Avon, Jul 2004, 6.99, 384 pp.
In 1818, the first time ever Michael “The Merry Rake” Stirling saw Francesca Bridgerton he knows he is in love although he never experienced that feeling before. However, he can not act on his emotion because Francesca is to wed his best friend, his cousin John in less than two days. Michael ironically thinks that he now has two new feelings: love and for the first time envy. Ironically, he never coveted the earldom or the wealth of the man he considers his “brother”.
Two years later, Michael hides his love for Francesca from her and his cousin. John complains of headache and soon afterward he, not quite thirty and in seemingly perfect health, is dead. At twenty-two, Francesca is a widow and Michael is the earl. He still hides his feelings while they mourn their loss until one innocent night he offers simple solace that turns into heated lovemaking. The aftermath is that both feel guilty as if they let down John. As they evade one another so as not to explore their feelings, Francesca begins to wonder if John arranged the whole thing as a heavenly matchmaker.
Title aside as no one is “wicked” in a nasty sense; fans will appreciate this wonderful Regency romance starring a loving relationship triangle between three wonderful protagonists. John was a nice respected person loved by his wife and his cousin so that his memory serves as a ghostly barrier to Michael and Francesca following up on their feelings. The two illnesses that John and Michael respectfully suffered from provide a feel for the era as Julia Quinn uses that to anchor her sixth fabulous Bridgerton book.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner