Nicholas is anti-ton. His and Stephen’s father was disowned and disinherited when he had the temerity to marry the actress he’d fallen in love with. Their parents were killed when they were 6 and 4 respectively. After being turned away by his father’s family when a kindly minister took them to Stafford, the family estate, Nicholas’s loathing is cemented. After being raised in an orphanage the brothers join the Army and become well disciplined soldiers. You can’t tell it by Nicholas’s behavior and attitude after inheriting the earldom though. He’s out to revenge himself on the ton for his father’s sake. However, it isn’t quite as satisfying as he’d imagined.
Emeline is the spinster daughter of the school master in Stafford and the sole support for her twin sisters, Nell and Nan. Now that the school has been closed by the new land agent Benedict Mason she has no means to provide for her sisters. The new measures Mr. Mason says the Earl insists upon have brought hardship to most in Stafford. Emeline has been elected to go to London for an audience with the new Earl to express their grievances. Surely once he’s aware he’ll fix things in a trice. When Emeline shows up at Nicholas’s London home and is mistaken for a doxie by Stephen things get very interesting, very fast.
NICHOLAS not only tells the journey to a hopefully HEA for the title character but also Stephen. Instead of being divided into two books we’re treated to both as they run parallel to each other.
Nicholas is an ass and hell bent on remaining that way. Yes, he’s arrogant, vain, occasionally selfish, used to being obeyed and getting his way, especially with women. He isn’t a totally reprehensible reprobate though.
Stephen is the “good” brother, moral, upstanding and considerate. He’s claimed his daughter, Annie, by a camp follower who died in childbirth. Annie is currently ensconced in a convent in Belgium. He often nags Nicholas. Stephen wants to settle down with someone who’ll overlook Annie’s illegitimacy and love them both. Stephen wants hearth, home, family and love.
Emeline is intelligent, witty, and quite mouthy. Nicholas, for all his arrogance and bluster, doesn’t intimidate her (well, maybe just a tad). She stands up to him admirably and sees beneath to the man he is underneath.
Josephine Merrick is the widowed sister of Vicar Oscar Blair. Josephine has spent her life being commanded by spiteful men. Her brother Oscar is no exception.
Vicar Blair is a bully who wields faith as a weapon, a truly hateful man who uses his position to abuse and punish whomever he deems deserving. When Josephine catches Stephen’s eye she’s soon given a taste of heaven only to have it snatched away and be faced with hell.
Benedict Mason is the land agent Nicholas hired shortly after coming into the earldom. He’s in cahoots with Vicar Blair. They have spite, malice, and cruelty down to a fine art. When Emeline turns down Mason’s request to court her she makes an implacable enemy.
There were times I found Nicholas’s arrogance and conceit very much on the comical side. Occasionally if felt like he was trying to convince himself; especially when Emeline so adroitly knocks him off the pedestal he’d placed himself on. There were too many tells for me to buy that he’s a completely irredeemable ass. He has a conscience and we see it in action often and from the beginning, even without Stephen’s prompting. That’s not to say that his actions don’t cause trouble and heartache, they do. Nicholas is never intentionally cruel though he’s occasionally thoughtless. Nicholas is a work in progress. Here’s a sample of a scene between him and Emeline.
“Emeline?” a familiar male voice barked. When she didn’t respond, he growled, “Miss Wilson! I’m talking to you. Get your ass in here.”
She sidled over and peered in. “How did you know it was me?”
“I’d know that snotty stride anywhere.”
And a few seconds later:
“Why are you imbibing all alone and smashing the crystal?”
“None of your damn business.”
He reached for the decanter, and she snatched it away and set it on the mantle.
“Give me that.”
“You’ve had enough.”
“You’re not my mother, either. Don’t lecture me.”
“You’re acting like a barbarian.”
“I’m not acting. I am a barbarian.”
“I believe you.”
She stood in front of him, dithering over how to proceed. She didn’t suppose she should leave him to his own devices, but she wasn’t keen to dawdle while he grumbled and grouched.
“Don’t scowl at me like that,” he griped.
“Like you’re a cranky governess about to rap my knuckles.”
“Somebody should tell you how to behave.”
“Well, it’s not going to be you, so don’t try.”
“You haven’t answered my question,” she reminded him.
“What was it?”
“Why are you in here? Why aren’t you up in the earl’s suite?”
“I let my brother have it.”
“He enjoys the pomp and circumstance of this place, and he can have it. I wish to hell he’d been born first. Then I wouldn’t have to bother with any of this nonsense.”
She studied him, curious as to why he always seemed so unhappy. He’d grown up in an orphanage, but now, he was incredibly wealthy. Any sane man would celebrate such a turn of fortune, but not him.
“I see what’s happening,” she scolded. “You pity yourself.”
“Why would I pity myself?”
“Because you’re rich and powerful, and you don’t think you deserve to have had so much affluence showered on you. You feel guilty.”
“I didn’t deserve it, but I don’t feel guilty. This whole burden got dumped on me. I didn’t ask for it. It just…is.”
“Quit moping. It’s unbecoming.”
He narrowed his gaze. “Was there something you needed?”
OK, maybe my sense of humor is a bit skewed but the above is funny to me. For all her naiveté and all his military experience Nicholas is no match for Emeline. She has the Captain all twisted and tangled.
Stephen, for all his “goodness” is often as clueless and thoughtless as Nicholas. The brothers have little experience with ladies and it shows. Here’s a favorite snippet from a scene between Stephen and Jo.
“What are we doing?” she asked, gasping for air.
“We’re racing down the road to perdition. How do you like the view?”
Mid-way things get extremely hairy and tense with plenty of action and excitement as we rush headlong to a very satisfying conclusion.
Each couple has a unique journey and I thoroughly enjoyed them; each fits their characters to a tee. NICHOLAS is excellent escapist fun and has earned a place on my keeper shelf.
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