The first book in the Hellions of Halstead Hall series, published in 2010.
In the two decades since a tragic “accident” took the lives of his parents, Oliver Sharpe, the Marquess of Stoneville, has survived the scandal surrounding that fateful night by living as an unrepentant rakehell. And with his grandmother vowing to disinherit him if he doesn’t settle down and wed, he plans to fulfil the bargain in true Sharpe style – by bringing home a fake fiancée from a brothel! But his scheme is derailed when he rescues an American beauty in a dire predicament instead. Maria Butterfield came to London to track down her groom-to-be, who’s gone missing, but her engagement won’t stop Oliver from getting what he wants: her, in his bed. His rebellious masquerade may call his grandmother’s bluff, but it’s soon made all too real – by a love that tempts him to be a hellion no more.
Mrs. Hester Plumtree has issued an ultimatum: she wants to see her five grandchildren wed within the year, or she will cut the all of financially. No more paying for their gambling and caroling, their housing and their clothes. Oliver, the oldest is 35, and is still suffering from the death of his parents. He believes he is responsible for the tragedy, and unworthy of love. So he has never before pursued a young lady of a respectable family. He takes his pleasures with whores and theatersingers and dancers. He is furious, as his grandmothers decision means he will have to re-open Hallstead Hall, his ancestral palace so he and his siblings can live there. He has shirked his duties for years, and is now expected to take care of the place and his tenants. And he vowed never to follow his father’s footsteps, who would have done anything to keep the place running smoothly, but didn’t deny himself any pleasure at all, no matter how much his infidelity hurted and shamed his wife.
So he thinks, if he brings home a totally unacceptable bride, his grandmother will relent. So he sets out to find a suitable woman in the brothel he usually frequents, but fate has other plans. He runs into miss Maria Butterfield and her cousin Freddy Dunce. They are only trying to get a good look at a certain satchel one of the customers has with him, as Maria is certain it is the one she made for her fiancée. But the customers of the place don’t let them go that easily, they are accused of thievery. To help them out of their predicament, Oliver strikes a bargain with Maria: she will pretend to be his fiancée, and he will safe Freddy from the magistrate, and also help her find her fiancée. Maria has little choice but to accept his offer, she has little funds left, and lord help her, but she is attracted to this British Lord.
But first he needs to get her out of her mourning clothes and into something a little more revealing, just to upset his grandmother. When he finds out Maria is Catholic, and her father was a war hero, he fought the English, and his grandmothers only son was killed in that war, he is really pleased with his find. His grandmother will have to back down, and give in to him.
Little does he know that is grandmother doesn’t care who he marries, as long as he does, and gives her some great-grandchildren. And Maria, who is not afraid of Oliver and who seems to be a good influence on him, is perhaps just the right choice! She will pretend to oppose the match, pushing the two of them together. But Oliver’s’ brothers and sisters also like Maria at first sight, and they don’t want Oliver to seduce her into his bed, so they keep interfering on their alone time.
But all those schemes are working, and finally Oliver realizes he really does want to marry Maria. She doesn’t believe all the gossip about his parents death, and does not even condemn him when he finally tells her the truth about what happened that night. Maria wants to marry him for love, and when he proposes but tells her he doesn’t believe in love, she turns him down. Then finally the runner they hired to find her lost fiancée appears with the news he found him. And while Oliver is out, getting a special license, against Maria’s wishes, she runs of with mr. Pinter to get the answers she needs and to end her engagement.
I loved meeting with Oliver, getting to know him, and his siblings. His feisty grandmother will for sure get her way! I am looking forward to the book about Minerva, who writes gothic romance novels, and Celia, who loves shooting pistols and winning from the men she competes with. I have a hunch about Celia and mr. Pinter. And I just know there is more to the story about the night their parents died. I think certain people will have to be found at last, and that what Oliver thinks, did not happen at all.
I loved Maria, how she sees to good in Oliver, and makes him think his life over, and his morals or lack of them. An American girl who needs to learn the English customs and is not afraid of anything. She won’t accept anything Oliver wants, and tries to stay herself.
And Oliver, all his needless suffering. He was just a boy after all. I blame both his parents for their behaviour.
All in all, a really good book, which I loved from first to last page. And I will read the others soon. A Hellion in her bed is already waiting for me, and Minerva’s book is pre-ordered.