When She Was Wicked
by Anne Barton
(Grand Central, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-1455513321
New author Anne Barton offers an entertaining debut novel with When She Was Wicked. Anabelle Honeycote, estranged granddaughter of an earl, makes a meager living as a seamstress for one of Londonís fashionable modistes. Anabelle supports her invalid mother and her younger sister, and her talent with a needle isnít enough to pay the bills. Good thing the ladies of London like to gossip while they are having their dresses fitted, because Anabelle uses the scandalous tidbits she learns to extort money in return for her silence. Not a lot of money, and never from the same person twice. Just enough to provide for her family.

Anabelleís latest target is Owen Sherbourne, the Duke of Huntsford. Sheís in for a surprise when the Duke traps her and threatens to turn her in to the authorities. But he has two rather awkward younger sisters who need a Season, and their drab wardrobes will hamper their success. Owen offers Anabelle a deal: she will move into his home for a month and create new wardrobes for the girls.

Left with no choice, Anabelle agrees. She and Owen are attracted to each other, of course, and soon he is stealing kisses from her. But a seamstress canít marry a duke, and Anabelle has a secret in her past that is directly related to one of the dukeís sisters.

I liked the plot of this story better than the characters. Anabelleís mother and sisters provide a sold motivation for her actions as an extortionist, and the author does a fine job of conveying the desperation of their situation. The dukeís sisters are portrayed nicely as two rather lonely young women who donít mind making a friend of their new seamstress.This all works just fine.

Anabelle seems to have little control over herself when Owen is near, and this struck me as rather contrived, not to mention stupid. She knows there is absolutely no future with him, yet she willingly goes along with his seduction. Not once does she consider what will happen to her and her family if she ends up pregnant by a nobleman who wonít marry her. For a woman who is quite intelligent in other areas, this was a disappointment

As for Owen, heís fascinated by Anabelle and canít seem to keep his hands off her. Weíre told they fall in love, but he spends much of the book simply lusting after her and trying to get his hands on her. The romance felt underdeveloped because most of their encounters simply progressed to some sort of physical interlude. No meeting of the minds here.

That said, Anne Barton writes well and her next book features Daphne, Anabelleís sister. Iíll be interested to see if the romance is stronger next time, because this is a new author with definite talent. I encourage you to give a try.

--Cathy Sova

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