Title: The Untamed Earl
Author: Valerie Bowman
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: May 2016
Length: 304 pages
Series?: Playful Brides #5
Genre: Historical Romance
Lady Alexandra Hobbs, the daughter of the Duke of Huntley, has intended to marry Lord Owen Monroe since she first glimpsed him from the window of her bedchamber, back when she was just a girl. But the duke has already chosen Alex’s infamously spoiled elder sister, Lavinia, for Owen. And now there’s no turning back.
Owen has spent most of his bachelor years drinking, gambling, and skirt-chasing. He won’t see another pound from his parents, however, until he’s engaged to Lavinia. Desperate, he accepts an offer from her innocent and spirited–and absolutely beautiful–sister Alex: She will
turn him into a perfectly tamed suitor, and show him how to woo the shrew. But when Alex’s true motives come to light, will their bargain lead to recriminations–or to a romance that defies everyone’s expectations?
London, October 1816
“You heard me, Owen, and this time I’m putting my foot down.” The stamp of a boot lent credence to that particular claim.
Owen tugged at his sleeve and did his best to keep from rolling his eyes. He’d been summoned to his father’s study for what was likely the sixth time in as many months. Only this time, Owen had the misfortunate to be completely … sober. Blast, he should have stopped at the club and been even later than he already was to his father’s favorite pastime, dressing down his son. At least it would be more palatable if he were half in the bottle.
“I understand,” Owen drawled, standing up from the leather-upholstered chair that sat in front of his father’s large mahogany desk. Owen inched toward the door. He had learned over years of such meetings that it was best to get out quickly before his father had a chance to toss more empty threats at his head.
“No. I don’t think you do understand,” the earl said, stamping his foot against the wooden floor again.
Owen pressed his lips together to keep from saying something he’d regret. Which was usually everything he said. “I understand perfectly. You’re tired of my drinking?”
“My fondness for light skirts?”
Owen picked an imaginary bit of lint from the front of his impeccably tailored blue coat. The garment had cost a small fortune, but then again, high fashion didn’t come cheap and Owen prided himself on being well dressed. Well dressed, well fed, well entertained. Well everything. He focused his gaze on his father’s red face. “There, you see? I’ve cataloged all my faults. You want me to find a wife and ‘settle down.’ I understand entirely.”
“No. You don’t understand, Owen.” His father clutched at the lapels of his own burgundy coat and tugged viciously. Owen winced. There was no need to take it out on the garment. “You don’t understand at all,” the earl continued. “How many times have we had this discussion?”
“Too many to count,” Owen muttered under his breath. He was already thinking of the hand of cards he’d be playing tonight at his favorite gaming hell.
“What was that?” His father narrowed his eyes on him.
Oh, devil take it. His father had heard his mutter. “Quite a few,” Owen answered in a clearer voice.
“And how many times have you left here and done absolutely nothing to comply with my wishes?” his father replied, still tugging on his lapels.
“Too many to count,” Owen muttered again, glancing down at the tabletop so he wouldn’t have to witness the assault on the garment.
“You’ve never complied with my wishes!” The Earl of Moreland banged his large fist against the desk. The inkpot bounced. “Damn it, Owen, you’re to inherit the title one day. You’re to be an earl, for heaven’s sake. You’re to take your seat in Parliament and be a productive member of Society. You cannot continue to comport yourself as if you’re nothing more than a gadabout.”
“But I am nothing more than a gadabout.” Owen sighed and scratched at the underside of his chin. “Haven’t you told me that ever since my days at Eton?”
“We’re not going to talk about that again,” the earl replied, a thunderous expression hovering across his brow.
That’s right. His father had never even asked him what happened. Just assumed the worst about his son. And Owen had set about proving him right ever since.
“And you’re not a gadabout,” the earl continued. “Or you won’t be.” He banged his fist on the desk again. At least he’d surrendered the poor, blameless lapels. “I’m tired of having this conversation with you to no avail. I’m tired of seeing you while away your days drinking and gambling. I’m tired of hearing stories about your exploits all over town.”
Owen rubbed a knuckle against his forehead. “Oh, come now. They aren’t all over town, are they?”
His father’s jowls shook as he clutched his lapels even more tightly again. “Don’t be impertinent.”
