Provacative in Pearls in the 2nd book in the Rarest Blooms quartet series by Madeline Hunter. I loved the 1st book, Ravishing in Red, and was anxious to see how the 2nd book would compare. As usual, I was not disappointed.
Verity Thompson is an heiress who is forced by her devious social-climbing cousin to marry the earl of Hawkeswell. Verity's father made his money in iron, so bascially she's a tradesman's daughter. Hawkeswell's estates are falling apart and he needs money badly. Believing that Hawkeswell was in on her cousin's evil plot and seeing no other way out, Verity "fakes" her death shortly after the wedding ceremony. Her plan is to hide out until she reaches her majority and then seek an annulment. Meanwhile, Hawkeswell who has the responsibilities his title implies, has been in limbo, unable to use the much needed money he should have received as a settlement in the marriage. Plus, the tabloids have been having a field day with Verity's disappearance, making Hawkeswell a victim of public gossip and scrutiny. The book opens when he discovers Verity is very much alive. Angry, and feeling like he's been made a fool of, he demands that Verity take her place as his wife. He convinces her to accept 3 kisses a day thinking that he can bind her to him with passion.
In the beginning, of course, Verity tries to plan ways to end her marriage. She wants back the life she believes she was meant to live, which certainly does not include living as a noble. One of the things I really love about Hunter's historicals is how she meshes the politics of the day into her stories. On the surface, it might seem that the conflict between Verity and Hawkeswell centers around the deceit involved in the marriage, but there is a real class struggle going on between them as well which makes the plot so much more interesting. The one only tiny weakness in the story is that I think Verity gives in a little too quickly to Hawkeswell's ardor (not that I blame her really). Once the marriage is consummated, her plans for an annulment are basically moot, but the conflict between them continues to rise and escalates until the extremely satisfying resolution at the end of the book.
One of the things I loved most about this book were the scenes between Hawkeswell and his friends Sebastian Summerhays (the hero from Ravishing in Red)and the magnificently debauched Duke of Castleford (I can not wait for his story!!!) The dialogue is absolutely wonderful. It's witty, urbane and makes their scenes come alive in the most wonderful way. It's almost like 19th century Sex in the City for Men. Absolutely fascinating!
I would highly recommend this book and am anxiously awaiting the 3rd book in the series.