! Sadly, it is about a man who manipulates and bullies a pliant, gullible, and waaaay too trusting woman into a sexual relationship in order to revenge himself on his family. The characters were poorly motivated, unpleasant, and the plot was unevenly structured - the final chapters squeezed in far too many left-field developments (including a secret villain) only to end abruptly. This was Everod's book - was it too much to ask that his entire story be told? C-.