|Wicked Surrender is one of the best historical romances I've read this year, and since it's almost November, that's about as high praise as I can give it. This story of a woman yearning for respectability and the two men who want to claim her will linger with readers long after they close the cover.
Scheherezade "Scher" Martin is the daughter of an actress, and her father is unknown but perhaps of the nobility. Her legacy from her late mother is the Tavern Playhouse, a small theater and drinking establishment where Scher manages the finances of the troupe. As "Lady Scher," she also presides over the nightly drawing room where patrons come to drink after the play and possibly pair up with an actress for the night. Though she was educated at a school for young ladies, in the eyes of society she is akin to a prostitute. But Scher refuses to become any man's mistress. Instead, she longs for the respectability of marriage, and dreams of a husband and children.
But lately her thoughts have been preoccupied by Brandon Cates, Lord Blackstone, who has become a frequent visitor to the theater. Little does Scher know that Brandon was asked by his family to seduce Scher, thus making her unappealing to his infatuated young cousin, Kit Frazier. Kit is the fourth son of an earl, and the plan backfires when two unexpected things happen: Brandon finds himself falling in love with Scher, and Kit asks Scher to marry him.
Kit is young and somewhat callow, and Scher knows in her heart that his family will never accept the match. Still, caught between Brandon's offer to set her up as his mistress and Kit's puppy-like devotion, her long-held dreams are impossible to ignore. Scher accepts Kit's offer. Brandon is determined to seduce her, and Scher cannot deny the attraction or sense of connection that she feels with him. But Kit is her only hope for respectability.
Unfortunately for Scher, her instincts were correct. Kit's family is bent on destroying the match, via several hateful acts intended to humiliate Scher. Kit is soon intent on making his way in the world by taking over the Tavern Playhouse and remaking it into something grander, a plan that Scher knows would be doomed. Only Brandon seems to want to know and love Scher for herself.
The characters are fairly complex. Scher is admirable; much as she longs for Brandon, she continually refuses his offer of carte blanche. Her steadfast determination to somehow make a better life for herself made me like her all the more. Kit, as a younger son with no prospects, is charming and kindhearted, but too young to face the wrath of his relations and of Society. One gets the impression that part of his infatuation with Scher is founded on his desire to defy them, yet he's not quite prepared to handle the consequences of his proposal or the incredible nastiness of his own family.
Speaking of which, this lot is one of the most vicious, vile bunch I've ever encountered in a romance novel. There are several scenes that are almost painful to read, in which their attempts at humiliating Scher are aimed with pinpoint accuracy. One scene at a ladies' tea party nearly brought tears to my eyes for Scher and what she is forced to endure at the hands of these "well-bred" creatures. It's a brilliant bit of writing.
As for Brandon, he's tortured by events that took place when he was posted to India in a merchant venture gone terribly wrong, and Scher is the only woman who has brought him some peace. He lusts after her, true, yet he also respects her and loves being in her company. Scher can't understand why he won't consider marrying her, and when the real reason comes to light, it's a complete surprise. I didn't see it coming, and kudos to the author for the way the climax is handled. There are no easy ways out, yet a happy ending is assured, and a related book is on the way.
Wicked Surrender has it all: an inventive plot; unusual, charismatic characters; energetic pacing; wonderful details of the life of the London theater; and top-notch writing. Brandon and Scher have a wonderful bond, and their love story is entirely believable. Historical romance lovers are in for a real treat. Don't wait to pick up your own copy, and if you're like me, you'll be eagerly anticipating the next book.