Sarah MacLean’s One Good Earl Deserves A Lover will be published on January 29, 2013. I received an advanced reader copy from Avon.
I knew the chances of me loving this MacLean book were high when I got to the dedication page and it read:
For girls who wear glasses
I smiled, adjusted my glasses, and dove into this wonderfully delightful novel.
Side note: my biggest problem with this book is the cover:
Those glasses should be on her face.
This is the second book in MacLean’s Rule of Scoundrels series. And I was a bit nervous because the first book in the series, A Rogue By Any Other Name, is my least favorite MacLean book (but this should be qualified because MacLean’s other series, Love By Numbers, is solid and contains in it one my most favorite books ever, Eleven Scandals To Win A Duke’s Heart.)
There was no reason to worry.
The brilliant, bespectacled daughter of a double marquess cares more for books than balls, for science than the season, and for laboratories than love. She’s looking forward to marrying her simple fiancé and living out her days quietly with her dogs and her scientific experiments. But before that, Pippa has two weeks to experience all the rest–fourteen days to research the exciting parts of life. It’s not much time, and to do it right she needs a guide familiar with London’s darker corners.
She needs Cross, the clever, controlled partner in London’s most exclusive gaming hell, with a carefully crafted reputation for wickedness. But reputations often hide the darkest secrets, and when the unconventional Pippa boldly propositions him, seeking science without emotion, she threatens all he works to protect. He is tempted to give Pippa precisely what she wants…but the scoundrel is more than he seems, and it will take every ounce of willpower to resist giving the lady more than she ever imagined.
This book picks up where A Rogue By Any Other Name left off. Lady Philippa Marbury (Pippa) has waited patiently in Cross’s office at The Fallen Angel, the gaming hell of which he is co-owner. Upon him waking, Pippa says pragmatically and without emotion, “I require ruination.” But Pippa is 1) a lady, 2) betrothed, 3) a virgin, and 4) the sister-in-law of Cross’ business partner. None of that matters to Pippa, though.
In a fortnight, Pippa is to marry a man with whom she feels no chemistry. She fears that if she goes into a marriage without any knowledge about how to please a man physically, she will not be able to overcome this lack of connection with her fiance. She has turned to Cross to teach her what she needs to know and she is not at all shy about it because, to Pippa, knowledge-gathering is a perfectly normal activity:
“As an obvious man of science…I should think you would be willing to assist me in my research.”
“Your research in the mating habits of bulls?”
Her smile turned amused. “My research in carnal lust and appetites.”
There was only one option. Terrifying her into leaving. Insulting her into it. “You’re asking me to fuck you.”
Her eyes went wide. “Do you know, I’ve never heard that word spoken aloud.”
And, like that, with her simple straightforward pronouncement, he felt like vermin.
But what Pippa wants is not for Cross to have sex with her. At least not initially. Originally she just wants “a lecture of sorts. In animal husbandry. Of sorts.”
Things, though, as they have a tendency to do, become complicated.
Cross tries, often successfully, to hold everyone at a distance because of a past that has made him hard, because of associates who want to hurt him, and because of his fears about hurting others and being hurt in return. He has made mistakes in his past for which he carries enormous guilt.
But Cross likes Pippa. He is attracted to her specifically because of her bookishness (and all us bookish women swoon) and he reluctantly agrees to help her and to not tell her brother-in-law about their deal. He cannot stay away.
Here are the main reasons this story is irresistible:
First, Pippa is a smart woman in a world that does not value smarts in women. And so, her intelligence is coupled with an awkwardness borne from the fact that she wears her intelligence out on her sleeve and she is often chastised for it.
As Cross thinks early on:
No, there was nothing at all to suggest that Lady Philippa Marbury, daughter of one of the most powerful peers in Britain, was anything other than a perfectly ordinary young woman.
Nothing, that was, until she opened her mouth and said things like, bipedal locomotion.
MacLean peppers the entire novel with moments where we see the random, infinite stockpile of knowledge that Pippa carries with her. Each and every instance is great (is it “pegasuses” or “pegasi”?).
Second (and filed in the “no duh” section of this review), Pippa and Cross are that perfect romance couple. The heart of this book is these two people who are on the outside of society, looking in, though for different reasons. Cross is punishing himself and Pippa is marked as different by her desire to know things. And so they are drawn to one another.
They need each other, acknowledge that in many different ways, but fail constantly and repeatedly to make the choices that would lead to their ultimate happiness as a couple. They infuriate, especially Cross who self-sabotages whenever he can. And Cross’ frosty exterior is, inevitably, going to leave its icy mark on Pippa.
