The Wicked Wager by Anya Wylde
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy from the author herself. Thanks, Anya!
While sneaking out of a window to avoid being trapped into matrimony, Lord Richard Hamilton encounters Miss Emma Grey cursing inventively in the darkness and immediately falls in love with her. Because her uncle, the Duke of Arden, has his doubts about the match and wishes them to wait a year to marry, the young lovers agree to Richard's harebrained scheme to disguise himself as an elderly gardener so he can follow Emma to the duke's home and find a way to somehow compromise her, thereby forcing the wedding date to be moved up. Unsurprisingly, nothing goes quite as planned, and soon Richard's best friend is called in to pretend to be Richard, while the real Richard tries to avoid being blackmailed by the duke's widowed sister. Emma's cousin is dismayed to find herself pursued by Emma's supposed fiance, and he is horrified to find himself pursued by another of her houseguests.
I enjoyed this light historical-romance-turned-murder-mystery. It was fun, and the scene with the mouse in the breakfast room made me laugh out loud. The novel's tone reminded me often of Noel Coward plays: bordering on farcical. Willing suspension of disbelief is required, for there is simply no way an earl in 1800s England could ever hope to successfully masquerade as a duke's head gardener, not even to win a ridiculous wager. Ask anyone who's ever seen Gosford Park or Downton Abbey--servants had their own hierarchy, rules, patterns of speech, and customs, and no earl would ever have been able to fool any of them for a moment.
Still, the silliness was a breath of fresh air during a gloomy week in February, and thankfully Ms. Wylde didn't spend too much time describing the canoodling couples, as those sections often made my eyes roll.
For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, setting is secondary. There are no real sex scenes, and only mild period swearing.
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