Omg this book. The premise is fantastic. To wit:
Plot: a commoner who owns a tabloid is taunted into accepting a exclusive by a rakish Earl who needs to distract the tabloid from a buddy of his that has disappeared until they find him, lest yada yada reputation etc. He takes her to all the places he goes while being a rake to give her a juicy story, shenanigans ensue.
So I think the reason I picked up this book was that I had read a book with a similar premise a couple of years ago that I really enjoyed. I’m a fan of stories that use the romance genre to really break down the meaninglessness of the things that divide us, with regency romances typically tackling social classes as that arbitrary divide.
I can’t remember the name of the other book (help! they debate women’s suffrage in a hotel? She’s poor barely-nobility because her mom married a commoner? Her dad is struggling with alcoholism? She has a younger sister that wants to be accepted by society?) but this is not that book.
The hero is immediately presented as an Alphahole, even beyond his pretense of still being a rake (while he’s been different for like, an entire month, jeez). He is first dismissive of her because of her gender and then literally spaces out as she talks because he’s distracted by her appearance. Him the reformed rake.
When they meet again, she’s spent the entire day at a theatre being convincingly made up as a young man, so she could go where women aren’t typically allowed. And our Hero tells her, as a man of his breeding would certainly consider entirely appropriate, he recognised her by the shape of her ass, which he somehow deduced from underneath the 10 layers of clothes and bustles that she wore the day before.
Honestly, it wouldn’t even bother me. This sort of set up is par for the course in romance – the handsome jerk that overcompensates for his insecurities by flirting with everything that moves and using flirting to try and get power over people. There are plenty of stories that take characters like this and make them redeemable in a way that is satisfying.
But for that to happen, people around them need to actually tell them that their conduct is bad. Our strong willed heroine is flattered and flustered by his intense creepiness. The book tells us this is supposed to be sexy banter, not harassment of a highly vulnerable person he could probably very literally kill without consequences. This isn’t something he needs to grow out of, this is just a delightful part of his personality.
This book very badly makes me want to remember the other, much better version of this. Or I’ll just read the Suffragette Scandal again, as that is probably the actual best version of this type of trope.