At one point deep into the book, Pippa learns a major thing about Cross that he has been hiding from her and she is very hurt by this. It is something he hides from everyone and barely lets himself think about. But Pippa, having built a relationship with him, does not care and believes he should have told her.
After Pippa has told him that she should never have trusted him, he says,
“Why did you, then? Why did you believe in me?”
She looked up at him, seeming surprised by the words. “I thought–” she began, then stopped. Rephrased. “You saw me.”
What in the hell did that mean?
He didn’t ask. She was already explaining. “You listened to me. You heard me. You didn’t mind that I was odd. In fact, you seemed to enjoy it.”
He did enjoy it. By God, he wanted to bask in it.
Here it is: Pippa is strange and she knows it. Cross likes her specifically because she is strange. She believes that and she’s right. And yet, he can’t convince her of that because all of the walls that he has built for so long that make it impossible for him to do so. And that confuses Pippa because she sees everything in black and white, not understanding the gray. And this is one of the things that makes her strange. And she knows she’s strange and that strangeness is the very thing about her which Cross likes…and so they go around and around.
The conversation above (the one where the woman who is wearing the spectacles tells the man she is falling in love with that he sees her) leads to their first kiss. Cross, in that long-delayed and incredibly hot scene, finally admits to her, “You do burn me, Pippa. You enflame me.” And after he says to her, “I want you more than you could ever know. More than I could have ever dreamed. I want you enough for two men. Ten men,” Pippa says the honest, straightforward, and unexaggerated truth, “I don’t require ten. Just you.” Oh, Pippa. It’s okay to indulge in hyperbole every once and a while.
Third, MacLean does a wonderful job showing us the very scientifically-minded Pippa discovering the very unscientific emotion of “love.” I found this piece of the book to be especially endearing and, well (I’m sorry I’m not sorry) heartbreaking.
Her whole life she’d heard of it, laughed at it. Thought it a silly metaphor. The human heart, after all, was not made of porcelain. It was made of flesh and blood and sturdy, remarkable muscle.
But there, in that remarkable room, surrounded by a laughing, rollicking, unseeing collection of London’s brightest and wickedest, Pippa’s knowledge of anatomy expanded.
It seemed there was such a thing as a broken heart.
I don’t want to say too much about how everything unfolds, how Cross forgives himself, how Pippa’s intelligence saves the day, and how they finally decide to be together. But I’m going to say a few things so SPOILER ALERT!
I gave a bit of a side eye to how easily Pippa’s fiance rolled over and how damn nice he was about it. I mean, I think part of that is MacLean showing us how nice he actually was even as he was a bit of a cold fish. Still, it was a convenient moment in the plot.
And there is one final thing I want to quote. It is always satisfying as a reader when an author can take a small but poignant moment from early in the work and bring it full circle at the end. In this case, MacLean did this using the story of Orpheus (and as someone who studied classical civilizations in college and got her M.A. in Latin Literature, I am always partial to the classical references). Here is Pippa and Cross’ exchange earlier in the novel:
“Orpheus is one of my favorites.”
She looked to him. “Why?”
His gaze was locked on the night sky. “He made a terrible mistake and paid dearly for it.”
With the words, everything grew more serious. “Eurydice,” she whispered. She knew the story of Oprheus and his wife, whom he loved more than anything and lost to the Underworld.
He was quiet for a long moment, and she thought he might not speak. When he did, the words were flat and emotionless. “He convinced Hades to let her go, to return her to the living. All he had to do was lead her out without looking back into Hell.”
“But he couldn’t, Pippa said, mind racing.
“He grew greedy and looked backk. He lost her forever.” He paused, then repeated,” A terrible mistake.”
Pippa does not know enough about Cross’ life at this point and so she thinks he has already found romantic love with someone and lost it. She is wrong. And in the end, of course, his finds it with Pippa. And he let’s her know by telling her:
“I need you Pippa…” he said, the words soft and ragged. “I need you to be my Orpheus. I need you to lead me out of Hell.”
I probably literally gasped out loud at that line because it hit me right in the heart. It was the perfect line for that man to say to that woman.
MacLean at her best is something to behold. This book should be bought and consumed, multiple times even.
The characters are rich, they are fun, they are flawed, and their story is so powerful because they each need the other: Pippa needs him to love her strangeness, Cross needs her to help him forgive and to accept forgiveness.
Redemption, gambling, hot sex scenes, witty writing, science talk, classical mythology, and love = winning combo.
I give One Earl Deserves A Lover 4.5 out of 5 stars and I think you should go pre-order it now and then read it immediately when it is released next week. Thank me later.