The Bartered Heart

Keeper of the Swans

Lord Monteith's Gift

The Rake's Retreat

The Ramshackle Suitor

 
Reclaiming Lord Rockleigh
by Nancy Butler
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-20422-0
****
One of the most popular plots in romance is the reforming of the rake. I suppose this storyline has such staying power because rakes are so much more interesting than ordinary guys and all of us want to believe that love is strong enough to redeem even the most lost soul. Sometimes these tales don’t work, especially when the change seems too abrupt or too unlikely. But when this scenario works, it leads to a most enjoyable romance. In Reclaiming Lord Rockleigh, Nancy Butler makes it work.

Lord Rockleigh Conniston is the third son of the Duke of Barrisford. He is wealthy; he is handsome; he can be charming; and he is well on the way to pretty complete depravity. His latest start is the use of opium, a vice he experimented with during his sojourn in India. One morning, he and his friend stumble out of the doors of White’s after an evening of dissipation so deep that Roc can’t quite remember what it was he was supposed to be doing this morning.

His memory is soon jogged when he is confronted by Miss Mercy Tatlock at a nearby coffee house. Miss Tatlock had come to London to confront Lord Rockleigh about a libel suit he had filed against her father’s newspaper in Sussex. She had thought him completely lost to decency until he failed to show up for the duel he had scheduled for that morning with her young brother. She had some hope for His Lordship until she discovers that he had simply forgotten the incident and has every intention of meeting the stripling who had assaulted him on the steps of one of London’s more disreputable gaming houses. So it would seem that Lord Rockleigh is perfectly capable of performing the perfidy that he had been accused of by The Tiptree Trumpet.

The lawsuit that has arisen from the editorial threatens Mercy’s family and she has come to London to try to convince Lord Rockleigh to drop the matter, either by persuasion or by other means. When those other means bring Mercy into Roc’s orbit, she discovers the man’s charm and he discovers her appeal. The two spar themselves into an attraction, but both their social differences and their disagreements make it highly unlikely that anything will come of it.

For a “reforming the rake” plot to work, several pieces of the puzzle must be in place. First, the author must make it quite clear why the hero has pursued his ruinous course. Second, it must be obvious that he has reached a point where his dissatisfaction with the life he is leading is emerging. Third, it must be obvious that he has redeeming qualities. Finally, the heroine and their relationship must be notable enough to make the hero reconsider his behavior and his goals. Needless to say, Butler puts the puzzle together in a masterful fashion.

Roc clearly suffers from the “younger son” syndrome. He has no real purpose and has not succeeded in finding one that will make his life meaningful. Thus, his relentless pursuit of pleasure and his escalating dissipation. Yet he is wise enough to come to see what a self-destructive course he has chosen when he begins to view his life through Mercy’s eyes.

Mercy is the perfect woman to bring Roc up short. She is not like the women of the ton; she cares about more than her appearance; she has work that means something to her; she challenges him. And, she’s fun! Bandying words with her, matching wits with her, makes Roc feel more alive than anything else he has experienced. His growing obsession with this unlikely object of attraction makes perfect sense.

Butler has become one of the Regency genre’s best newer authors. She tells a good story, recreates the period with a sure hand, provides a fine cast of secondary characters, and gives her readers a delightful and touching romance. We believe implicitly that Lord Rockleigh is indeed redeemed and we are convinced once again that love can indeed transform even the most hardened rake. What more can a reader ask for?

--Jean Mason


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