A Shocking Delight
Signet Select / April 1, 2014 / $7.99 print / digital
David Kerslake, smuggling master from The Dragon's Bride, is now Earl of Wyvern and must survive the ton as well as the Preventive Officers.
Lucy Potter, daughter of a wealthy merchant, is more interested in trade than in the men after her dowry. When forced to have a London season, she sets out to enjoy herself rather than to find a husband. But once she meets the notorious Earl of Wyvern, her resolve weakens, and when they kiss, it dissolves—even though her instincts warn he’s dangerous.
Wyvern has a dark secret, which means he must win a rich bride. Lucinda Potter seems ideal. Not for her beauty and her lively charm, but because at first meeting she seems unlikely to realize the truth.
As he comes to know her, however, as they spar and kiss, he realizes she’s too clever and honest by far. Marrying Lucy would mean living a lie with the woman he has come to love....
Lovers of Jo Beverley’s Regency Rogue series have waited seven long years for David Kerslake’s story. Was it worth it? Oh, yes. Let’s reenter Beverley’s Regency world.
Lucinda Potter, like her late aristocratic mother, has “the sort of looks that made people think her empty-headed.” Looks are deceiving, however, because Lucinda is fascinated by business. Before her mother’s death, her lowborn father Daniel had risen to become an extremely successful London merchant, gradually permitting Lucy to “conduct some small pieces of business herself, choosing cargos at auction and finding good markets for them.” Lucinda hopes that after a period of mourning that her father will again invite her into his exciting City world, but then he announces that he plans to remarry a neighborhood widow. He wants conventionality, companionship and a male heir to his fortune. So even though Lucinda’s dowry of thirty thousand pounds is substantial, she foresees a life that is not to her liking, reduced to being an unmarried daughter in an altered family household. Seeing it as the lesser of two unpleasant options, Lucy wisely accepts her aristocratic Aunt Mary’s invitation to enjoy the London season.
Lucy’s friend Betty knows the distance between their neighborhood and the fashionable part of London is so much more than three miles, “…you’ll be going to a world as different as America.” Lucy decides to open herself up to enjoyment, for a time, much as a tourist might.
“… I might enjoy some parts of it. I’ve been to assemblies and private dance parties, but never to a ball in a grand house. There’ll be Venetian breakfasts and musical evenings featuring the finest performers, not to mention rubbing shoulders with dukes and dandies.”
The key word is performers. Lucinda, with her delightful dowry, attractive blonde looks, and perfect manners, prepares to perform a part, slipping into the role of an insipid and empty-headed young woman, enjoying herself in a world of frivolity. In preparing Lucinda for her ton debut, her Aunt Mary advises her to tamp down any “suggestions of cleverness” and to be less direct in her manner, since as the daughter of a Cit, she’ll be scrutinized very closely.
“I understand, Aunt. I’ll attempt to be as brainless as a bird and as decisive as a pudding.”
Like Lucinda, David Kerslake-Somerford has also had his life overturned. In the space of a year he has gone from being the estate manager for the Earl of Wyvern to inheriting the earldom. He is a reluctant heir at best, thinking, “What sane man would want the responsibility of a bankrupt and neglected estate?” Add to his burdens his position as Captain Drake, head of the local gang of smugglers, and you have a young man who has to be all things to all people.
Taking counsel from his neighbor Nicholas Delaney, King Rogue, David decides his top priority is to parlay his title into money for the estate. He rather cold-bloodedly decides to hunt down known heiress Lucinda Potter. He says to Nicholas,
“… I’m working on improving things now, but I need money in the meantime. Let’s hope Papa Potter approves my businesslike approach.”
“What of Miss Potter? Doesn’t she get her say?”
“Favoring the rights of women again? Judging by my experiences, she’ll trip over her feet in the rush to agree.”
David thinks a City woman will be even more enraptured by a title than a tonnish one. After his man of business reports that Miss Potter frequents bookshops and peruses gothic novels, David is even more optimistic that she’ll be of a romantic nature, easily distracted, someone who “won’t wonder why her husband is often absent on moonless nights.” In short, a fool.
Lucy decides to play along when she discovers her cousin Clara and her aunt are addicted to the sentimental poetry of Sebastian Rossiter. Off she goes to buy some equally sentimental novels. Who else should be at her favorite bookstore but a tall gentleman wearing leather breeches and top boots?
Unbeknownst to Lucinda, it’s the newly-minted earl all of London is talking about. She is tempted by the look of the unusually vigorous, handsome young man but “she’d long known that to marry would undermine her ambitions to become a merchant and she was armored against good looks and even charm.”
But neither David nor Lucinda is immune to the charm of good conversation. They talk about everything from Othello to free trading to the horrors of love as portrayed in a gothic novel. Two strangers talking about books—could anything be more conducive to romance? When David says farewell, “it seemed as if he might say more” and Lucinda acknowledges in her heart that she hoped she’d see him again.
