|Edith Layton’s final book, finished just prior to her untimely passing in May of 2009, is a gentle, entertaining romance that will leave readers with a smile. To Love a Wicked Lord is a Road Romance, which Layton seldom used for a plot, but it works well enough to do her credit. And the hero and heroine are both charming.
Phillippa Carstairs is a lovely twenty-four-year-old with a large problem. Her fiancé disappeared seven months earlier and hasn’t been heard from since. Philippa loved Noel Nicholson, or at least she thought she did, and he seemed equally enamored of her. Their wedding was imminent. Now Philippa is questioning her feelings for Noel, and unable to move forward with her life until she knows what happened to him.
Maxwell, Lord Montrose, is the eldest son of a duke. His bitter father lost two wives in short succession, and Maxwell was a reminder of his first beloved wife. Small and slight as a child, Maxwell turned to the head groom, Osgood, for help in learning to ride, fence, and defend himself. Now twenty-seven, Maxwell hides his activities for the Crown behind a façade of foppish behavior and perpetual ennui.
When Lord Carstairs, Pippa’s grandfather, recommends Maxwell as the only man in England who can possibly find Noel, Pippa and Maxwell are reluctantly drawn together. Maxwell is intrigued by Pippa’s forthrightness and beauty. Pippa doesn’t want to like Maxwell, but finds him attractive anyway. Pippa and her grandmother, who have been enjoying Bath, are soon on their way to Brighton, and then Paris, with Maxwell.
Pippa has another worry on her hands. Her grandmother’s behavior is becoming increasingly strange. She’s flirting with young men, dressing inappropriately, and engaging in bawdy conversations that are outside the pale. Is it all an act? Or is her mind failing? Has Pippa been so wrapped up in her own problems that she’s failed to notice?
While Pippa and Maxwell are engaging characters, the story drags, to be honest. Maxwell and his friend Whitney don’t want to be burdened with two females, but can’t say no to elderly Lady Carstairs. And the more Maxwell gets to know Philippa, the more he wants her around anyway. But the same scenes play out repeatedly, with Maxwell wanting to move onto the next likely place, trying to get the women to return home, and Lady Carstairs having none of it, declaring that it’s her opportunity to have a Grand Tour with Pippa.
Given the author’s own battle with cancer, the character of Lady Carstairs was especially poignant. An elderly lady wanting to re-experience the excitement and adventure of her youth is a familiar figure in our own contemporary lives, and Lady Carstairs was by far the most sympathetic character in the story. Whether she was becoming slightly addled or not didn’t really matter. Her determination to enjoy herself in what might be her last chance at an adventure resonated with me. Pippa might have been mortified at her grandmother’s behavior; I was mentally raising a toast to her.
There’s very little sex in the story, other than one scene tossed in at the end. Readers, if you like a spicy story, you won’t find it here. And the chemistry between Pippa and Maxwell wasn’t strong. He’s guarded and she’s wary; there isn’t a hot sexual spark to help them break down this barrier. Maxwell hangs onto his “I’m not ready to marry” stance too long, too. For all that I liked them both, I wanted the story to move along faster.
Edith Layton’s backlist includes such five-heart gems as The Cad, The Conquest, Devil’s Bargain, Gypsy Lover, and To Wed a Stranger. Her romances rank among the finest Regency-set stories ever published, and she’ll be greatly missed. Thank you, Ms. Layton, for all the reading pleasure you gave us, and readers, I can’t urge you strongly enough to seek out her backlist. Our best tribute to this outstanding author would be to keep her books in print.