Francesca is happily married and blissfully in love with her husband John, the Earl of Kilmartin. She has everything she could dream of...a man who adores her, a family who treasures her, a beautiful home and a cousin (in law), Michael Stirling, who is really her best friend. Without warning, Francesca's world is turned upside down when John suddenly dies. She has become a widow, and the one she instinctively turns to for comfort is Michael.
Michael Stirling has a bit of a problem. He is utterly, totally, completely, wholly, insanely, thoroughly in love with his cousin's wife. From the moment he laid eyes upon Francesca, he was committed....committed to a life filled with lies. He pretended he was the happy rake, content to be unmarried, hopping from mistress to mistress, engaging in behaviour many men would envy. But only Michael knew it was all a lie, a show, a living hell on earth. For every day, he had to hide his true feelings, his utter love and desire for his cousin's wife. A cousin he loved like a brother, a cousin he would never betray. But with John's death comes grief, anguish and guilt because now, Michael has inherited John's title, wealth and home. But the only thing he wants is Francesca. But how could he take his cousin's wife? She feels nothing for him but kinship. She could never find out how he truly felt about her. He could never do that to John. But soon enough, a kiss is shared between Michael and Francesca that unlocks a passion unlike no other. What will happen now...for there is no going back, and Michael can no longer hide his desires.
This book is quite different from what I am used to from Ms. Quinn, but I loved it anyways. It lacks the humourous, quick, easy banter I am so used to but in exchange, it is filled with a wickedness that I haven't seen in any of the previous tales. I truly felt for Michael and his tortured, romantic soul. He was a good man who could not get past the overwhelming sea of guilt he felt in loving his cousin's wife. Even when John died, Michael still wrestled with his conscience, feeling he had committed the ultimate betrayal. When he finally is pushed over the edge, I felt my heart tear in half as he finally admitted his feelings for Francesca:
"It’s because I love you, damn me to hell. Because I’ve always loved you. Because I loved you when you were with John, and I loved you when I was in India, and God only knows I don’t deserve you, but I love you, anyway.” Francesca sagged against the door. “How’s that for a witty little joke?” he mocked. “I love you. I love you, my cousin’s wife. I love you, the one woman I can never have. I love you, Francesca Bridgerton Stirling."
I didn't like the heroine as much as previous female leads in this series. I saw her as indecisive and weaker than other leading ladies. But it was liberating to see a female let her guard down and become a "wicked" participant in the dance of desire. The love scenes were hot and steamy and Michael was, well....the title says it all! This was a wonderful story about moving on, about second chances....if you are lucky enough to get one, keep it close to your heart and hold on.
When He Was Wicked is book #4 in the 2011 Historical Romance Challenge.