Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 122 - 13 Reasons to Read Wicked Little Game by Christine Wells

I met Christine Wells when I became a contributor to a group blog called missmakeamovie. Our blog was relaunched as Popculturedivas, and I've struck up a friendship with Christine as she keeps writing about things we share:

Glomming Richard Armitage - it's research!
Hugh Jackman - it's research!
The Anti-Hero
'Don't mention the war'
Her music playlist when she writes - from her very popular group blog, Romance Bandits
A love of book series and film series

1 - Christine's latest release is Wicked Little Game.

It's a Berkley Sensation imprint from Penguin's Berkley Jove romance division, which focuses on mass-market paperbacks.

2 - Christine continues her professional association with cover artist Jim Griffin. I think his work is just delicious.

3 - Wicked Little Game takes us to the high-stakes world of Regency London. What lurks behind the reputations of those in the ton? How far will the elite go to preserve those reputations - deserved or not? When governments can fall if a scandal's bad enough, those in the game can move the play to lethal levels.

4 - Christine has done something in her last two books that conventional wisdom says is a no-no for romance.

You can see the immediate draw for me there.

The heroine of The Dangerous Duke is a widow (heaven's no - readers don't want a story about a widow.) The heroine of Wicked Little Game isn't even a widow - she's currently married to a man who is not the hero of the book (the horror!)

High-intensity stress levels for the characters and a halt-everything-else-except-reading hook for the reader - what's not to love?

5 - Lady Sarah Cole married young to a man whom she was certain she loved deeply, and who appeared to adore her in return. Ten years later, she makes perfumes which she secretly sells to an apothecary to make ends meet. Her husband has become a wastrel, living beyond his means while Sarah keeps their household in barely-respectable rooms let from a landlady with whom her husband flirts to postpone rent payment.

6 - The Marquis of Vane has held a torch for the enigmatic Lady Sarah for years. Rebuffed when he once made an offer for an extra-marital arrangement between them, Vane intercedes despite his anticipated frosty reception - when her scoundrel of a husband sets a price on one night with his wife. For ten thousand pounds.

7 - The sexual tension coils through every scene. Lady Sarah herself has been attracted to Vane for some time when the story begins. In their rarified world, they were bound to encounter one another. Their history holds a sword over their every meeting. But Lady Sarah battles against her husband's bold infidelities by refusing to join in that sordid game. She's too proud to admit to anyone that her youthful decision to marry Brinsley Cole was a life-altering mistake. And she proudly refuses to engage in retaliatory affairs.

8 - I have a great affection for Lady Sarah. Her overriding character flaw - Pride with a capital 'P' - is a flaw with which I closely indentify. Oh, so closely. Her valiant attempts to hold onto her shredded self-respect are heartbreaking. I related to her like I haven't related to any other fictional female character so far.

If I say that the final scene in Turandot, a Puccini opera, where the unwinnable princess discovers that the hero has finally touched her armoured heart, leaves me in tears of recognition and reminds me of Lady Sarah, perhaps you'll understand my affection.

And if I say that the final pas de deux from John Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew ballet leaves me in the same state, then you'll definitely understand my affection. The ballet's heroine reminds me of Lady Sarah as she stops fighting the man who loves her and surrenders to her true feelings. It's filled with intricate trust moves and lifts that allow her to soar (and extremely difficult for the male dancer!)

9 - Now - let's get to Vane.

He's an historical romance hero as he was meant to be experienced.

But don't take my word for it. Here's what a few Amazon readers had to say about him:

"Vane - loved him!!! So, so, so sexy. He was the epitome of a hero! Very in control of his emotions - except when it comes to the heroine. With her, he falls to pieces. I LOVE it when the heroine holds the ability to bring such a powerful man to his knees." - Barbara, New York, USA

" He is an amazing hero. A lesser man than Vane would have given up on Sarah. She was so hard, so callous and so adept at keeping her icy cold mask in place. But Vane understood her core. He knew what she was protecting and he was determined to break through all her walls." - VampFanGirl, San Diego, CA

10 - Christine really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"He couldn't save her from Brinsley's loathsome schemes. He'd tried. She'd spurned him with her cold, cruel smile. But what if the villain took this offer to another man with fewer scruples than Vane? What then?

'I ought to kill you, Cole.' Vane kept his voice low, aware that a party of men had left Crockford's and headed their way. 'Exterminate you like the vermin you are.'

Brinsley didn't even blink. 'Ah, but I'm well acquainted with your sort, my lord. I know you will not kill a man without a fair fight.' He fingered his bruised throat, then shrugged. 'Call me out if you wish to see Sarah's name dragged through the mud. I won't meet you.'

His expression darkened. 'I married that little bitch, my lord marquis. Short of bloody murder, I can treat her however I damned well pleased. So think well before you threaten me, sir, or your sweet Lady Sarah might suffer the consequences.'

