Beauty Like the Night

The Devil You Know

My False Heart

No True Gentleman

A Woman of Virtue

A Woman Scorned

 
One Little Sin by Liz Carlyle
(Pocket Star, $6,99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7434-9610-8
****
One Little Sin sets up a new trilogy by Liz Carlyle, and this story of a rake who must reform when one of his “sins” appears on his doorstep is charming and fast-paced, with a nifty romance tucked in. When the book opens, Sir Alasdair MacLachlan is running from a burly blacksmith, whose wife he has just enjoyed in a stable. Alasdair escapes with his brother, Merrick, and his friend Quin, by hiding in a Gypsy’s tent. The fortuneteller inside warns all three that their past behaviors will come back to haunt them. Little does Alasdair know how soon that will happen.

Alasdair returns to his London townhouse and falls into a drunken sleep on a sofa, only to be roused by a banging on the door in the middle of the night. Curious, he stumbles downstairs to find his butler arguing with a young woman holding a basket. Miss Esmee Hamilton has been tossed out of her home following the death of her mother, Lady Achanalt, and with her is a tiny girl – Esmee’s half-sister, Sorcha. By all accounts, including that of Esmee’s late mother, Sorcha is the result of a drunken sexual escapade between Lady Achanalt and Alasdair at a Christmas party some two years ago. Now, with nowhere else to go, Esmee has brought Sorcha to Alasdair.

Alasdair would like nothing more than to deny the whole thing, but he can’t. While he doesn’t exactly remember the night in questions, wisps of memory make him believe that Esmee is telling the truth. Then there are Sorcha’s ice-blue eyes, the exact replica of his brother Merrick’s own unusual eyes. When Esmee announces she’s leaving to take a position as a governess, Alasdair panics. He begs Esmee to stay and act as a governess for Sorcha, and after some hard bargaining, she agrees. Alasdair finds himself up against a woman who is impervious to his charm. Esmee finds herself attracted to a rake who has depths of honor even he isn’t aware of.

Soon Alasdair is tentatively taking on some of the roles of a father, and beginning to question his own aimless, rakehell life. Esmee doesn’t believe for a minute that she can reform him, no matter how much they lust for one another and seem to have found a genuine friendship. When the opportunity comes along for Esmee to take her place in Society and perhaps find a respectable husband, Alasdair makes a difficult decision.

Reforming a rake and making it sound plausible is no easy task, and Ms. Carlyle has a tough sell here. The main problem with Alasdair is that he’s thirty-six and has been a wastrel and skirt-chaser for his entire adult life. It’s a little hard to believe that one tart-tongued Scots lassie would be enough to make him re-examine his life, even with a baby in tow. Also, Alasdair seems to be remarkably content with his lifestyle; it fits him like a well-used coat, so asking readers to believe he’d suddenly be overcome with a desire to grow up and act like an adult may be a leap they can’t make.

Yet there is something very charming about Alasdair. Maybe it’s the fact that he knows exactly what he is, though he doesn’t give it much thought, at least not initially. And his growing relationship with little Sorcha, who is a bit of a hellion, is at times funny and poignant. One gets the sense that perhaps Alasdair would have taken a turn for the honorable best years before, if only there had been something worth his honor. In the end, you’ll want him to succeed in winning Esmee and leaving his old life behind.

Esmee is all spit and vinegar, completely unimpressed by Alasdair at first and more than willing to give him the sharp side of her tongue. While this might come across as abrasive in another heroine, the setup – a young woman, thrown out of her home by her stepfather, having to clean up her promiscuous mother’s mess and care for a tiny sister while having no resources to do it with – works, and readers can fully sympathize with Esmee’s frustration. She’s got enough on her hands, and Alasdair can damn well come up to scratch and do his part. I really liked her, and as she softens and begins to see Alasdair in another light, their relationship starts to develop naturally.

The secondary characters play fairly important roles, especially Quin, who sets up the climax and is due for his own book next. A side plot involving Alasdair’s former mistress could have been cleared up with one or two basic questions, and here it’s allowed to turn into a fairly major misunderstanding and drive a wedge between the leads. This was rather annoying. But overall, the romance is a fun one, with several hot scenes between Esmee and Alasdair.

One Little Sin is one big delight for historical romance fans. The supremely talented Ms. Carlyle doesn’t disappoint, and there are two more stories to anticipate. Merrick’s story looks particularly intriguing. Can’t wait!

--Cathy Sova


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