Series: The Wicked Earls’ Club, #9
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Alistair Johnstone is the reluctant Earl of Benton, raised Scottish, he wants nothing to do with his English heritage, but when his grandfather dies, he has no choice, much to his mother’s dismay (and rage). He is attending a house party hosted by the Wicked Earl’s Club when he learns that his mother is in trouble and he needs to return to Scotland right away. While discussing his mother’s dilemma with his valet, he spies Emma hiding in a stall with his dog Beast.
Emma is running for her life, she is a month away from inheriting her father’s vast fortune and ceasing to be under her uncle’s guardianship. Her uncle has tried to force her to marry his son Conrad, but she refuses, so now it appears that her uncle has a new plan. Emma finds her maid Jenny dead and her servants urge her to go, pointing out that Jenny was wearing one of her dresses and looks like her from the back – Jenny was not the intended victim, Emma was. Emma takes off and knows they are following her, she heads for the nearby estate and lets her horse go, she hides in the stables and overheads Alistair and his valet McKenzie talking. He spots her just as her uncle arrives and he covers for her. After her uncle leaves, he says he will help her, but wants some answers.
Alistair sneaks her into the house and there is a comical scene with Emma trying on disguises, they settle on a shocking gown and will pretend that she is his lover. They leave and successfully fool her uncle before they make their escape. Once in the carriage, Emma tells Alistair to leave her in the next village – he assures her he will not hurt her and goes as far as to give her a dagger to “protect” herself. He offers to take her to Scotland and ensures that he will give her safe passage back to London. Emma agrees. They travel together and let the innkeepers assume that they are married, for the sake of her reputation (and to throw her uncle off her trail). They arrive in Scotland and he sees his cousin Hamish, Hamish sees Emma and makes a comment, but Emma tells him they are married. A statement that Alistair agrees to, but what Emma doesn’t realize is they are in Scotland and by declaring themselves married in front of witnesses – they are in fact married. Alistair decides to keep this from her and figures he will sort it out later. They share a room and finally give into the desire they have both been denying.
They travel to his castle and Alistair is dismayed when he sees that nothing has been repaired. Emma begins to have doubts about Alistair – maybe he is just after her money and all his compliments and sweet words were just a ruse to trick her into falling for him. If this revelation wasn’t bad enough, she then meets Madge, Alistair’s English-hating mother. Madge is livid that Alistair has brought Emma to her home. She spits at Emma’s feet, demands Alistair make her leave and refuses to leave her room until she is gone.
Emma has had enough and asks to be taken to her room. Alistair takes her and explains why Madge is so hateful and he says he will go talk to Madge. As he leaves, Emma realizes that she is falling in love with him. He talks to Madge and learns why the repairs haven’t’ been made, she is still angry, but it is clear she loves him and misses him, which is why she forced him to come home.
Emma spends a restless night and when she hears someone at her door, she thinks it is Alistair – but it is Madge – a raging, screaming Madge who charges at Emma. Emma grabs the dagger Alistair gave her – she is tired of being the victim and will not go down without a fight!
Alistair goes looking for Emma and finds her in the great hall with Madge – they are both drunk. Alistair helps Emma back to her room and she finally explains why she doesn’t believe Alistair’s compliments are sincere. Alistair tells her she is wrong, what she believes are flaws are what he likes best.
The next day, Alistair meets with Hamish, they are preparing to smuggle whisky to England for Madge. This was the great emergency that brought him to Scotland, she made promises to some very shady people and there was no way she could deliver the whisky. Alistair has to save her, but if he is caught smuggling Scots whisky into England, he will be tried for treason. He also doesn’t want Emma to know, because it will only further her belief that men only want her for her money. He makes the final preparations with Hamish and they enter the hall. Emma and Madge are together and Hamish addresses her as Lady Benton. Emma is embarrassed and says it was a lie, but Madge points out that because they declared themselves in front of witnesses, they are in fact married. Emma is stunned and then angry – why didn’t Alistair tell her? And when Madge mentions her fortune, she feels betrayed, she loved him and believed that he was sincere, but now she knows she was a fool.
The next day before she leaves, Madge talks to her and tells her that she thinks that Emma and Alistair can be happy and that Emma is welcome at the castle. Emma is touched, but is not sure Madge is correct about her and Alistair. When they finally set off, he tries to talk to her, but she is not having it. And when she asks about the carriage and the cart, he lies. She calls him on his lie and he finally tells her everything. She is still upset and heartbroken, but even worse – still in love with him. Alistair doesn’t want to lose her, but he has no idea how to right the wrongs he has done.
Can Alistair convince Emma he loves her? What about her uncle? And the whisky? Is there anyway for these two to overcome the hurt and betrayal? You’ll just have to read the book to find out!!
This was a well written, fully fleshed out novella, it has amusing moments, steamy love scenes, lies, betrayals, crazy mothers and evil relatives, a sweet dog and very hard won HEA.
This is the ninth installment of the Wicked Earls’ Club, but like the previous books, it is a stand alone title. I highly recommend this book and the entire series!
*I am voluntarily leaving a review for an eARC that was provided to me by the author*