|Candice Hern continues her Merry Widows series with the story of Grace Marlowe, the repressed widow of a bishop, and the notorious rake who wagers he can seduce her. It’s a credit to Ms. Hern’s storytelling talents that she can make this shopworn storyline at least palatable. Unfortunately, every move of Lady Be Bad has been done to death and there are no surprises here.
John Grayston, Viscount Rochdale, bets an acquaintance that he can seduce any woman. After all, his reputation as a libertine is the talk of London. He’ll even bet his favorite racehorse on it, and he anticipates getting an equally valuable horse out of it when he wins the bet. The fact that his target is Grace Marlowe means nothing. He’s sure she won’t be able to resist him.
Grace is the widow of a noted bishop, and her life as his wife was one of strict propriety. Sex was perfunctory at best, and since Grace entered the marriage as a virgin and a second wife, she never knew anything different. In fact, the bishop repressed her natural passion as unseemly. Now that he has been dead for several years, Grace wonders if her friends, the Merry Widows, might have a point when they encourage her to take a lover.
Rochdale begins to pursue Grace, calculating that it will take a bit longer than most of his seductions, but he’ll succeed in the end. Grace, for her part, trembles and shudders and doesn’t know how to handle his smoldering glances and increasingly frequent kisses. When Rochdale gives Grace a sizeable donation for her favorite charity, Grace begins to convince herself that Rochdale is a good man. In short, she all but falls at his feet. Rochdale’s “challenge” is hardly a challenge at all.
And this is the frustration for the reader. We’re told that Rochdale comes to admire her because of her goodness and devotion to helping others, etc. but Grace is pretty spineless. She can’t say “no” to Rochdale, so the seduction is inevitable. Rochdale continues to view Grace’s seduction in a calculated light, making him unlikable for the majority of the story. Then he decides that she’s good and wonderful and the perfect woman, etc., but Grace came across as a doormat for most of the book. I didn’t have much faith in their romance.
The tired storyline didn’t help matters, either. The problem with the “seduction wager” plot is that the Big Dark Moment is telegraphed from the opening chapter, and authors can’t seem to write a different scenario to the uncovering of the bet. It’s always “I never want to see you again,” followed by a scene of someone huffing off indignantly. To her credit, Ms. Hern does make Grace the protagonist for the final chapter, and this is what saved the book for me.
Candice Hern writes some of the loveliest, most elegant prose you’ll find in historical romance. Her choice of a plotline didn’t do it justice. Lady Be Bad isn’t a bad book, but it’s one you’ve read before. However, Ms. Hern’s many fans will likely enjoy finding out what happens to Grace, and those who haven’t encountered this plot in a while will appreciate the smooth storytelling.