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Willaful Review: Fair Game by Diane Farr (TBR Challenge)

gameThe Challenge: pick a recommended read

Why this one?: I’d heard it was one of Farr’s best books

sensuality rating: sweet but spicy candyfloss

It’s interesting to compare this book to An Offer from A Gentleman by Julia Quinn, which was published just two years later. Both have the same basic plot: a successful/high ranking man tries to convince an illegitimate woman to become his mistress. Despite being in desperate straits and very attracted to him, she refuses.¬† (I love historical reluctant mistress romances¬† — there’s a whole GoodReads listopia of them and I’ve read almost every one.) But as you could tell just from the difference in titles — one a modern cultural reference, the other a witty pun — Fair Game is a traditional Regency, which means that when she refuses she really refuses — that is, they don’t wind up in bed anyway. And the hero’s reasons for pursuing the heroine aren’t prettied up as they are in Quinn’s book — here, he thinks she has no chance at a respectable life and will inevitably wind up a prostitute anyway, so why shouldn’t he be the one to get her started?

Wealthy businessman Trevor Whitlach is very susceptible to a pretty face, and when a notorious courtesan offers him her exquisite daughter to pay off a debt, he impulsively agrees — only to discover he was had. The beautiful Clarissa was raised by her father to be a lady, and she has no intention of discarding her values, useless though they may seem to be. Trevor wouldn’t dream of trying to seduce a virtuous lady, but with no name, family, or fortune, Clarissa is truly fair game. But she’s also the most delightful woman he’s ever met, and if he can’t convince her, he’s not sure how he’ll be able to live without her.

I’m giving this four stars because it’s such an excellent traditional Regency, with an appropriate period tone and sizzling sexual tension — not to mention having one of the very best last lines I’ve ever read.¬† (It’s also a rare trad. that doesn’t take place amongst the ton — no nobles, no Almacks.) But I didn’t connect emotionally with the characters as much as I have in other similar books — Foley’s The Duke or Layton’s The Duke’s Wager, for example. Trevor never seemed that attractive to me, and Clarissa is more a pattern card of perfection than a real person; Farr’s characterizations are much more interesting in The Fortune Hunter. Still, the emotion of this situation never fails to get to me. This was my favorite scene, in which Trevor makes a last ditch effort to buy Clarissa, still unable to see what that would mean to her:

“Five hundred a year,” she said, in that same colorless tone. Then she seemed to recover. A muscle jumped in her jaw. “But my fortunes would be forever linked to yours,” she uttered cooly. “What if you suffer loses in the future? What if your businesses fail?”

Anger licked through him. Damn her bluntness. He had never had to spell matters out like this before, but leave it to Clarissa to dispense with delicacy.

“I will set aside money now, Clarissa, while I am still relatively plump of pocket!” he said sarcastically. “Sufficient funds will be safely invested in the three-per-cents. They will be held in trust for you during your lifetime, and the income will be paid to you quarterly.”

“During my lifetime,” she repeated, her head tilted consideringly. “But nothing to leave to my children.”

“Perhaps you could bring yourself to set a little of your income aside from time to time!” he suggested through his teeth. “No, Clarissa, I am afraid I must reserve the principal to revert to my own estate.”

Her eyes lifted again to his, fathomless, fathomless depths of blue. “What if,” she inquired softly, “the children are yours?”

For a moment, Trevor forgot to breathe. “

This is why I read historicals, for those breathtaking moments when the stakes are high.

Fair Game is once again in print and available digitally under the title Playing to Win; you can buy it from Amazon here.