Still strangers to each other when they separately attend Lady Charrington’s ball, Lucinda and David are buffed and polished to a high sheen. All London knows about Lucinda’s dowry and she is swarmed at the ballroom. She overhears two suitors are prepared to fight a duel for her favors. Aghast, she decides to storm the gentlemen’s smoking room to nip this disastrous idea in the bud. But someone, the man from Winsom’s bookshop, has matters well in hand. After hearing his reprimand, the rivals slip away sheepishly but Lucy is transfixed by what she sees.
The honey-brown hair was now impeccably barbered, and his dark evening clothes were in the latest style, but she recognized those blue-gray eyes in that tanned face, even though they were now fixed on her coldly.
“The Gilded Aphrodite, I believe,” he said.
She flicked open her fan in defense. “Please, sir, if I must be a goddess, let it at least be a golden one.”
“Appropriate, Miss Potter, given the size of your dowry.”
“Which you know because you consulted a list of the largest dowries available and then lurked near my home. A despicable hunt, wouldn’t you say?”
Both Lucinda and David feel betrayed and deceived. Lucinda had liked the forthright young man she met at the bookstore and had been looking for him at every ton event. David too had admired the intelligent, attractive conversationalist he spoke with in the stacks. When he sees her in all her gilded splendor, he looks her over and says, “Quite a transformation, ma’am.” This is not the silly and frivolous heiress his sister Susan had met and spoken of to him. Lucinda thinks that he has deviously transformed himself into a fortune hunter. She can’t understand why he isn’t even being courteous to her. Anger and attraction fire between them. David is “furious that he was still susceptible to her, even when he knew her true colors.” He cannot pretend that she’s a romantic fool with a large dowry.
Despite their supposed mutual dislike, David and Lucinda meet again and speak honestly about what separates them—her seeing “everything in terms of trade” and David a man of the country, a sailor at heart. But then he says something that puzzles, intrigues and invites Lucinda to imagine the life they might have together, seeing as they are both outsiders in an aristocratic world. David describes being at Lady Charrington’s ball as “magical but unreal” and says, “Everyone outside a fairy circle has more in common than they have in difference.”
As they continue to circle around one another, Lucinda asks David if he’ll pretend to court her, so that her determined suitors will retreat. In a darkened garden, they negotiate with words and kisses. “He needed to rattle her, or perhaps he simply needed to kiss her, beyond all civility or sense.” They enter into a perilous agreement and intimacy and conversation inevitably lead them into wanting more.
While reading A Shocking Delight, the lyrics from the Rocky Horror song “Time Warp” kept floating through my brain: “It's astounding/Time is fleeting/Madness takes its toll.” David and Lucinda have two short weeks to get to know each other before she returns home to the City for her father’s wedding. Lucy sees a man who speaks to her as equal, rescues kites for children, buys books on agricultural improvement … and kisses divinely.
Lucy hasn’t met the smuggler side of David until David throws a grappling hook onto her aunt’s roof, climbs a rope and presents himself outside Lucinda’s upstairs bedroom window. He wants her kisses and he wants them now. They kiss and flirt and inhale each other but he leaves while her cousin shakes the locked door of Lucy’s bedroom. Like Welcome to Temptation, this is sexual brinksmanship verging on madness … and it finally explodes at the theater, a few nights later, when they slip into a secluded stairwell, hidden behind the curtains lining the corridors. Lucinda is “hot, dizzy, and breathless with hunger for more.”
She turned slowly against him, looking at him, seeking the truth. She saw it, a need as powerful as hers.
“Why?” she whispered.
“This isn’t what you want?”
“That isn’t an answer to my question.” But the heat inside her was building. She cradled his head and kissed him, pressing herself against him. Such sweet relief. Such fierce hungers.
They sealed together, hotly intimate in a way she’d never experienced before. A wicked way. A perfect way. This, this . . . This was the mystery she’d never quite understood, taking over her body in fire and torment.
Hovering over David is the knowledge that Lucinda does not know the true nature of his world. After Lucinda’s father warns him off, David, seeking to protect her, retreats to the sanctuary of his crumbling castle by the ocean. But Lucinda is no meek miss to turn away from the shocking delight of passion.
"There she had it. Love was a tyrant. It allowed no liberty. Now, she had to make him see that.”
Lucinda risks everything to fight for a life with David at her side.
There’s a deceptively simple theme that is skillfully woven throughout all the Rogue books—change is painful yet necessary—and that the rewards are ultimately worth it. So it is with David and Lucy. For fans of the series, it is wonderful to be immersed again in the world of the Rogues, but this is also a story with a captivating couple who draw us into their fairy circle.
Learn more or order a copy of A Shocking Delight by Jo Beverley, out April 1:
Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart. When I rediscovered the world of romance, my spirit guide was All About Romance's Desert Island Keepers — I started with the “A” authors and never looked back.