Never Trust A Rake
by Eileen Putman, historical (1999)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-80289-9

Eileen Putman makes the dive from traditional Regency to more mainstream historical with The Rake, which begins with Gabriel, twelfth Baron Sinclair, sneaking into Our Lady of Mercy (a convent). Gabriel had to find a lock of virgin's hair to win a bet, and the best Virgins-R-Us equivalent in London was, of course, a nunnery. Too bad he'd forgotten the first rule for all rakes: Never mess with virgins. Before he could say, "I beg to differ!" he was ambushed, knocked out by a band of angry nuns, and was sent to the gallows.

To the rescue of the gentleman-in-distress came fiery, golden-haired Louisa Peabody and her giant of an assistant David. Gabriel thought he was in heaven with this glorious angel nursing him back to health. Life couldn't be worse, right?

Too bad Louisa wanted to rescue a thief named Alice. In the heat of the moment, David had grabbed Gabriel instead of Alice, and Louisa wasn't at all happy. And worse for Gabriel, Louisa wanted nothing to do with Gabriel. Men were untrustworthy snakes in Louisa's book. After slaving away for years to put her unappreciative father's estates in order, that man gave her away to an abusive man in marriage. Louisa now ran a covert operation to rescue women unjustly punished by the law and offered them shelter. The only thing she wanted from Gabriel was his manly expertise and not his manly... err, talents.

Gabriel wasn't too dejected. Hey, he would still get to tag along with this glorious angel. He was an accomplished Casanova, no woman ever said "No" to him much. Besides, Louisa offered him enough money for him to leave London. A wanted criminal, he had nothing to lose.

Thus the stage was set for these two to traipse all over the place from a prison hulk to Louisa's country house. I must admit I sometimes found Louisa a bit too reckless and impetuous, but the author did a wonderful job in sustaining my interest in the story. In fact, these two are fascinating people. Gabriel isn't your standard rake - his debauched front was only a mask to hide his loneliness. Raised by a rather cold father on an isolated island, Gabriel's first love was the sea. Yet he wasn't a tortured hero, nor did he indulge in self-pity party. Indeed, as he joined Louisa in her rather mad schemes of reform, he grew to admire her courage and resolution. It is a pleasure to follow his growing affection for Louisa. Gabriel is a really dashing rogue who always knows what to say at the right time. I can't help but to like this cheeky, rather naughty young man.

Louisa too couldn't resist this cad any more than I. He wasn't the unprincipled scoundrel she thought he was, and soon she wasn't trying too hard to keep some space between them. The author really stretched taut the sexual tension. These two wonderful people are friends first before lovers, which only make it more fun. The love scenes between them both are sweet, sexy, yet heartbreaking in their poignancy. The last few chapters which, under a less talented author would make me go "Huh?", only made me want to cheer them both. Oh, and Gabriel's realization that he loved Louisa more than anything made me sniffle a tear or two.

And I haven't even gone on about the touching romance between David and one of the women Louisa rescued. Or the women, called Flowers on the account of their new names (Rose, Violet, Lily - all after flowers). And a wonderful heroic horse. All these characters only served to make this book even more enjoyable.

Rating: 89

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