I had lots of things to do this weekend: I had Christmas cookies to bake, presents to wrap, pictures of Matt Bomer to Google. Instead I spent almost the entire weekend on the couch reading the Rules of Scoundrels series by Sarah MacLean.
I started this series after listening to Sarah's interview with MacLean on the podcast. I was intrigued by the idea of a story set in a gaming hell (casino) since I've reached my Regency/ballroom saturation point. This series did not disappoint. It was everything I love in a historical romance without the overused tropes flooding the market.
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished was my favorite of the three books due primarily to the awesomeness of the hero and heroine. All three books center around a gaming hell called the Fallen Angel. Temple, known as the Killer Duke, is a bare-knuckles boxing champion. If any member of the club loses their entire fortune, they can win it all back by beating Temple in the ring; so far no one has accomplished this. Temple is big and imposing and has tattoos. He's quite scary in a delicious sort of way. Like the other four founders of the Fallen Angel, he's also scarred.
Temple believes he may have killed his father's fiance. His dad, the late duke, was on his sixth (and much younger wife) when Temple got black-out drunk at the pre-wedding festivities. He went to bed with a beautiful woman and woke up alone and covered in blood. Turns out that woman was his future stepmother. Shamed, disowned and reeling he descended into London's underground where he fought to stay alive (literally and figuratively). Chase, the founder of the Fallen Angel, rescued him.
If you're wondering why Temple was never tried for murder, being the son of a duke has its perks, I guess. Also there was never a body, and if I've learned anything from Law and Order it's that it's really hard to win a murder case without a body.
Fast forward to the present day. Temple is now the Duke of Lamont (or would be if he opted to join society) and is still believed to be guilty of murder. Christopher Lowe, the brother of the woman he murdered, has lost his entire fortune to the Fallen Angel. He wants to fight Temple, but Temple refuses due to their sordid history. Then Temple is approached my a mysterious woman. It's Mara Lowe, the woman he thought he killed. Obviously she's very much alive, and she's been in hiding for the past twelve years.
Mara offers to reveal herself to society, clearing Temple's name, but only if he forgives her brother's debts. Needless to say, Temple is pretty pissed off. Along with being cast aside by society and enduring whispered accusations for the past decade, he's also questioned his own innocence. Temple agrees to Mara's plan, but only on his conditions. He insists that she pose as his mistress, appearing in public while wearing a mask. When he feels she's been sufficiently scandalized, they'll do the big reveal thereby ruining in her in the eyes of the ton.
If the plot sounds kind of convoluted, it is. It's the typical I-will-get-my-revenge-by-pretending-to-sleep-with-you plot that appears a lot in Harlequin Presents. It never entirely made sense to me. The thing that MacLean does differently, though, is make her characters victims of their own machinations. Temple gets tangled in his own quest for revenge, and Mara is trapped in the lies she created twelve years before.
So what has Mara been doing all this time? Why running a house for orphaned boys, of course. She also has a pig named Lavender. There are some ovary-exploding scenes where Temple bonds with the young orphans and teaches them to be gentlemen.
Neither Temple nor Mara fit into Society anymore, and neither of them particularly want to. They've also been living on the fringes for the past decade (Mara out of necessity and Temple out of choice). This, combined with lots of unresolved sexual tension, starts to draw them closer together.
There's a morass of emotional issues to work though in this book, mostly on Temple's part since he's doing the “I've been wronged and am now hardened and will never have feels again” routine. Mara needs to account for her behavior. When Mara's reasons for faking her death are revealed they make sense and serve to make her a more sympathetic character.
I loved this book because Mara and Temple were complicated, interesting characters without falling into stereotypes. Temple is an alpha-male, but he displays his soft side in heart melting scenes. Mara is the feisty, independent heroine without any foot-stamping or TSTL moments. No Good Duke Goes Unpunished also features the hottest sex scene I've ever read in a Regency. It's scorching, but not explicit the way erotica is.
The only thing I didn't like about this book was the ending felt off. I thought there was emotional resolution, then a couple of chapters of the hero and heroine being stupid before they got together. It seemed unnecessarily drawn out.
If you're looking for a different Regency then this book, and this entire series, is the way to go. The setting of the Fallen Angel provides a dark, delicious counterpoint to all the ballrooms and house-parties I've been reading lately. I'm super excited for the fourth, forthcoming book in the series. The big reveal about the Angel's founder, Chase, is indeed big. I feel a case of New Book Tuesday Flu coming on…