What a Wicked Earl Wants - Vicky Dreiling Hmmm. I'm trying to be fair, but this book was just not my cuppa. The hero, Bell, and the heroine, Laura, were jarring to me and even a little unlikeable. The story itself felt like a retread with names changed to protect the guilty.

First, Bell seemed to be a "fake rake." I'm told he has a past littered with conquests/notches on his bed post, but I didn't see any real evidence of a dissolute past. He's on the prowl for a new mistress which he never seems to get around to after meeting Laura. There's an encounter with a previous mistress who's now married and apparently eager to resume a relationship, but he turns her down because Bell refuses to dally with married women or virgins. So what about gaming and drink? Nope, he and his two friends dine (a lot) on beefsteak, cheesecake, and wine at White's and then repair to Bell's house for billiards and cheroots. Sounds pretty tame to me. Not rakish at all. But I'm expected to believe he has this reputation, that he's to be avoided by respectable women.

Given his rakish reputation, his rather conservative views on what 17-year old young men should and shouldn't be doing were surprising. Laura's stepson, Justin, is going through a rebellious period - staying out till all hours, drinking with friends, going too fast in curricles - and Bell steps in as a "good example" to provide guidance to the young man. What?? A rake is the man upon whom you want your stepson to model his behavior? Now, granted that Bell's reputation seems a bit overstated, but everyone warns Laura that Bell is a rake. He wants Laura in his bed, propositions her, is comically surprised when she declines, yet she allows and even encourages Justin to be taken under Bell's wing.

Then there's the rather high-handed way Bell takes over Justin's discipline, completely usurping Laura's authority as Justin's step mother.
Laura IS doing a terrible job of curtailing Justin's exploits and could have used some advice about handling a 17-year old miscreant. But, she's been taking care of him for five years, and it was apparently a close relationship until very recently. To have Bell waltz in and start barking orders to Laura's servants and telling her how to raise Justin was overbearing and arrogant.

And then there's the, er, villain, Monclief, Justin's guardian and uncle. I hesitate over the word "villain" because he just seemed to be a plot device instead of a character. Monclief writes a threatening letter, pops up in person once to warn Laura he's watching how she controls Justin's bad behavior, and then ransacks her home for jewels one night while she and Justin are out. Other than that he didn't seem villain-y at all. Beyond that, he seemed to be an artificial way to create tension. You know, a reason for Laura to wring her hands in worry and prose on and on about how worried she is that Monclief will take Justin away from her etc., etc.

I did like Harry and Colin, however, even if they seemed to be more of an age with Justin than a peer of Bell's. Perhaps my fondness for them has more to do with the way I was almost completely disengaged with both Bell and Laura, rather than any sterling qualities they may have had. I'm just not sure.

Lastly, I knew from the beginning that Bell's "raking" was more a way to express his emotional damage than a lifestyle choice, but when the reasons for his guilt come out, I was ... underwhelmed. I 100% do not get it. Why would THAT make him want to eschew a family? His father didn't beat him, his mother was kind and loving,and his brother looked up to him as a hero. He had good memories and great childhood so I felt all the angst and turmoil was manufactured, not real.

What A Wicked Earl Wants will appeal to lots of readers, but I just never became invested in caring about either Bell or Laura enough to make this book work for me.