Provocative in Pearls, by Madeline Hunter

Title: Provocative in Pearls  (Rarest Blooms #2)
Author: Madeline Hunter
Year of Publication: 2010
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Regency romance
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 3 stars (though possibly just barely)

I didn’t like this quite as well as the first book in the series, mostly because I had some trouble connecting with the heroine. She came off as a little cold, and, honestly, a little dim. Her problems had many solutions that she just wasn’t seeing, and it sort of made me want to throw things at her. It’s still a decent read, though. I warmed to the hero more than the heroine, and Hunter continues to provide intricate, engaging plotlines.

Hawkeswell is a broke earl, nigh-impoverished by inherited debts. Two years ago, he made a deal to marry the daughter of a deceased iron baron — a wealthy heiress being exactly what he needed to set his affairs in order. What he didn’t know is that the girl in question had been abused by the cousin who had wardship of her until her 21st birthday, and that she had not freely consented to the marriage at all. Verity disappeared hours after their wedding, leaving Hawkeswell to deal not only with his debts, but with suspicions regarding her apparent death in a river as well. Unfortunately, since she can’t actually be declared dead without a body, Hawkeswell can’t find another heiress to marry.

So, imagine his surprise when he stumbles across his wayward bride at the Rarest Blooms, when he visits there with his friend Sebastian and Sebastian’s wife Audrianna (heroine of the previous book, Ravishing in Red). She is, in fact, the “Lizzie” who had been living there for the past two years. Hawkeswell wastes no time reclaiming his bride, but Verity, who’s grown accustomed to a certain degree of independence (and who has turned 21 in the meantime) presses for an annulment. Hawkeswell has no reason to give it, and decides he has to seduce his wife into staying with him. In the meantime, Verity keeps hatching plans to get away, none of them very well-thought-out, all naive, all demonstrating that she has no idea how the world actually works, and all of which fail rather spectacularly.

What bothered me about the interaction between Hawkeswell and Verity is that… I just felt like things should’ve come together much more strongly than they did. Verity gives in to his seduction and accepts that means she’s pretty much stuck with him, and though affection grows, you never quite feel the swell of overpowering love. And if that had been more pronounced, I think, maybe other things would’ve fallen into line better. Verity wants to retake control of her father’s iron foundries, to improve life for the people there who have been suffering under her cousin’s rule. She can’t do so directly, however, because she’s married now, and her (controlling) share in the company passed to her husband’s name. Now, what would seem obvious to me is for her to make clear to him how important these things are to her, and fix things up there with his help. Instead, we get a somewhat clumsy solution, which stems not from cooperative power, but from Hawkeswell beating her sinister cousin into submission. Literally. I’m not all that bothered by Hawkeswell’s temper and domineering manner generally — throughout the book, he’s very firm with Verity, but frankly, she needs it — but I don’t see this as a sustainable solution to the problem. It didn’t stem from them working together as a couple, and so it fell short of being satisfying. It never really got to a point where you got the sense that Verity was willing to work with Hawkeswell rather than against him.

I was also somewhat disappointed in the ending, if only because Hunter skips right over what would be the climactic moments of the plot. Something exciting’s about to happen (again, under Hawkeswell’s steam, with Verity entirely uninvolved), and then the curtain drops at the end of a chapter, and when it picks up again… everything’s over and settled and we didn’t actually get to see any of the action. Hunter does give it a nice twist, though, in the denouement, which somewhat makes up for it. I don’t want to give it away, but what I will say is this: these are both very practical people. Even their gushing romance has a very practical edge to it. I’m simultaneously a little bored by that (it not being my mode of operation at all) and impressed at the somewhat more realistic tone to put in a romance novel.

I have no complaints about the steamy portions of the novel. Hunter continues to be willing to kick the heat up and let her characters revel in sensuality. I just wish the sex had been paired with what felt like more honest depictions of growing love.

Overall, a decent enough read, though not one I’ll feel compelled to return to anytime soon.

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