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His Wicked Heart is an improvement in practically every way from Her Wicked Ways. Burke’s sophomore effort definitely still feels connected to the first, but is much tighter in plot and characterization. It’s sexier, too. It’s that “practically” that’s keeping the score middle of the road, however.
I hate alpha-heroes. Most romance leads are “alpha” to some extent, and that’s generally fine, but Burke’s heroes are the old-school, bossy, arrogant, compromise-her-and-force-her-to-love-me types. And I don’t find anything attractive about that.
This time around, the hero is Jasper, Earl of Saxton. I found Jasper to be a frustratingly inconsistent character. He’s full to the brim with generosity and forgiveness towards the less fortunate, unless the heroine, Olivia is involved. In another case of a romance novel hero realizing he’s acting like the villain, and then disregarding that knowledge because HIS intentions are good, Jasper harangues her into revealing her deepest, most sordid secrets. Because the poor daughter of a courtesan couldn’t possibly be ashamed or trying to move up in a society that won’t accept her. No, the reason she won’t tell Jasper the secret of her birth MUST be because she’s trying to destroy his life.
Speaking of the villain, he’s the same character from Ways, and remains cartoonishly evil, right up until the end when (When she went to see the old costume designer, I was certain we were going to get a stack of letters or a diary.) ! Even though his daughter, Miranda from the first book, has already graciously provided him with the same and it doesn’t appear to have made a lick of difference to the Duke’s character. Again, it’s base inconsistencies like this that make the story hard to believe. He isn’t really enough of a driving force to keep the characters from their HEA, so we have to add a liberal dose of misunderstandings and lack of communication to drive the over-long middle.
On the positive side, I like Olivia. I thought she was genuinely sorry over the deception in the blurb and her interactions with Louisa were sweet. I liked that her personal conflict ended, a bit tritely, with self-growth and discovery instead of the last second appearance of an object to give her all the answers. When she went to see the old costume designer, I was certain we were going to get a stack of letters or a diary. She’s not the most exciting character I’ve ever encountered, but she came across far better than her hero. It made me happy that she had dreams and aspirations apart from his, though I wish we’d seen something of her sewing/designing in the epilogue.
As for the erotic scenes, there are five and each is several pages and mostly well written. I will quibble that switching from the euphemistic “nub” to the clinical “clitoris” for one scene in the middle of the book was both jarring and felt out of place in the time period. I can’t find any documentation that this is actually anachronistic, but it reads too modern to me. I also can’t sign off on the term “cleft” for the vulvar region. Your preference may vary, but anything that brings to mind cleft palates is decidedly unsexy. Beyond that, I found them varied and enjoyable, with the carriage scene as the stand out.
In all, His Wicked Heart is a marked improvement for Burke and good novel, though your opinion will probably hinge on whether or not you like your heroes a bit old-school.