The title: The Naked King
The author: Sally MacKenzie
Publication: Zebra, 2011
Got it from: The library
The Naked King is the last book in Sally MacKenzie's "Naked" series. I have read exactly one, which is this one. Yes, you are supposed to read them all in order. And yes, as usual, I didn't, because: reasons. I've done this many, many times before and I'll do it again in my next review, too. Because a good book should stand alone, and I decide whether I'm intrigued enough to read the whole series, in order or not.
Stephen Parker-Roth, known as the "King of Hearts" (he claims it's because of his card-playing skills, gossips say otherwise) is drunk one morning when he runs into confirmed spinster Lady Anne Marston and her dog. One thing leads to another and they share a kiss on her doorstep before her dog knocks them into the bushes. As they are seen by a scandalized neighbourhood gossip, they have to act like they're betrothed. Stephen finds the whole situation amusing, while Anne is horrified. She is trying desperately to remain scandal-free so her younger sister can make a proper match during the London season.
As you might guess from the cover, this is definitely meant to be a lighthearted romance, and for the most part it is. Both the hero and heroine come from cah-razy families. In addition to her younger sister and dog, Anne has two young, mischievous stepbrothers, a batty aunt chaperone and an absentminded scholarly father. Stephen has a large, meddlesome family who feature prominently in the rest of the series. I am rather intrigued by the hints about Stephen's older brother, who supposedly was so into botany that his mother worried she would have to dress a woman up like a flower to get his attention.
But all is not entirely frivolous in this book. In fact, a rather dark thread runs throughout the story: Anne was raped at a party ten years earlier and she is still traumatized by it. Her violation caused her to retreat from society and she has lived with the secret shame, blaming herself and living in fear of her secret being discovered. What I really liked about this book was the hurt/comfort aspect (I am a sucker for hurt/comfort stories), where Stephen helps her heal. There is one memorable scene where he makes her buy a more flattering wardrobe, and her reluctant shedding of her old clothes mirrors the shedding of her emotional armour. I really enjoyed Anne's journey to reclaim the joyful side of her romantic and sexual life.
However, Anne's rapist turns up as the villain in this book, and at times he felt too over-the-top in his cartoon villainy. He didn't need to literally smell bad for me to get that he was disgusting, and his sexual extortion stretched the bounds of credulity. But it didn't ruin the story for me. This was a solidly enjoyable Regency, and I would definitely read this author again.