Olivia West is an impoverished seamstress, and the daughter of a courtesan/actress. She’s desperately trying to make a living without resorting to selling her body the way her mother did. Olivia's mother was killed by an angry lover, so her reservations regarding men, especially seemingly violent ones, are understandable.
One night she meets Jasper Sinclair, twelfth Earl of Saxton. Jasper is a noble bad-boy, champing at the bit of his father’s domineering rule. Jasper mistakes Olivia for a prostitute (she lives in a disreputable part of London next to a brothel) and tries to buy her services for a night. Initially Olivia refuses his offer, then days later when her circumstances become dire, she strikes up a deal with one of the hookers at the bordello next door (like you do).
Olivia invites Jasper up to her room and gets him all hot and bothered, then blindfolds him and ties him to the bed. The prostitute then steps forward to finish the deed, but Jasper catches wise and threatens to have both women arrested.
Olivia escapes, and Jasper discovers a secret bare knuckles fight club where he releases his pent up tension. The first rule of Regency Fight Club: the gentlemen shall not discuss Regency Fight Club.
Later fate brings Olivia and Jasper back together again. Lady Louisa Merriweather, Jasper’s aunt, seeks out Olivia because she believes her to be the daughter of her late husband. Louisa’s husband had a tryst with Olivia’s mother before Louisa met him, and she later discovered documents hinting of a daughter. Louisa wants to take Olivia in, posing as cousin, partly because it’s what her husband would have wanted, and partly because she wants a piece of him nearby. Olivia becomes Louisa’s companion more or less and tries to navigate polite society without revealing her true identity. Jasper of course knows she’s not a cousin, and Louisa made Olivia promise not to tell him of his uncle’s liaison, so Jasper assumes she’s manipulating his aunt for financial gain. Got all of that? Also I think that makes Olivia and Jasper cousins by marriage, but, hey, it's the aristocracy, I guess.
There’s a lot of tension in this book, and not just sexual. Olivia is afraid of exposure and humiliation (and being sent back to the gutter), Jasper believes she is a liar and tries to discover her true identity, and Jasper’s family is all kinds of passive-aggressive dysfunctional. Jasper’s father more or less controls all aspects of his son’s life, and so the only place Jasper can find control himself is at the Regency Fight Club. The eighth rule of Regency Fight Club: if it is the gentleman's first time at Fight Club he must engage in fisticuffs.
To me Jasper read like a bomb about to go off; his emotions run high constantly (lots of punishing kisses in this book) and he punches a lot of other guys—and not just in fight club. Every other chapter seemed to have him in some physical altercation usually in defense of someone weaker (USE YOUR WORDS, JASPER). He balances his violent tendencies by rescuing the downtrodden—by the end of His Wicked Heart I thought Jasper probably had all the orphans and widows in London living in his care.
My only real complaint about this book was that I didn’t much care for Olivia. She was a milquetoast heroine to me. She seems content to play the part assigned to her—seamstress, companion, gently bred lady, etc. She never complains and more or less just goes with the flow. I understood her affection for Louisa, and her hesitation to rock the boat given her secret, but I never felt she had much in the way of a personality. Initially she dreams of opening a small embroidery shop, but when Louisa snatches her up, it’s all but forgotten. She’s almost painfully polite, even when other members of the ton are not. I think I actually found the woman Jasper’s father wants him to marry, Philippa Latham, more interesting; she was serene, yet had a surprisingly steely backbone.
His Wicked Heart is ultimately a Cinderella story—the good girl from bad circumstances behaves impeccably and wins the attention of the handsome prince. I enjoyed it, but found the heroine lacking.