The Naked King

Sally MacKenzie
The Naked King
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Zebra Books
Release Date
June 2011
Book 7 of The Naked Series
Historical Romance

One night of slight overindulgence--oh, all right, he was drunk--and Stephen Parker-Roth finds he must betroth himself to prevent yet another scandal. But his "intended" is lovely, a redheaded beauty under her horrendous, unfashionable bonnet, and before long, he's congratulating himself on compromising such an excellent candidate--and anticipating what other naughtiness they'll get caught at before the wedding...

Lady Anne Marston has long since given up any thought of marriage. That is the price she pays for the mistakes of her past. But one little conversation with a handsome rogue should never have led to a sham engagement. Even if it did end in a rather shocking broad daylight...on the front step of London's premier gossip. Now, trapped between a secret and a lie, Anne must somehow disentangle herself from this charming, maddening man before the truth comes out--or her heart gives in...

Book Review by Bridget (reviewer)
Aug 03, 2011   [ OFFICIAL REVIEW ]
139 people found the following review helpful
I think I may have just found a new favorite series. Lighthearted, genuine funny and touchingly sincere, this was an ideal beach book and a delectable summer treat.

Returning home still drunk from a bourbon-soaking evening, Stephen Parker-Roth finds himself knocked into a puddle by an enormous dog. The only benefit to the situation is that at the end of the dog's leash is a remarkably intriguing lady with fiery red hair and the most hideous bonnet that Stephen has ever seen. Desperate to keep it off her head, Stephen stomps it into the mud, which very well may rank among the most unconventional ways to strike up an acquaintance, but then again, it would appear that this lady is far from conventional.

With her wild hair and quick wit, she is more than a match for Stephen, and though not a conventional beauty, he is quite content to continue looking at her for a long time to come. Which is fortunate, since minutes later, Harry the dog sends them toppling once again, this time at the feet of one of the Ton's most prolific gossips. An honorable man to his core, Stephen realizes the only way to save this fascinating lady from disgrace is to declare their engagement before her family of eccentrics.

Lady Anne Marston has been rusticating for nearly a decade, returning to London only to help her younger and admittedly more beautiful half-sister through her coming-out season. Though Anne herself was once on the marriage market, an unforgettable, terrible encounter with the odious Lord Brentwood cured her of any romantic notions. Now a 27-year-old spinster, she has essentially raised her siblings while her father and stepmother have gallivanted around the world in the study of antiquities and given up on love entirely. Why, then, do the antics of the infamous ‘King of Hearts' put a smile on her face and set her heart racing?

Agreeing to the ruse of their engagement only to keep from spoiling her sister's season, Anne knows that a man like Stephen could never fall for a confirmed spinster with wild red hair—could he? But the closer her new fiancé gets, the more her secret and the feelings of inadequacy that it has instilled in her becomes harder to bear. When Brentwood himself appears on the scene threatening to destroy not only Anne but her entire family, she realizes she has no choice left but to tell Stephen all the horrible truths about her past, convinced it will ruin whatever small measure of affection he has for her. What she fails to realize, is that the King of Hearts has been conquered at last and will risk anything to keep Anne safe and by his side.

Without a doubt, it is the strength of these two leading characters that make the story such a success. It is not simply a physical attraction—though that part is indeed delightful—but also a meeting of the minds. The "King of Hearts"— referring to Stephen's success both at the gaming tables and in the bedroom—is actually an avid amateur horticulturalist, travelling around the world to collect new specimens. Anne, who has lived an intellectual life thanks to her family's bizarre pursuits, is one of the few who can understand and share his passion and encourage it in all its forms. Her resilience and self-reliance are remarkable, especially considering the pain and fear she's been carrying alone for so long. For the time period, Anne's story is a very difficult one, and while I'm normally not very sympathetic to characters withholding very significant information, this was one instance that was wholly understandable.

Stephen captured my heart from the books' opening paragraph; you have to admire a man who, hung-over and covered with mud, can still manage to be absolutely charming. While I love my tortured heroes as much as anyone, it was a real treat to meet a leading man who was so genuine, charming and unaffected—and so completely smitten with his leading lady. He was a perfect match for Anne, because he could appeal to her intellect as well as her body and her heart, and I thought it was terrific that he never once thought of her as weaker or as the ugly duckling that so many people considered her. I will admit to being slightly surprised by his reaction to Anne's secret, but it was also a relief to see Anne set free from her worries and slowly come to accept that she could love and be loved.

I did find the final showdown with Brentwood and his protracted plans for revenge to be a bit much in terms of melodrama, but this story is somewhat over-the-top from the start (and delightfully so), so the action did make sense and also provided Stephen an excellent chance to declare his love and ride to Anne's rescue.

This book garners the rare distinction of making me laugh out loud in public. Though lighthearted, it is able to go into some pretty dark corners of Victorian society, especially the dangers facing women and handle it with a remarkable delicacy and feeling. Though apparently the last book in the series, I didn't feel that I had missed any significant information, though I am eager to hear the stories about the rest of the supporting cast. I found this particular book so charming and such an enjoyable read that I'm looking forward to going back and starting the series from scratch.
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