Invitation to Ruin
by Bronwen Evans
(Brava, $14, R) ISBN 978-0-7582-5919-6
Invitation to Ruin is a sweeping, intense love story that might leave you gasping at certain parts.

Anthony Craven. The Earl of Wickham, nicknamed the Earl of Wicked by his friends and reinforced by his exploits, is in London to hunt. While he’s not an early morning kind of guy, the hunting of a new mistress is exactly his game, and he’s narrowed down his search to one widowed, available, sensual woman: Lady Cassandra Sudbury. He attends her ball to seek her out, and fully intends to begin the affair that they’ve been flirting towards for a while. Anthony’s twin brother Richard, who is also pursuing Cassie, slips him the directions to Cassie’s room, but intentionally and for his own reasons, gives him the wrong one. Anthony goes to the darkened bedroom after the ball, and mistakenly deflowers Cassandra’s similar looking cousin, Miss Melissa Goodly.

Melissa’s awoken from slumber by the very handsome but not so princely Anthony in the middle of lovemaking. She’s stunned, and after it’s over, she realizes that he’s the very man she’s caught a devastating glimpse of in the weeks of the London season. Melissa quickly denies Anthony’s hollow marriage proposal. She wants to marry for love, as she grew up in a loveless family. Since the death of her parents, Melissa’s cognizant that her brother Christopher has seen her as both a burden and the answer to his self-inflicted financial difficulties if he can marry her off well. Christopher, along with Anthony’s misplaced proposal, come together to push Melissa to a hasty marriage.

Melissa’s well aware, as is half of society, of Anthony’s plans to make Cassie his mistress. She asks him not to, as her engagement gift. Anthony agrees, and starts to wonder about the beautiful, intelligent woman he’s chosen. Anthony has had a horrific childhood, taught to be heir of the family business by his father, who alternately beat and tortured him in various ways. Anthony has some very dark feelings towards his late father, but also towards his brother Richard for missing out on the horrifying sessions since he was minutes younger. Anthony also harbors hatred for his mother, who seemingly did nothing to stop the abuse. Anthony swore that he would never have a child because he does not want his family line to continue, knowing of his family line’s venomous nature, and his own lack of feelings for anyone. Anthony shut down the family slave trading business just before his father died, but he still clearly remembers how terrible his family could be in pursuit of money and he shoulders every guilt related to it.

Melissa doesn’t have a clue about most of Anthony’s past but she does know that she desperately wants children, as they will provide the pure love that she’s been seeking her whole life. So, she sets out to seduce her new husband into getting her pregnant, the one thing that she doesn’t know he is absolutely dead set against.

Melissa and Anthony are destined for a disastrous marriage with so many differences and secrets between them, and the nefarious, truly scary plotting of several surprising villains could turn their white marriage into something truly dark.

Invitation to Ruin had a slightly off balance list of good to bad features, and I will let you draw your own conclusion from the run-down here:

Great: Melissa, thank you for being a strong, determined, level headed heroine, within the believable constraints of 1808 London society. Also, Anthony is exactly the type of brooding, tortured bad boy that a lot of women love. His ringing despair over his family’s history and subjugation of others makes him eminently likeable while the raw hints and final explanations of his nightmarish upbringing make a woman just want to reach out to him. The lust story between them that starts out as a purely physical attraction is incredibly detailed, as well as very intense. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, as their proximity was combustible.

Also, an honorable mention goes out to Evans for writing SCARY bad guys. Yikes. Like raise-the-hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck evil plots perpetrated by some frighteningly normal looking folks.

Not so great: Once the middle of the book ran out, so did the steam of the whole story for me. The evil doers seemed less threatening, the baby argument and secrets between our leading couple got old very quickly, and eventually threatened to annoy me with its dramatic overtones. As this happened the romance starts to shift but I found the settling tones and the resolution both fairly unbelievable after the traumatic and intense beginning, and a little boring.

While weighing the pros and cons, I did find the great parts of the story shone despite the not-so-great parts, but this book isn’t going to get a place on my keeper shelf.

--Amy Wroblewsky

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