|Just Wicked Enough is set during a time I find particularly interesting: the late 1800s, when the invasion of England by marriage-minded American mamas looking to charm an aristocratic lord with their daughterís dowry was in its heyday. Lorraine Heath crafts an enjoyable story about two young people who marry for money and a title, and end up finding love as well.
Michael Tremayne, the Marquess of Falconridge, is desperately in need of a fortune. Down to his last funds and barely keeping up appearances, he swallows his pride and invites several wealthy American businessmen to a private auction: his title is up for bid, and heíll marry the daughter of the man who wins.
New York banker James Rose tops the bidding, and for a moment Michael envisions marrying beautiful Jenny Rose, a well-known debutante. But itís his younger daughter, Kate, that Mr. Rose wants Michael to wed. However, Michael must make Kate happy, and to ensure that he does, James Rose puts Kate in charge of her own inheritance. Michael may hold a title, but Kate will hold the purse strings. To Michael, itís all a business arrangement anyway; he doesnít even bother to go visit Kate before the wedding. Heíll do his best to make her as happy as he can, but love is not in the cards.
Two weeks later, they are married. Kate wanted a love match; she thought sheíd found it by running off with the younger son of a viscount, but Kateís social-climbing mother saw to it that their hasty marriage was annulled, and he married another woman. Kate, heartbroken, knuckles under when faced with her domineering motherís insistence that she marry high up the aristocratic ladder. In a move that made me dislike her, Kate turns her frustration on Michael. She will decide when and if they consummate the marriage, and in the meantime, sheíll dole out money as she sees fit.
Michael has a difficult family situation that he is dealing with: his mother has dementia and no longer recognizes him. Itís very expensive to keep her in a private asylum, and itís this rather heartbreaking problem that has caused him to abandon all of his pride and auction himself off. As hard as it was for him, he tries to see Kateís side of things and knows it must have been equally difficult for her to abandon her dreams of a marriage based on love, an emotion he doesnít believe he possesses. When they move from London to Michaelís country estate, and Kate sees for herself just how dire his situation is, her attitude begins to (thankfully) change. Gradually, they become friends, than find they are becoming much more than that to each other.
For the first half of the book, Kate holds the power in the relationship, and at times it feels as though she simply toys with Michael in fits of petulance. She wonít consider sex until he can guess her favorite color, for instance. This becomes a running game, as Michael ends each evening with a guess. Yet, as the story progresses, Kate begins to see how childish this all is, and when she and Michael begin to trust one another, the story takes off.
Michael is by far the more intriguing character. His progression from a man going through the motions of pleasing his wife to a man who genuinely wants to make her happy is touching, and his strained relationship with his mother is especially poignant. Kate is more exasperating because she often speaks and acts in contradictions. First she says she genuinely loves her mother deeply; later she says she dislikes her intensely. She makes a big deal out of being sensible with money, but then tells Michael that she never wears a gown more than once. Sheís intrigued by Michael and recognizes his fine qualities, but when her smarmy ex-lover shows up (as readers know he inevitably must) she turns into an instant twit and canít tell him to shove off. I liked her, but at the same time, I wanted to slap some sense into her.
Just Wicked Enough was just enjoyable enough to keep me reading; any book I donít want to put down is Recommended by me. I believe this might be the second book in a series, and there are hints that Jenny Rose will star in her own story. Iíll be looking for it.