2.5 stars or C-/D+
Every few books, I like to stop and unwind with a romance, particularly romances about strong-willed women overcoming societal expectations and falling for men who appreciate them as they are. When The Second Seduction of a Lady came up for ARC, it seemed to be right up my alley. The synopsis sounded similar to Courtney Milan’s Unlocked, which I really liked but had problems with how pushy the LI was. Well boy howdy, do I need to go back and up my rating on that, because at least Courtney didn't let her characters become nearly as obsessive and stalkerish as Neville’s Max.
Eleanor Hardwick is a 30 year old spinster who prides herself on her pragmatic and logical approach to life. Seeing poor matches and loveless marriages around her, she vows to never marry. Instead, she fills her days traveling to relatives homes and using her “managing disposition” to tidy up their lives. The only reckless decision she’s ever made was to engage in a whirlwind romance with Max Quinton, five years ago. When she discovered Max originally approached her as part of a Georgian-She’s All That, Eleanor rebuffs his marriage proposal and returns to her father’s home to lick her wounds. Now, for the first time, they’ve run into each other as Eleanor tries to manage her cousin Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s 17-year-old daughter, “Caro”.
Caro is a bit of a wild child who longs to go to London and wear pretty dresses and fall in love. Eleanor can sympathize, if not empathize, and encourages her to try to be good so her mother will let Caro visit Eleanor in the city. This lasts approximately three seconds, until Caro falls into the river and is saved by the handsome rogue next door. As Eleanor marches across the bridge to fetch Caro home, who does she run into but Robert, (the rogue’s) guardian, Max.
From there, Max encourages Robert, who is 21, flunked out of school, and may have a gambling problem, to pursue Caro, because it means he’ll be around Eleanor. Even though Eleanor made it quite clear that she’s still not interested, Max knows that deep down she’s in love with him and if he just forces her to interact with him, then she’ll see it too. Well no, nothing shady or abusive there! This is another book where the hero thinks about how easy it would be to “compromise” the heroine, ruining her reputation and forcing her into marriage, only to discard the idea because, and I QUOTE, “With regret and a measure of relief he watched her slowly shake her head. ‘It’s just as well,” he said. ‘I want you to come to me freely, without a shadow of doubt or coercion. You are worth waiting for.’” AND THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE ROMANTIC AND PLEASE THE HEROINE! I understand the romance genre, especially historicals, relies on the reluctant heroine trope, but come on. He honestly pats himself on the back for not taking advantage of a woman and leaving her pregnant. Oh, and after they inevitably end up together, he threatens to tie her to the bed if she withholds sex again. Yeah.
This exchange is my biggest problem with Max and his character, but I also hate that he never really apologized for the wrongs of the past. He says the words, but continues to treat Eleanor like a goose. He’s full of excuses for why he took the bet in the first place, but when given a chance to right his wrongs, he engages in more shady, stalkery shit. He gets Robert to get Caro to give him their visiting schedule, so he’ll be there when she arrives. He tampers with her transportation so she can’t go to Scotland without him. He risks her reputation to share a room with her at an inn, lying to the innkeep that they’re husband and wife and then keeping her surrounded by people so she can’t “make a scene”. But he totally supports her having a life and interests of her own and admires her independent spirit.
Of course, they end up together and get the HEA they would have gotten 5 years earlier, if only she had listened to him then, too! He did accept a bet from Eleanor’s cousin’s husband to kiss her, but only to keep some other scoundrel from doing it first. Then after they coupled, the evil cousin’s husband lied and said Max had told them they did it. But it was only a guess, designed to tear the lovers apart! He wrote her to tell her of the ruse, but heartbroken, she returned the letters unopened! Fast forward, and now that they’ve been reunited, Max proposes again. Finding out that he set Robert/Caro up to spy on her, Eleanor flees again. Max follows her and tells her the kids ran off to elope and on the trip, E confesses the real reason she wouldn’t marry him is because her parents hated each other and then her mom died young. E secretly always wanted to be a mother, but she was too scared of death to let anyone get close. She lets M in, they make love, and finally decide to get married. HEA.
The writing is fine, although Caro has a brother who is in literally one scene and disappears. The villains are a little cartoony, but not the worst I’ve read. Really it’s just an issue of who could ever find Max to be romantic. As a prequel to a new series featuring Caro, it negatively impacted itself.The Importance of Being Wicked’s blurb sounds fine, and I might have checked it out, but after how badly portrayed she was inTSSoaL I’ll definitely pass.