“I’ve long since passed impertinent. And please have a care for your jacket, Father.” Owen smoothed a hand over the thigh of his coffee-colored breeches. Also not cheap. Living the lifestyle to which he’d grown accustomed was, in fact, quite expensive, and his monthly allowance from his father was the means by which he maintained his lifestyle. Hence Owen’s willingness to come here regularly and receive his dressing-down. It was a means to an end. He kept his father happy, and a large bank draft was deposited into his account each month. Of course, he sent a sizable portion of his allowance each month to an orphanage near one of the gaming hells he frequented, but he’d never tell his father that. Why spoil the man’s bad opinion of him? Besides, Owen wasn’t in the business of untarnishing his reputation. In fact, he’d been doing the exact opposite for years. It was a sport for him, really, much like training his beloved horses.
“Damn it, Owen. You must care about something.”
Owen did care about something. He adored his younger sister, Cassandra, and his horses. In that order. Neither had ever let him down. Neither had ever believed the worst of him. “I care about the damage you’re wreaking on your lapels,” he drawled.
The earl lifted his chin. “That’s it. I’ve given you plenty of opportunities. I’m officially finished putting up with your behavior. You will return here one month from today with an affianced bride or else!”
Owen’s gaze flicked over his father. Was that spittle on his chin? The old blighter really had his back up this time, didn’t he? But Owen couldn’t help himself. “Or else what?”
“Or else … or else I will cut off your allowance. Yes. That’s it. I should have done it long before now. I am not giving you another pound until you are properly engaged.”
Owen arched a brow and picked another invisible piece of lint, this time from his coat sleeve. “That’s a bit dramatic, don’t you think?”
His father’s face turned even redder, if that were possible. “No. I don’t.”
Owen studied his father’s countenance. By God, the old man was actually serious. Or at least seemed to believe he was serious. His face was a mottled purplish color and his neck was bulging beneath his neckcloth. Yes, Father was serious, indeed. Owen groaned. He’d always known this day would come. The day when his father insisted he take a wife. He supposed he couldn’t escape the parson’s noose forever. He’d had a good run, actually.
Owen shrugged. “Fine. If I must choose a wife, I’ll pick one out. Someone biddable, willing, quiet. One who’ll look the other way. Someone passably pretty and exceedingly meek.”
His father shook his head. “You don’t understand, Owen.”
Owen flicked at his cheek. “Understand what?”
“I’m not asking you to choose a wife. I’m telling you whom you’ll marry.”
Owen’s head snapped up. “You mean to say you’ve already got a candidate in mind?”
His father nodded, his jowls shaking vigorously once more. “Yes. Her father and I have already been discussing the contract.”
Owen leaned back into his seat, the wind knocked from his lungs. Well, he hadn’t seen this coming. Not at all. And he was rarely caught by surprise. He leaned far back in his chair, stretched out his long legs in front of him, and crossed his feet at the ankles. Perhaps this was even more serious than he’d guessed. “Discussing the contract? Good God. Who is it?”
His father cleared his throat, released his beleaguered jacket, and calmly folded his hands on the desk in front of him. “Lady Lavinia Hobbs. The Duke of Huntley’s eldest daughter.”
Owen scanned his memory. Hobbs? Lavinia Hobbs? The name was familiar, but he couldn’t recall a face. Blast. There were far too many pretty little daughters of overly entitled aristocrats to remember them all. And they were certainly not the sort of company Owen preferred to keep. The Duke of Huntley owned land adjacent to Father’s in the country. He knew that much. He’d been to parties at the duke’s country estate countless times. But none of that mattered to him at present. What did Lavinia Hobbs look like? More important, what did she actlike? Was she biddable? Was she meek?
He couldn’t recall and he wasn’t about to ask his obviously enraged father. No matter. One eligible innocent was as good as another, Owen supposed. What did it matter whom he married? He’d stop his merrymaking long enough to participate in a wedding, get an heir or two off her, and then resume his style of living. It was more the norm than the exception among his set. It signified little. This was nothing to worry about.
“I’m certain she’s fine, Father. Whatever you say.” Again, Owen stood to make his way to the door. He’d simply go to the club and get a good drunk going, and then he would continue to live his life exactly the way he had been doing for the last thirty-one years. A sennight or so before his next visit to his father, he would track down this Lavinia Hobbs, toss around a bit of charm, smile at her, kiss the back of her hand, and finally ask her to marry him. She’d jump at the chance, of course, because despite his sullied reputation, he was still one of the most eligible bachelors in the ton. Inheriting an earldom tended to whitewash even the most tattered reputation. Then, he’d return here in a month’s time, announce his success to his father, secure his allowance, and go about his routine, while Lady Lavinia planned a wedding worthy of a future earl and the daughter of a duke. After the wedding, he’d install the chit in one of their homes in the country, and that would be that until it was time to beget an heir. Not so difficult, really. He shrugged.
