This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Patricia M. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Historical Romance category.
Felix Rivendale, the Marquess of Wrenworth, is The Ideal Gentleman, a man all men want to be and all women want to possess. Felix himself almost believes this golden image. But underneath is a damaged soul soothed only by public adulation.
Louisa Cantwell needs to marry well to support her sisters. She does not, however, want Lord Wrenworth—though he seems inexplicably interested in her. She mistrusts his outward perfection and the praise he garners everywhere he goes.But when he is the only man to propose at the end of the London season, she reluctantly accepts.
Louisa does not understand her husband's mysterious purposes, but she cannot deny the pleasure her body takes in his touch. Nor can she deny the pull this magnetic man exerts upon her. But does she dare to fall in love with a man so full of dark secrets, anyone of which could devastate her, if she were to get any closer?
And here is Patricia's review:
I am a sucker for a really well phrased sentence, a bon mot of a sentence, and The Luckiest Lady in London is filled with them. One exquisite (to me anyway) example: “Love was like smallpox: Even the survivors did not escape unscathed.” Sherry Thomas, who is not a native English speaker, can craft such beautiful phrases and her book, while having characters who go through serious issues and grow, is just plain fun to read. She turns on its head many tropes and stereotypes found in romance books while providing a very satisfying romance.
The heroine, Louisa Cantwell, is from an impoverished, but very loving family. She sees it as her duty to marry well so that she can care for the family that lives on an annuity that will end with her mother’s death, hopefully well in the future. She spends years in practical preparation for her season and is very clear sighted about what she needs to succeed, including very powerful bust improvers. She intends to marry money but will not be a martyr, a particularly refreshing attitude in a romance heroine. Her aims are realistic, a man who has five thousand pounds a year. When she finds out the terms of her marriage settlement in which she will have that amount as pin money, she is gleeful that “she will be her own rich man”.
The hero, Felix Rivendale, barely survived an emotionally abusive childhood and his goal, once his parents were dead, was to ruthlessly protect himself from any situation where he could be in danger of such abuse again. He creates the persona of The Ideal Gentleman and, until Louisa Cantwell, no one sees through that façade. As he observes of himself, “Everything he did in life – with the exception of his astronomical interests perhaps – was in the pursuit of power. Personal power, the ability to hold others in his thrall while he himself remained serenely unaffected.”
Most of the story revolves around Felix losing power to Louisa, reacting very badly when he realizes the loss, trying to get back power and finally embracing the changes necessary to give to Louisa gladly power over him and to obtain the lasting joy of a balanced relationship.
Louisa, practically at first sight, falls into lust for Felix but also sees into his depths to realize that The Ideal Gentleman has something very wrong at his core. She sees him for the manipulative scoundrel that he is so she immediately loses interest in him. Felix is fascinated by a woman who genuinely wants nothing to do with him but desires him anyway. The two have very frank discussions that would never have happened if Louisa were trying to ensnare him into marriage which further draws Felix in. Felix makes a disreputable offer to Louisa which leads to some very open discussions. The frankly sexual discussions are much more sensual than all out sex scenes in other books as each seduces the other with words and fantasies. Felix changes his offer to one of marriage and Louisa is called the Luckiest Lady in London since she is marrying The Ideal Gentleman.
Felix, to win back Louisa after some very bad behavior on his part, has to learn compassion for others and to put someone else first before his interests. He has to learn what love truly is.
Louisa calls him on his bad behavior, at one point telling him, “I could live with a scoundrel, but not a cheater”. When he tries to claim he loves her, she rightly tells him that he has not been demonstrating love. That while her experience of love is that found in a family, “All love should meet a minimum standard”.
Felix eventually comes to the understanding that he has to show love and to do that, he has to put Louisa and her desires first, regardless of whether he would benefit. He tries to give to Louisa something that she truly desires, instruction in astronomy, without expectations of gain for himself, which lead to some very sexy times even if that were not his goal. Louisa finds out about the abuse of his childhood, which helps her to understand him, but she does not excuse his bad behavior, also a refreshing attitude. Eventually Felix becomes a better person as he works to regain Louisa. It is a lovely moment when Louisa realizes that he has grown and that she can trust him finally and fully. These are two people who understand each other and are better together than apart.