A decade ago, the Marquess of Bourne was cast from society with nothing but his title. Now a partner in London’s most exclusive gaming hell, the cold, ruthless Bourne will do whatever it takes to regain his inheritance—including marrying perfect, proper Lady Penelope Marbury.
A broken engagement and years of disappointing courtships have left Penelope with little interest in a quiet, comfortable marriage, and a longing for something more. How lucky that her new husband has access to such unexplored pleasures.
Bourne may be a prince of London’s underworld, but he vows to keep Penelope untouched by its wickedness—a challenge indeed as the lady discovers her own desires, and her willingness to wager anything for them… even her heart.
And here is rayvyn2k's review:
Eight years after being jilted by the Duke of Leighton (aka The Duke of Disdain, the hero in Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart) ( A | BN | K | ARe | iB ), Lady Penelope Needham has resigned herself to life as a spinster. But, Penelope is no ordinary spinster. She is a spinster with dreams of more. More than being the well behaved, well-spoken, well-bred, perfectly perfect young lady of the ton she was brought up to be. After all, what did that earn for her in the past except humiliation and scandal?
Her father, the Marquess of Needham and Dolby, has other ideas. He has obtained and attached the neighboring estate of Falconwell, the pride of the Marquessate of Bourne, to Penelope's dowry in an effort to attract suitable suitors in spite of her scandalous broken engagement. After all, he has two other daughters to marry off, and the scandal that clings to his eldest has “…cast a pall…” over the others. The double Marquess is a wily man who may be playing a deeper game than anyone knows.
When her father informs Penelope that he has added Falconwell to her dowry, she recalls her childhood friend, Michael, the rogue in the title and the Marquess of Bourne. The man who lost everything nine years ago on a turn of the cards to his former guardian, Viscount Langford.
Michael has not gambled since…until he took the biggest gamble of his life by marrying Penelope.
I loved this book. There is a marriage of convenience (my own personal romance catnip if done well—and it is done very well here), and a hero and heroine who are both struggling with devastating self-esteem issues. Add childhood friendships, meddling friends and family members and you have my perfect story.
This book made me laugh and it brought me to the verge of tears more than once. These two people have been so damaged by events in both their pasts that neither one believes they are worthy of love. Sarah MacLean's fantastic writing reveals their individual pain so skillfully that the reader feels both anger and then sympathy for both Michael and Penelope as we come to know them better. The letters featured at the beginning of many of the chapters provide insight into their past relationship with an economy of words I envy.
Michael intentionally compromises Penelope in order to force her to marry him. His initial goal is to recover Falconwell, but his underlying motivation is to ruin Viscount Langford, the man who took it from him all those years ago. And the Marquess of Needham and Dolby has the proof Michael needs to utterly destroy the man he hates. The fact that another of his childhood friends, Thomas Alles, the viscount's son, will also be destroyed is collateral damage Michael is willing to ignore.
Unaware of Michael's secondary goal, Penelope strikes a bargain that she will agree to marry him as long as her ruin does not affect her sister's reputations. In order to accomplish their goal, they decide to feign a love match in order to keep the ton from knowing that Michael only married her to get Falconwell back.
Penelope is a heroine with a backbone, which I loved. She tries again and again to find in the adult Michael the boy she once knew, only to be disappointed by his seemingly uncaring rebuffs. She doesn't realize he is trying to protect her from himself in the misguided belief that he destroys everything he has ever cared about. She stands up to him, ordering him not to touch her after one particularly devastating event. Penelope loves how he makes her feel physically, but she realizes that if she continues to give in to those feelings, her own heart will be forfeit. I loved that this heroine took this stand and didn't give in, even when she wanted to.
Of course, it helped so much that Michael actually respected Penelope enough to obey her wishes. He did not touch her again until she asked him to. This was such a refreshing change from many of the books I've read lately, where the hero seduces the heroine whether she wants him to or not. I was so glad I didn't have to growl (as is my wont) “Just bite him on the lip, knee him in the privates, scratch his face—oh crap she's giving in!”
The respect Michael has for Penelope is utterly real and beautifully written. When he realizes he loves her, the way he throws himself into wooing her is exhilarating. Equally good is the fact that Penelope doesn't forgive him or trust him immediately. She has been hurt by him too often and is now very wary. She makes him work to regain her trust. When she accepts him again, it's on her terms. She has become strong—strong enough to play the winning card. And he has become confident enough to let her.
The secondary characters are woven skillfully into the story and work as characters in their own right, not just sequel fodder. (The fact that they are, indeed, sequel fodder is only to the good, as far as I'm concerned. I have already read the second in this series, which is another book of awesome.)
One of the themes of this book is “don't risk what you can't afford to lose”. I never risk anything when I read one of Sarah MacLean's books. I always win, every time.