i really enjoyed this book.
I have read a couple of books by Anne Stuart before and been somewhat underwhelmed despite reviews raving about her dark heros. Well in this case, the hero is a genuine libertine with bad intentions whose redemption is gradual and in many ways against his inclinations.
Rohan is the head of the 'heavenly host', which is loosely based on the Hellfire Club with images of Georgians engaging in orgies etc.
The heroine, Ellenor is living in abject poverty with her sister, her mother and some dependants. The mother Lady Caroline, had left her husband years ago taking her children and had lived the life of a courtesan, gradually sinking into pox ridden degradation and madness. She takes the last of their money and goes to the Comte's country estate where the latest orgy is in progress and gambles it away.
Ellenor chases after her in the forlorn hope of stopping her. Instead she is discovered by Rohan and he finds himself strangely attracted to her. He presses his attentions upon her but she is resists him by being practical and calm. The interaction between the two main characters is very good and this is a heroine who is able to give as good as it gets with some great comeback lines.
The Comte drives her home and then tries to make her indebted to him by sending firewood, food and furniture to their bleak residence. Ellenor is upset by this and confronts him in his house, where again he makes further advances suggesting that she marry his cousin so that she is secure and that this would allow him to bed her himself. Ellenor returns home in a panic.
We are told that Rohan tries to forget her but finds himself going out of his way to drive past her home every night.
Thereafter Ellenor's home is brunt down due to a nefarious plot and she and her sister and dependants are rescued by Rohan and his friend Mr Reading, and taken back to his town house.
Following the death of her mother and nanny, Rohan blackmails Ellenor, that if she does not stay with him until after the end of the next orgy, he will turn his attentions to her innocent and beautiful sister. He initially suggests that all he wants to do is match his wits against her but it soon becomes clear that he intends to bed her.
He spends a number of nights teasing Ellenor for the details of how she lost her virginity thinking that the story would be salacious. Instead when she finally tells him what her mother did to her, he is quietly furious and kills the scoundrel in a duel.
Rohan then discovers Ellenor trying to escape and becomes enraged, and drags her to a bedroom with the intention of raping her. He has a moment of clarity and stops. He is remorseful and tender and the two make love for the rest of the night.
When Rohan wakes up the next morning he panics and tries to deny what he has felt. He disparages Ellenor to his best friend and of course she overhears this. Her so called cousin finds her and asks her to come away with him to England and she agrees to marry him in her distress.
Rohan kicks the heavenly host out and drowns his sorrows in alcohol, thinking he has lost Ellenor.
His best friend returns from marrying the H's sister and tells him that they think Ellenor is with her cousin. It emerges that the cousin is the villain of the piece and has ill intentions towards Ellenor. Rohan, of course saves the day and there is a HEA, with a great parting line from the heroine.
The main pleasure of this book is the dialogue between the main protagonists and the slow and skilful seduction by Rohan, which starts off with cruel and malicious intent but gradually turns into love without him realising.
The hero reminded me of a mix between the Duke of Avon (in Heyer's These Old Shades) and Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons, save of course that in the end he makes the right choice.