This book is quite poorly named. Far from being reluctant, the hero is determined to be a self-centered rogue, with the end result that itís very hard to like much about him for the first three-quarters of the book. Even an intelligent, independent heroine canít quite save this story.
Sebastian Carr, Viscount Langley, is the rogue in question. His father has always treated him shabbily, holding up his older brother as a shining example even though his brother has been dead for five years. Sebastian long ago decided if he couldnít measure up, heíd make the most of it and be a gamester and a rakehell. When the story opens, Sebastian is drunk and looking for more liquor. Heís just received the news from his father that he must marry by his twenty-fifth birthday or be cut off, as the Earl will no longer cover Sebastianís gaming debts. Well, no matter, heíll just have to find a rich heiress to wed. Then he can get back to his gambling.
Okay, right here I must admit that heroes and heroines who grow during the course of a story are fine, but ones who need to grow up first generally leave me impatient. Sebastian fell smack into the second category. His father never liked him, so Sebastian has become a disreputable gamester. That will show the Earl! At twenty-four, I want a little more maturity than this. Basically, the story is about Sebastian getting over himself.
Anyway, Sebastian heads for London with his friends Nigel and Jason, and he quickly makes the unexpected acquaintance of Miss Jane Rutledge. Jane, her sister Penelope, and their shrewish mother, Lady Portia, are in Town looking for a titled husband for the lovely Pen. Jane is on the plain side, (and couldnít a more original name be found than this?) and her mother constantly reminds her that no man will possibly want to marry her. Thatís fine with Jane Ė her late father was a well-to-do horse breeder, and upon his death, she was left Wellbourne Grange and its renowned stables as an inheritance, which she has managed admirably.
Jane climbs a tree and looks over a wall into the neighborís garden to investigate the source of a voice. She falls into the garden and comes face to face with Sebastian, who gives her the sharp edge of his tongue. When they meet at a party later that evening, Sebastian finds himself apologizing and asking her to dance, though his interest is immediately caught by Penelope. Sebastian decides to befriend Jane in order to get close to Penelope. Jane, of course, falls in love with Sebastian, and when they are discovered in a compromising situation, Sebastian must offer for her. Pen, meanwhile, elopes with Sebastianís friend Jason, a squireís son who owns a fleet of ships.
Unfortunately, Jane overhears Sebastian cursing his fate on the eve of their wedding, and the stars fall from her eyes when she realizes Sebastian used her to get to her sister Ė or rather, to her sisterís inheritance. Jane informs Sebastian of her own plan. They will marry, but if Sebastian sells so much as a bale of hay from Wellbourne Grange, she, Jane, will sell the rest of the estate to Sebastianís father and disappear. (Never mind that she would be entirely unable to do so, as the property and horses would become Sebastianís after they marry, a fact that Sebastian pointed out not two pages earlier.)
The flashes of kindness Sebastian displays donít make up for the fact that he is pretty self-centered for most of the book. He wants to continue his gambling so he can rub his fatherís nose in it, so he sets out to marry a woman and get his hands on her money, her feelings be damned. A hundred thirty pages later, heís still angry and sulking because his plans were thwarted, albeit by his own actions. Some readers may see this story as a redemption tale, with plain Jane the straightforward heroine shaking Sebastian out of his self-absorption and making him take a look at what he really wants in life. If so, you may find Sebastian more sympathetic.
The last fourth of the book picks up nicely, as Sebastian starts to get over himself and think about others, as well as what he really wants to do with himself. Heís heroic in several small but crucial ways, and this helps the story end on an up note. Jane, for her part, is out-and-out delightful, a strong and interesting heroine. She doesnít make it easy on Sebastian, either, which I relished.
There were a couple of gaping plot holes. In addition to the property issue, thereís the idea that Sebastianís friend, Jason, a Cit who is in trade, would have access to the same parties and balls as Sebastian, with nobody mentioning a word. Lady Portia sneers at the thought of her lovely daughter becoming attached to a tradesman, but she never questions his presence.
Overall, The Reluctant Rogue is an uneven read that didnít entirely satisfy. The captivating heroine offers a reason to keep an eye out for Elizabeth Powellís next release, though.