There's a reason we tell people not to judge a book by its cover. Nothing from the outside gives you a real feel for what you'll find on the page here. First, I take issue with the title. Beau is not a rake and the book is in no way about changing his habits with women. Second, the cover is terrible: the models, his outfit... blech. And finally, the blurb. It makes this sound like it's about Beau's quest, with Chelsea as a distraction... when in fact, our heroine is truly the driving force in the story. Indulge me for a moment, and let me tell you about what you'll really find if you open up this book.
Chelsea's boor of an older brother Thomas wants to force her into marriage with a disgusting clergyman. So she makes a run for it, heading straight to the door of Beau Blackthorn. It's been seven years since she last saw him.... on the day he tried to propose to her older sister Madelyn. Not only did Madelyn spurn his affections, but Thomas horsewhipped him in the street for reaching above his station. Beau may be a man of means and education, but he and his brothers are bastards and will never truly be accepted by the Ton.
Over the years, Beau has been working secretly to ruin Thomas financially. And Chelsea knows all about it. So she presents him with an offer of marriage. It will allow her escape from her brother and give Beau a chance for true revenge against the man who humiliated him all those years ago. He accepts and the two of them go on the run to Gretna Green with Thomas, Madelyn and the Reverend in hot pursuit.
On their travels, we see a real relationship begin to develop for our couple of convenience. Chelsea is determined to press forward, to create a real marriage that Thomas cannot impeach. But she can't know how real the passion will be or that her emotions would become so invested. By the same token, Beau thinks he only accepted Chelsea's offer for its face value. He thinks after the debacle with Madelyn, he'll never love again --nor does he want to. But Chelsea is like no woman he's ever known. She is bold, honest and seems not to care at all about their social differences.
I really liked Beau. He's been kicked in the teeth, but still manages to be a good man. He's even more appealing because he doesn't see his own worth. Watching his tentative steps towards love is really quite nice. (And I'll admit, I enjoyed the love scenes too.)
There are also some really engaging secondary characters. Thomas is a fairly good foil. But the big draw is Beau's dysfunctional family. His mercurial brother Puck... his dark, mysterious brother Jack... his horrible, selfish mother. All were fascinating --and will make for some great future books.
There were only two things that really didn't work well for me. The writing style was, at times, a bit difficult to follow. By that, I don't mean the story was hard to follow, but rather, the sentences often felt like they had way too many words or phrases stuffed in them to read smoothly. Sometimes, there were so many dependent clauses crammed into one sentence, I'd have to go back and re-read it a couple of times to understand what it meant. The whole book wasn't written this way, but it happened enough times that it bothered me. Let me give you an example from the very first page:
"And so it was that, with the clouded vision of a man besotted, that the same Oliver Le Beau Blackthorn, raised to think quite highly of himself, the equal to all men, did, with hat figuratively in hand, hope in his heart and a bunch of posies clutched to his breast, bound up the marble steps to the mansion in Portland Place one fine spring morning and smartly rap the massive door with the lion's head brass knocker."
That is all one sentence.
My second problem was more of a plot issue. In the last quarter of the book Thomas ends up changing his outlook on life several times in just a few short chapters. I didn't really understand what drove the developments for his character once they neared Gretna Green and it kind of left me scratching my head.
But overall, I did enjoy the book. And I look forward to seeing what happens with the other Blackthorn brothers... especially Jack. 4 stars.
*ARC Provided by NetGalley