Gentlemen Behaving Badly

When a Lady Misbehaves

Wickedly Ever After
by Michelle Marcos
(St. Martin’s Press, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-94851-4
The heroine of Wickedly Ever After, Athena McAlister is a prickly, twenty-eight-year-old spinster with no dowry, no ladylike ways and only a Scottish title to recommend her to London’s snobbish ton.

Athena determined that she would marry for love, and her grandfather has allowed her many liberties in the years since her come out. She speaks her mind, eats what she likes, and doesn’t pay any mind to social constraints. On the occasions that she’s invited to balls and soirees, she behaves herself well enough and secretly admires the handsome men in attendance. Above all others, she adores Calvin Bretherton, the blond, dashing Lord Stockdale. Athena knows she has very little chance of landing such a prime catch, but she desperately wishes that Calvin will somehow notice her and fall in love.

Shockingly, an old friend of Athena’s grandfather, the Duchess of Twillington, pays her a call. Because of their long friendship, she has decided to sponsor Athena’s attempt to snag Lord Stockdale. Margaret, the Duchess, brings with her “Feminine Excellence, or Every Young Woman’s Guide to Ladylike Comportment” by Countess Cavendish.  It’s the newest instructional manual for a perfect lady’s behavior, instrumental in bagging a husband. It works and Calvin proposes quickly. Unfortunately, just as quickly, Athena finds her betrothed in a very compromising position with a lady of the night, and she runs away.

Athena knows that most husbands want a seductress in the bedroom, but has no idea how to go about becoming one. She comes up with a daringly stupid plan: she opens a finishing school for spinsters that teaches musical appreciation, art, writing and sensuality. Athena hires a few of London’s well-known rakes to teach kissing, and hires a male model to pose nude to acquaint the women with the male form.

Captain Marshall Hawkesworth’s sister Justine betrothal is broken due to her newly learned sexual skills - her fiancé was shocked by her forwardness. Marshall learns that her knowledge came from the new finishing school, and poses as a lecturer to learn the ins and outs of the school. When he meets Athena, their sudden attraction flares out of control. Marshall now plans to melt Athena’s icy exterior and tutor her with the benefit of his experience. Then, he plans to shut her school down.

Wickedly Ever After is funny and romantic. It delves past the initial thrill of courtship and examines romance and love within marriage. The secondary love story of Athena’s friend Hestor and her husband really adds a new dimension to the unfolding tale.

Athena’s prickly exterior is not just given lip service in this tale. She has a barbed tongue, and she can be mean-spirited, hurtful and nasty to protect herself. Athena is honest with herself, knowing that she has been hurt and left by too many people to be open-hearted and loving. While she may seem to be an odd choice for a heroine, she is marvelous because of her emotional maturity. It’s easy to love and understand Athena once you understand her painful past.

Marshall is a valiant war hero, forced back onto land by his captain’s wishes that he grieve for his recently deceased father and care for his mother and sister. It seems that the task of running his battleship is easier than dealing with his bitter mother and his emotional sister. He doesn’t know what to expect when he searches the finishing school for its headmistress, but the fiery, passionate, angry Athena isn’t it. He’s challenged, captivated and aroused by her.

Athena and Marshall are evenly matched competitors, fighting against their surprising attraction while they battle each other, attempting to hide their secrets and stay at a distance. While they have witty banter and several romantic moments, they seem to discuss the magic of courtship more than experiencing it.

Wickedly Ever After is a fun read, perfect for whiling away a summer afternoon.   

--Amy Wroblewsky   

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