Rake With A Frozen Heart by Marguerite Kaye. A mouthful of a title, and a book that is not without issues, but one that I enjoyed all the same.
Rafe St. Alban, Earl of Pentland, is out for a morning ride at his country estate when he comes across a woman lying in a ditch. This is an added complication he doesn't need, or want, in his life, but he can't very well leave the poor girl just lying there - especially when she's soaked from dirty ditch water and knocked unconscious.
Henrietta Markham is more than a little confused to wake up in a strange bed. Once she finds out she's in the bed of the notorious Earl of Pentland, she's horrified. The man is a notorious rake, and if there is one thing her mama warned her about growing up, it was rakes! A governess for Rafe's closest country neighbor, the details slowly begin to return to Henrietta's foggy mind. She interrupted a housebreaker and was conked over the head by the man! She thanks Rafe for his rescue, and is merrily on her way back to her rather, shrewish, employer. Sadly though, Henrietta's troubles are not over. She's quickly accused of theft! With a Bow Street Runner breathing down her neck, Henrietta takes off, and lands right back into the arms of Rafe - who is determined to help her out of the mess.
The first few chapters are this story are really delightful, full of dialogue that had me laughing out loud on my dinner break at work. Henrietta is extremely forthright, a girl incapable of guile. She's a straight-shooter, and lacks any sort of filter - which means she only tells the truth, whether people want to hear it or not. Rafe is a widower, a man whose first marriage was such an epic disaster he has vowed never to marry again. However he cannot help but be charmed by Henrietta. The girl is quite unlike anyone he has ever met before, and he cannot stand the idea of her taking the fall for something she obviously did not do. Even as cynical as he is, he knows her brand of naivety, innocence, and wholesomeness is no act - so he agrees to use some of his more unsavory connections to help find her mysterious housebreaker. Naturally this means they're going to have to spend some time together, what with Bow Street looking for her, until the matter is sorted out.
Once Rafe and Henrietta are paired up, and working to solve the mystery, is when this story begins to lag for me. The pacing of the middle portion of the story really begins to slag off, and while I continued to like the dialogue between the pair, the sense of urgency to the conflict almost grinds to a halt. However, things do pick up in the second half, with the mystery of the housebreaker being mostly dealt with, and Henrietta spending some time out in society. This is also the portion of the book where all the pieces of Rafe's past fall into place. Why is he so cynical? Exactly what happened with his first marriage that has led him to continually punish himself?
I enjoyed this story, not only for the dialogue and characters, but also for the interesting mix of romp meets angst. Because truly, that's what we have here. The story, the conflict, the pairing of two opposites has "romp" written all over it. However with Rafe's baggage, the author infuses a fair amount of angst. Yes, the pacing lags in spots, but the characters are engaging and the sensuality sizzles. A nice read that I enjoyed over the course of a couple of sittings.
Final Grade = B