“You agree so easily?” His father’s bushy eyebrows flew to the top of his forehead.
Owen grinned at his father. “Yes. Lavinia Hobbs it is. I’ll see you in a month, Father.” He made his way toward the door.
“Not so fast.”
Owen paused, his fingers resting on the door handle. He turned slowly and arched a questioning brow in the earl’s direction. “Yes?”
The earl cleared his throat. “There is a catch.”
“A catch?” Owen echoed. He didn’t quite like the sound of that. “What catch?”
“Her father insists that she should choose you.”
Owen’s hand fell away from the door. He turned to fully face his father. “Chooseme? What do you mean?”
“Apparently, the girl’s got it in her head that she will marry only for love.”
Owen scowled and rubbed a hand across his forehead again. “Love? What nonsense is that?”
“Her parents value her highly and are quite indulgent of her. They’ve promised her she can marry for love. Until she fancies herself in love with some chap, she won’t accept his suit.”
Owen did roll his eyes this time. “How droll. Good God, Father, why this girl of all girls?”
“Because she comes from impeccable lineage. And once the match is made, the combination of our lands will secure the future of the title for centuries. She’s the perfect mate for you. But you are going to have to be the biddable, willing one.You are going to have to be the meek one. You are going to have to court this girl. Make her see your, ahem, assets, however questionable they may be.”
Owen snorted. “Your faith in me is truly astounding, Father.”
“Be that as it may, you’re going to have to convince her not only to marry you but fall in love with you as well.”
Owen’s grin widened. “I doubt it will be as difficult as you believe. I do possess a modicum of charm, you know?”
His father’s face adequately reflected his skepticism. “There’s one other thing.”
Owen groaned. “Dare I ask?”
“You cannot tell her that we are already planning a contract.”
Owen rubbed his temples. He wished he hadn’t had quite so many brandies last night at the club or quite so few earlier this afternoon. “Seems the whole thing could be put to rights with just coming out and telling her we’re to marry.”
“Absolutely not. Her father will stop the proceedings if she is made aware. She’s a bit, er, excitable, it seems.”
Owen scowled. “Excitable?”
“Gets her back up about certain things if she’s not happy.”
“Fine. Whatever you say. I’ll think of something. I’ll manage it.” Owen turned again, wrenched open the door, and took a step into the corridor.
“You have a month to get her to agree to your proposal, Owen,” his father called.
Owen turned his head and grinned at his father. “That should be plenty of time.” He strolled off down the corridor, whistling to himself. A month to get a Society miss to fancy herself in love with him? How difficult could it be?
Lady Alexandra Hobbs has always believed she would marry Lord Owen Monroe. Ever since seeing him save her sibling under her own sill one night. Despite her deep-hidden secrets, her father, Duke of Huntley, has deemed her spoiled sister will marry Owen Monroe, whose own father has given him the ultimatum to make the engagement happen within a month.
Owen accepts Alex’s proposal to help one another in their specific areas of romance and end up with a romance of their own on their hands. Owen wants nothing to tarnish Alex’s reputation in learning how to woo the shrew that is her sister. Throw in a good-natured, prank-loving crew of friends and it makes for one interesting mix.
Alexandra – an adventurous 18-year-old who has suffered in her sister’s shadows, she has been in love with one man for years
Levinia – Alexandra’s older sister who detests everything, known to throw outright temper tantrums and always get her way, no one can enjoy her sour company
Thomas – Alex and Levinia’s brother who is often away at school but when home tries to show he cares for Alex
Owen – a lord with a rakehell reputation hellbent on keeping it so, he is given an ultimatum
Cass – Owen’s younger sister, she has always supported and loved him despite his reputation and parents’ feelings
“Very well, what can we do to calm your nerves, my lady?”
“DO you have any port wine? I always seem to enjoy it when I seank a bit from Father’s stash.”
Owen nearly guffawed at that. “You sneak port?”
“Yes.” She nodded matter-of-factly.
She was positively adorable.
The Highs and Lows
- Lady Alexandra. Alex is everything a proper lady should not be. She is not tall and willowy and ethereally beautiful. She is vivacious and voluptuous. She does not always follow her parents wishes, though they never know. She believes in doing good things for others. She is kind and compassionate and loving. She is frank and honest and doesn’t censor herself to be coy and coquettish.
- The Ultimatum. Lord Owen Monroe is challenged to an ultimatum by his father. He has rather come to like his monthly allowance, as he enjoys expensive clothing…and other expensive tastes. Owen must marry Lady Lavinia Hobbs and has one month to become engaged. Owen has always challenged his father, who sees him as a failure, and sets out to prove himself and show his father that he can and will court and seek out Lady Lavinia’s hand.
