|My Wicked Marquess is the first in a series about the Inferno Club members (of whom there are at least three men introduced). While this is a great story on its own in terms of the romance, the primary mystery is not resolved and there is a major set up for the rest of the stories. If you are looking for a complete, stand-alone tale, this may frustrate you because so much is left up in the air at the end.
Max St. Albans is the Marquess of Rotherstone, and as such has been in the employ of a secret order of men who have vowed to defend England and the secrets about the Crusades for centuries against another society known as Prometheans. His family is filled with these defenders, and Max was given over to the order when just a boy of 12 to train and learn and become the master that he is today. He has just finished a major assignment during which he killed an assassin who was sent to kill Wellington during the battle of Waterloo. His cover was he was a Lord on holiday, flittering about on a Grand Tour while others were fighting for their country. His reputation, therefore, is one of a rakehell and he has returned to England on the edges of society’s acceptance. It is now time for him to marry and beget heirs who will also inherit the responsibility of the order, whose front is known as the Inferno Club.
Max has his agent pick out some society misses for him to look over. He wants women who are beauties, with well-rounded reputations and a social standing in the society he needs to enter. One of the women on the list is the Honorable Miss Daphne Starling, daughter to a peer, Lord Starling. Daphne’s mother is deceased and her current stepmother would like to see her married off. One attempt resulted in an engagement to Lord Albert Carew, but Daphne squelched that when she discovered how vain and arrogant Albert was. Since Max and Albert have a history of confrontations dating back to their childhoods, Max does not see this jilting as a strike against Daphne.
So Max sets out to win her. He follows Daphne and sees her efforts at giving charity to orphans almost end in disaster. Her bravado intrigues him. She sees him as he attempts to save her. He comes out of a brothel across the street (where he was standing to observe her) acting like a drunkard, flinging gold coins and yelling for his coach in an effort to pull away the ruffians who are about ready to attack her. This gives her a chance to escape, but does not lend the best first impression. He convinces her father to sanction the engagement without asking Daphne first. This adds to the rocky start of their romance.
The bulk of the story follows two paths. The first is the romance. Max and Daphne dance their way around each other during a rather awkward courtship. These two are often at odds, with much arguing and disagreements, yet they are drawn to each other. Daphne senses that Max is hiding things, and she wants true love.
The other story path is the mission of the order. One of the men in the order has been captured. Drake was a friend of Max’s but was on a different part of the mission than Max. At first, it is thought that Drake was killed, but soon information leaks that Drake is alive. There is a fear that he may have gone to the other side. Max works with several of his other agents, including a Duke and an Earl, who have also just returned to England, to try to discover the truth.
I liked this tale more than I thought I would when I read the cover. It felt a little like a story that had been told before, but Foley has added some menace and there is some real underlying terror about the villains. My disappointment lies in the fact that there is no resolution to any of the mystery. I highly recommend My Wicked Marquess, but only if you are interested in reading a series.