Our Wicked Mistake
by Emma Wildes, historical (2010)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23150-5

Our Wicked Mistake is the second book in Emma Wildes's new series Notorious Bachelors, but this one stands alone very well as the plot is self-contained and the players from the previous book play a very minimal role in the story. Any questions you have by the end of the book are the result of the author being deliberately hazy with information, because the main characters in this book have nothing to do with the previous story. Trust me on this. Am I not the nicest person around?

The main characters - there are two major romantic story lines here, so there are two couples - seem to be familiar stereotypes at first, but as the story progresses, the blinkers are off and these characters reveal their true colors. And such beautiful colors these are too, because there characters are so delightfully unique while retaining some familiar elements that will also endear them to those seeking more comfort-read type of stories.

However, the heroines in this story love to have sex. They adore feeling sexy and they exult in making their men sweat with desire. I've already seen a few reviews from readers disquieted by the heroines' libidinous nature, so yes, I guess this is one of those potentially polarizing stories because both Madeline May and Elizabeth Daudet aren't afraid to reach out and grab hold of life in a firm grip and squeeze the joy from it.

The designated main story line revolves around the widow Madeline, Lady Brewer, and our hero Luke Daudet, the Viscount Altea. They both seem like stereotypes at first. She's the chaste widow who lived a respectable life in the last four years since her husband Colin died, he's a Viscount who happens to be an ex-soldier, an ex-soldier whose wartime experiences barely left a dent on his psyche when a personal tragedy in his past had him melodramatically deciding that he will never love again. Forever!

They once had a one-night stand about a year ago, and it was a one-night stand only because Luke, realizing that Madeline is starting to get to him, fled for his life the morning after. Remember, he will die should he ever love again. When the story opens, Madeline needs Luke's help. Despite the uncomfortable unresolved sexual tension between them, Luke is compelled to assist her when she reveals that her husband's journal - which contains ecstatic reminiscences about his and Madeline's bedroom romps - has fallen into wrong hands and she's being harassed by the man who now possesses the journal.

This one seems like a familiar plot, doesn't it? Well, it has plenty of familiar elements, but there are a few surprises in store.

For one, both Luke and Madeline had loved in the past, and these loves did not get dragged through the mud to make this romance the "right" one. As Luke says, it is possible to love another as madly as he loved his previous sweetheart, but at the same time, this love feels different and new all over again. I also love that both characters choose to keep bits and pieces of their past loves from each other for now. Maybe one day they will reveal everything to each other, but they'd rather focus on the present and plan for the future instead of dwelling on the past. I like this mature treatment of second time loves from Ms Wildes.

Oh, and yes, Madeline had a wonderful sex life with Colin. She was as adventurous as he, playing naughty games in bed with him until Colin actually wrote in his journal that he felt so blessed to have such a kinky wife. Altogether now: Madeline, you go, girl! As a widow, Madeline doesn't understand why she can't have a good time with Luke. This is one woman who enters a sexual relationship with Luke with her eyes wide open. She doesn't whine that he doesn't love her. She doesn't pull the Avon Romantic Boyfriend Test because she is intelligent enough to realize that Luke is in love with her, the poor man just doesn't realize it yet. She wants to fight for their love and keep him with her, but she isn't sure how she is going to do that.

Luke seems like a stereotype, but he has some surprises up his sleeves too. I think I am completely won over when, in one scene, Madeline gets rather jealous over some woman whom she assumes to be his ex-mistress. He tells her that he'd never slept with that woman. When Madeline accuses him of trying to defend himself, he gently corrects her. He's defending that woman mistakenly assumed by Madeline to be his ex-mistress. Oh, I can believe that Luke is a successful rake. He is discreet, he doesn't kiss and tell, and he can be the most gallant man around if I take away his childish emo drama about not wanting to love ever again.

And oh my, the sizzle between Madeline and Luke is just too hot for words. But it's not just fun and games in the bedroom - both characters communicate and forge an emotional bond very convincingly through conversations and all those tiny little gestures that actually say a lot outside the bedroom. Their romance feels so right, there is no way that they can be wrong.

Meanwhile, we have Luke's younger sister, Elizabeth, who is making her debut at 19 in the ballrooms of London, charming men with her dowry and looks, both of which are in abundance. Miles Hawthorne, her cousin who is fortunately not related to her by blood, is not amused. This one is an amusing twist on the classic "childhood enemies turned lovers" tale - it is the hero who is hopelessly besotted with the heroine first and always, and she realizes that she loves him only much later. Despite being known as a ladies' man, Miles couldn't bring himself to indulge in an affair with another woman, not since he realizes that he's in love with Elizabeth. The only reason he hasn't made his feelings known to Elizabeth is because he has no title to inherit and no money to call his own. He is working his way up in life, but he fears that, like Heathcliff, he may return home a rich man too late to claim Elizabeth as his own. But at the same time, he can't bear the thought of losing her to another man.

This is another romance where the interactions between those two characters are just adorable. I don't know how Ms Wildes does this with apparent ease, but when Elizabeth and Miles bicker, they come off like people who are completely in love. Miles is really adorable as this devotedly infatuated bloke underneath his polished gentleman exterior, and Elizabeth has plenty in common with her future sister-in-law because she too isn't afraid to experience both love and desire fully. Unlike Madeline who carefully weighs her options before deciding that an affair with Luke won't harm her son's place in the Ton, Elizabeth is more reckless when it comes to acting on her impulses. But she's young and she's smarter than she seems to be at first, so there is no harm done there.

What keeps me from giving this book a keeper grade is the presence of several characters who are pretty much deus ex machina in action. Luke has a friend who can do everything, including saving the day, for everyone, so there isn't much suspense in this story. After all, when you are friends with the X-Men and your enemy is some silly human being, you are never really in any trouble, are you? There are also some secondary characters who act as the author's mouthpiece, forcing our main characters to examine their feelings and realize that they are in love. Characters like this kind never seem real, because we all know in real life that, when a friend calls you up to talk, she wants to talk about her problems rather than to listen to yours. Friends don't do that "Tell me your feelings!" thing - shrinks do that. There are too many characters here who are shrinks in disguise, always encouraging our main characters to psychoanalyze their feelings, and such scenarios never fail to feel artificial in my opinion.

But apart from the author's tendency to inject artificial contrivances to drive home that her characters are in love, there is hardly any misstep in Our Wicked Mistake. Boy, I hope the next book in this series can live up to the expectations set by this book.

Rating: 86

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