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I would highly recommend reading The Diabolical Baron before reading "The Rake." If you read "The Diabolical Baron" first, you will see a side of our hero, Reginald Davenport, that contributed to his rakehell and dishonourable reputation.
But, it's time for the bad boy to work toward reformation and why not give him a good woman to help him through the process? In the previous book, Reggie was hit hard when, after years of waiting for his uncle to die so he could finally inherit the earldom, a grandson of his uncle shows up and Reggie is left out in the cold. In this book, the new earl calls Reginald to his office and tells Reggie he will no longer pay him an allowance, but he will give him the most prosperous of the unentailed properties for Reggie to do with whatever he so desires with the estate.
Who would ever imagine that Reggie is a farmer at heart? But he does have a surprise waiting on him when he travels to what was his boyhood home. It seems his more than capable estate manager is a woman, Lady Alys. Not just a woman, but an Amazon of a woman. Reggie is over six feet tall and Alys is 5'11" - she's accustomed to towering over men - but not Reggie. She's not a conventionally pretty woman, but she has a commanding presence and Reginald is entranced by Alys, including her Amazonian figure and her mismatched eyes.
Lady Alys soon learns she is in over her head in some ways. As much as she wants to befriend her new employer - yes, he does need a friend - she doesn't know how to deal with Reggie's alcoholism. There were so many attributes of Reggie to be admired. He had a type of scoundrel's honor and was actually a kind of knight in white shining armor to a few people, only most of Society never learned about his good deeds toward various people and of course Reggie wasn't about to explain his actions to anyone.
As we traverse the story and Reggie's background is slowly revealed, one of the most touching scenes for me was when he visited his great uncle and his uncle gave him a major key for Reggie's release from his alcoholism - explaining that in his own situation, he called out to God to help him. This was unexpected and yet very appropriate to the situation Reggie found himself in.
Lady Alys has deep insecurities of her own and a past from which she has run away. Additionally, there are actions by Reggie that she misunderstands, mostly due to her own insecurities. So, we have two people thrown together, both of whom are in need of healing from wounds in their souls. Still, they have enough left inside to place the needs of others before their own. Only when Reggie makes the ultimate sacrifice, does he at last find peace.
There is a third novella in this series and it may be found in Christmas Revels. Within this book, there are several short stories including "Sunshine for Christmas" which features Lord Randolph Lennox, the man who contributed to Lady Alys' insecurities which haunted her for years.
It's uncommon, to say the least, for a woman to be an estate steward, yet Alys has been able to pull off that job for four years, communicating with the absentee owner in writing. When Reggie's cousin, the new owner, gives the estate over to Reggie, Alys sees her idyll coming to an end. Yet, when Reggie arrives at Strickland, he proves to be surprisingly open-minded, impressed Alys's success, and keeps her on as steward.
Reggie is a rake of the first order, but more than that, he's a drunkard who, at age thirty-seven, has begun to suffer blackouts. Even he has become convinced that his life is on a dangerous trajectory; a voice in his head keeps telling him, "This way of life is killing you." He believes that Strickland may be his salvation.
Alys and Reggie gradually become friends, and though they are attracted to one another, nothing more than a few kisses are exchanged. When fire destroys the steward's house, Alys and her three young wards move into the estate house, and Reggie begins to know the joys of a family for the first time in his life.
But Reggie's real problem is his drinking, and a great deal of this story revolves around his efforts to first get it under control and later to stop altogether. It's heartbreaking to watch him try and fail and try again.
Mary Jo Putney does an excellent job portraying the inner demons that plague Reggie. At the same time, she doesn't succumb to the temptation that some writers might feel to make Reggie's recovery all about his love for Alys. Reggie is getting sober for himself, not for someone else. And while Putney does lapse into a bit of AA one-day-at-a-time-speak occasionally, she is able to keep the story from sounding too modern.
There's an engaging cast of secondary characters and a couple of other romances. And I particularly enjoyed the epilogue:(view spoiler)
I picked out this book because of its high Goodreads ratings, its having won the RITA in 1990, and its ranking in AAR's Top 100 romances of all time. All these accolades are well and truly deserved.
I don't know what else to say other than this is a really good book, and I highly recommend it
In the book previous to this, Reginald Davenport appeared for a short time - a drunken, sneering, generally unpleasant rogue. He resumes life here still a rogue and a rake, but that life is beginning to pall just the tiniest bit. He decides to take himself to the country and have a look at the estate he's inherited.
Whereupon, he encounters Alys. Now Alys is no shy little flower. She ran away from home and has been the land steward for Reggie's estate for quite some time; that she's a woman is unbeknown to anyone in London. Surprise, Reggie! ~grin~
The story unfolds beautifully from here. Their relationship develops at a sweet, satisfying pace. I agonized as Reggie struggled to overcome alcoholism. I cheered at his determination. "You can do it, Reggie!," I cried. And Alys, great woman that she is, was there every step of the way. Reggie's a lucky man, and Alys is lucky too, because Reggie truly has a nobility of spirit and I *know* he'll conquer 'Demon Rum'. (He's swoony, too - wink,wink.)
This is a tremendously moving story, exquisitely written. A treasure. ~sigh~