- The Deal. Alexandra discovers her parents plans to have Lord Owen court Lavinia. As a ploy of her own, she strikes a bargain with Owen. She wants a successful (re)launch into the ton. He wants to court Lavinia. She can give him all the insights into Lavinia, and he can teach her how to be coquettish and popular and a sought-after Lady. All the while Owen believes she is in love with some blonde haired, blue eyed, titled man (conclusion: Lord Berckley) and Alexandra falls for Owen more with each passing day.
- Lavinia. The Leech. Lavinia is beyond an overly pampered, spoiled little rich girl. She is a downright snake. She is 20 or 21 and throws childish tantrums – in public. In people’s homes! In the ton! As a child she nearly died from an illness. Ever since her parents have given in to anything she demands and going a day without her screeching, screaming fits is nonexistant. They coddle her to the nth degree, and meanwhile completely neglect Alex. She could not even have friends as a child because she had to be available to always play with Lavinia. She is often shut up in her room due to the family always putting Lavinia first. Whatever she has ever wanted in life, Lavinia gets – no matter the cost or harm to her sister. By the end of the book I firmly believed her parents needed to institutionalize her.
- The Reputation of the Hobbs Family. One fault I found with the plot lays with Lavinia. If she throws public temper tantrums in people’s homes, at their balls and dinner parties, how has the tabloids and the ton not destroyed the family reputation? How have people not claimed she is stark raving mad? And how could Lavinia’s parents neglect their younger daughter to such a degree?
- Lord Owen. Owen has always seen himself as a failure, not good enough after one disastrous stable burning at Eton, for which he was kicked out. Although never given the opportunity to explain the accident, Owen’s father the Earl jumps down his throat. I would say Owen’s rakehell behavior was a byproduct of his father’s overbearing insensitiveness. However, he secretly donates a portion of his monthly allowance to the boys’ orphanage. He pays the toll passage into the city for a poor farmer with a deathly sick child. He saved Thomas and the young stable boy from being beaten by two twenty-something “men” one night under Alex’s window when she was just fifteen. Although he denies the small good things he does do, Alex and Cass and a few others see them.
- The Hobbs Rule. Lavinia and Alex’s parents have imposed a very strict rule in their household. Lavinia must get engaged and marry first, but no man on the Earth would want the dour, stodgy, sneering Lavinia. The only good thing going for her is that she likes horses. That is it. This, obviously, puts immense pressure on Alex, who has no choice in the matter. Even if there were a man who was out of his mind enough to ask for Lavinia’s hand, she could still say no and turn him down. Alex will be an old woman long dead in her grave waiting to get married at this rate.
- The Rascals. Lord Owen has his own small crew of close friends, including his own sister. This small group of titled, noble and esteemed ladies and gents have been known to pull some outlandish pranks – including hosting a ball in the name of a nonexistant person – and they are prepared to take Alex under their wing. They see the writing on the wall and intervene at every opportunity to assist Alex in her endeavor. They are one interesting crew!
Alex’s love and devotion to Owen was so utterly sweet and delightful. She never gave up on him, never faltered. As their “business” continues, Alex falls more and more for Owen, and Owen can’t seem to get her out of his own head. What I hated was how both of them were placed in situations dictated by others. Alex was in the worst of places, almost as an afterthought to her entire family, with everything dictated Castro-style by Lavinia. As pointed out to Owen, he is still behaving as a child, following his father’s bellows at his age about whom he should marry. Owen ends up pointing out these things for Alex, but I thank the twinkling stars above that someone was brave enough to broach the subject and point out things to Owen. At several points in the book, I became very emotional about Alex’s circumstances, and I hoped she could escape them. Lord Owen Monroe is the only one daring enough to defy her father, and his own, to save them both.
Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip?
Definitely don’t skip! I really want to put this one on the buy list. It’s your personal preference, but I lean to buy.
Valerie Bowman’s debut novel was published in 2012. Since then, her books have received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus. She’s been an RT Reviewers’ Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance and Best Historical Romance Love and Laughter. Two of her books have been nominated for the Kirkus Prize for fiction.
Valerie grew up in Illinois with six sisters (she’s number seven) and a huge supply of historical romance novels. After a cold and snowy stint earning a degree in English Language and Literature with a minor in history at Smith College, she moved to Florida the first chance she got. Valerie now lives in Jacksonville with her family including her mini-schnauzer, Huckleberry. When she’s not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV and PBS.