The hero of this story is Alexander Edgware, the ninth Earl of Xavier. Through the course of this book, he goes through a process of self-discovery. Though wealthy, his parents died at a very young age and he was pretty much left to his own devices with only servants to attend to his basic needs. As an adult, he is considered a rake and he is a living legend in society. With no close friends or family around him on a regular basis to give him a reality check, Alex even thinks of himself in the third person and has a mental numbered list of expressions he displays given the circumstances. This persona of the notorious Earl of Xavier has little to do with Alex’s own personality. He uses it like a mask and something to insulate himself from others. He is known for making and winning wagers with his very odious cousin, the Marquess of Lockwood. These wagers give Alex no real joy, he just feels as though he must keep winning them as part of his Earl of Xavier act. At the start of the book, Lockwood wants to wager Xavier that he can’t have a paragon of virtue stay for the duration of one of Xavier’s infamous house parties. These parties are typically only attended by rakes & less virtuous women. Xavier takes the wager but his condition is that no innocent should be ruined or forced to participate in anything beyond the pale. To make the wager less lurid than Lockwood originally intended, while still remaining true to the basic wager, he adds some respectable guests like his slightly younger cousin Jane and a few matrons. The object of the wager, as selected by Lord Lockwood, is Miss Louisa Oliver. Louisa and Xavier have a slightly tangled history. Louisa was engaged to James. Louisa’s step-sister Julia ended up marrying James. Everyone believes, erroneously, that Xavier told the scandal sheets about James & Julia’s first assignation.
This story caught my interest because I enjoy stories about house parties. However, what made me really enjoy this story and set it apart from many other historical romances was the depth of the character exploration. The slow, charming evolution of the relationship between Xavier and Louisa is very sweet & very interesting. They are both kind of taken aback by their attraction. I think Xavier is the first to see them as being soul-mates. It’s through his relationship with Louisa that Xavier starts to discover who he really is and even tells her to call him “Alex”. “Alex” is the real person, while Xavier is the façade. I liked the connection between Louisa and Alex. They both have a love of learning & literature. I love the way he chooses to finally tell her he loves her & even the engagement ring has a lot of meaning to the both of them.
The entire story is not heavy. There are some funny moments. I liked Jane and hope to read a book about her.