Blind rage, all the more dangerous for its impotence, threatened to overwhelm every principal Vane held dear. He faced Brinsley in the darkness, panting with the effort of keeping his hands by his sides instead of wrapping them around the bastard's throat. This time, he wouldn't have the strength to let go.

He'd never killed a man before...

Their misted breath clashed and roiled upward. The moonlight glinted off wet cobbles, threw Brinsley's profile into high relief. The thoughtful poet's brow that hid a conniving, low mind, the noble nose that sniffed out weakness and despair, the sculpted lips that now curled in a self-satisfied sneer.

Damn him to hell. Brinsley knew he had won."

11 - There is so much going on in Wicked Little Game that it was a bit of a challenge to find excerpts that wouldn't contain spoilers. Be assured that Christine's previous inclination to include spies, political intrigue, suspense and a healthy dose of edge-of-your-seat action is in full array here.

12 - I reviewed Christine's previous book, The Dangerous Duke last December. Check out my review HERE.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"A large hand gripped her elbow, stopping her. She gasped and swung around, to see the hackney driver's reddening face.

She swallowed hard. 'Let go of me. I told you, I'll only be a minute.'

'Where've I 'eard that before?' scoffed the driver. His hold tightened. 'I'll 'ave my money first, ma'am,
if you please.'

Before Sarah could answer, there was a blur of movement and a dull crack. The driver dropped Sarah's elbow with a grunt of pain, cradling his wrist. Sarah's gaze snapped upward. Standing between them, looking down at her with those deep, dark eyes was the Marquis of Vane.

'Did he hurt you?' He made as if to take her arm to inspect the damage for himself, but she stepped back, evading his frowning scrutiny.

She shook her head, insides clenching, heart knocking against her ribs. There didn't seem enough air in the world to breathe. 'A - a misunderstanding, merely. You are very good, but please don't - '

Vane lowered the cane he'd used to break the man's hold and switched his glare to the driver. 'If you don't wish to feel this stick across your back, make yourself scarce.'

The jarvey was a thickset man, but Vane towered over him, all broad chest and big shoulders and pure, masculine power. The driver blenched a little, but he retained enough spirit to mount a case in his defense.

Vane didn't appear to listen, but nor did he stem the flow. Of all the men in the world who might have come upon her in this predicament, why did it have to be Vane?

His swift glance held a gleam of curiosity. She lifted her chin with proud distain. The marquis gave no sign he believed the driver's story, but when Sarah said nothing to contradict it, he flicked a coin to the jarvey and dismissed him with a nod.

Vane turned to her. 'Come, I'll escort you home.'

His low, resonant tone stroked down her spine in a warm, velvet caress. A shocking wave of heat rolled through her body, left her trembling from head to toe. 'That won't be necessary, thank you,' she managed. 'It is but a step.' She gripped her hands together. 'I haven't the funds with me, I'm afraid, but my husband will reimburse you. If you'd be so good as to find him...'

Vane followed her gaze to the coffeehouse and his jaw tightened. 'I don't want repayment,' he said harshly.

There was only one thing he'd ever wanted from her. He still wanted it. She knew by the suppressed violence in him, the tension that held his large frame utterly still.

She was in no better state. Her senses feasted on him. He carried himself like a Roman general, with the grace of an athlete and a habit of command.

Even in the open, bustling street Sarah felt crowded, oppressed, overwhelmed by him. Her pride refused to let her take a backward step. But oh, she wanted to. She wanted to run.

All she could do was conceal her fear beneath that familiar mask of ice. 'Thank you. I'm obliged to you,' she said in a colorless tone.

He continued to stand there, waiting, as if he expected something from her. She wasn't sure what it was, but she knew it was more than she could possibly give. She glanced at the coffeehouse. She needed to get away.

'So cold,' breathed Vane. 'You are...quite the most unfeeling woman I've ever met.'

Sarah forced her lips into a thin, cynical smile. How little he knew her. The danger had always been that she felt far, far too much. An excess of sensibility had led to the great downfall of her existence. She'd paid for her impulsive choice every day for the past ten years.

The suffering had increased a hundredfold since she'd met Vane.

They stared at one another without speaking. The everyday world rushed past in a muted blur, as if she and Vane were surrounded by smoked glass. Those compelling dark eyes bore into hers, determined to read her secret yearning, searching for a response.

Her heart gave a mighty surge, as if it would leap from her chest into his. But she'd built a stronghold around her heart from the flotsam of wrecked dreams.

Someone jostled her as they hurried past. The strange bubble of suspended time burst and the world flooded back, swirling around them. Sarah turned away.

And there, in the bow window of Brown's Coffeehouse, stood Brinsley, her husband.


- Christine Wells, 2009