The Ravenels #1 – Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

The Ravenels #1 – Cold-Hearted Rake

By Lisa Kleypas

386 pages

Published by Avon Books (2015)

It’s been several months since I indulged myself in a historical romance novel, and more than a year since I read one from Lisa Kleypas. So when I started on Cold-Hearted Rake, it dawned on me how much I had missed reading her novels. As a consequence, I found myself binge-reading the first three of Kleypas’ Ravenels series in rapid succession before I finally managed to halt the progress (I would have devoured all seven books back-to-back, had it not been for some other commitments that I had forsaken while reading the novels πŸ˜…).

The Ravenels series – set in 1870s England – revolved around the temperamental Ravenel family which had dwindled following the early death of Theo, the Earl of Trenear. Theo died after being thrown off a horse only three days after his marriage, leaving behind his wife Kathleen and his three unmarried younger sisters, Helen, Pandora and Cassandra.

With no heir, the title was inherited by Theo’s cousin Devon, a charming and carefree rake who had no intention of marrying or being committed to anything at all. So when he found himself inheriting the earldom, the estates as well as the responsibility towards Theo’s widow and sisters, and not to mention the hundreds of tenant farmers in the lands – Devon was so overwhelmed that he had delayed his visit to the family domain in Hampshire, the Eversby Priory, for three months – dreading to take responsibility for all of it.

Initially, Devon had the mind to simply sell the whole estate and lands and be away with Kathleen and the three sisters, as well as all servants in Eversby Priory. Devon was also resigned to let the Ravenel family perish, aware that he and his younger brother Weston were the only two Ravenels left in the world and both of them had no intention to marry and sire an heir at all.

Devon was not very familiar with his three female cousins, Helen and twins Pandora and Cassandra – having only met them briefly when they were little – and he had never met Kathleen before. Devon’s relationship with Theo had never been good: with both being hot-tempered Ravenels, they used to brawl each other instead of having an amiable relationship. That was why Devon did not give a damn about the ladies who were left by Theo at the first place.

But when Devon got himself acquainted with Kathleen, Helen, Pandora and Cassandra, and began to understand their circumstances better, he eventually had second thoughts about selling all his inheritance and just leave the four ladies to their own devices. The Ravenel estate was in dire state and saddled with debt, while his three cousins were too unworldly and innocent (not to mention penniless) to be able to survive on their own. Last but not least, he had begun to feel a helpless attraction towards Kathleen, too.


...it’s easier to make a heart stop beating entirely than to keep it from loving the wrong person.” – page 202

Theo’s family had been complex. His parents had spoilt him to the core while abandoning his sisters, having no scruples about showing how much they value a son over daughters. Helen had been mild-mannered and well-behaved, thinking that the least she could do was not being a burden to her parents. In contrast, Pandora and Cassandra had turned into hellions, determined to attract their parents’ attention through misbehaviours. In the end, the girls still lose out to Theo – they were left at Hampshire for long periods of time while Theo had a good life and education in London. Their father did not even stipulate a dowry for each of his daughters.

When Theo assumed the title Earl of Trenear, he also never bothered about his sisters’ well-being, continuing his father’s practice of abandoning the girls. Theo did not provide dowries for them, and never intended to bring them to London to participate in the Season either. As a result, Theo’s sisters did not have much fond memories of him, only remembering him as a distant, ill-tempered drunkard of a brother – and thus were not too extremely grieved over his death. Luckily, Kathleen’s affection for the three sisters were genuine and they were very close like real sisters.

When Devon finally understood the situation better, he decided to become a more responsible Earl of Trenear. He cancelled his plans to sell the estate, and allowed for Kathleen and his cousins to remain at Eversby Priory while he devised a strategy for their future. Devon appointed his younger brother West as manager of the estate while he transported between Hampshire and London intermittently in order to find resources to settle the estate’s debts.

Despite not being at Hampshire all the time, the budding romance between Devon and Kathleen managed to flourish – albeit in a cautious manner. Both Devon and Kathleen had their own reasons to be wary about where the new relationship could take them.

***WARNING!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!***

Devon, for one, had yet to imagine himself marrying and building a family of his own, having observed how his own parents had grown apart and hurting each other throughout their lives. He had no intention to become as lousy a husband as his father had been.

Meanwhile on Kathleen’s part, she had been harbouring a shameful secret regarding her relationship to Theo that she failed to suppress her guilt after he died. Only Kathleen knew that she was actually never Theo’s wife: the marriage had never been consummated at all. Through the three days of their marriage, Kathleen and Theo had done nothing but fight over Theo’s ill temper and his persistent drunken state. Following Theo’s death, she was too ashamed to admit that the marriage had not been consummated and thus played along as Theo’s widow. She continued to live at Eversby Priory, befriending Theo’s three sisters and even acquiring a jointure upon his death. She had harboured guilt over the sham marriage that she ended up being very strictly about the mourning tradition, determined to carry on the year-long mourning period till the end despite never being in love with Theo. In fact, Kathleen was severely uncompromising regarding the mourning practices than Theo’s own sisters were.

Kathleen was also worried about propriety and society gossip, having been raised by adoptive parents who were very particular about the rules of the ton. Driven by guilt and anxiety about her reputation, Kathleen was adamant to wait until the mourning period was over before considering any relationship with Devon. Although it was not illegal for a widow to get into a new relationship before a year had passed since her husband’s death, it would still attract gossip and Kathleen cannot afford to let the society gossip about it.

Nevertheless, Devon was impatient about waiting over the mourning period that he eventually resorted to seduction to have Kathleen in his arms. Underneath her hard veneer, Kathleen also wanted Devon, having witnessed his responsible and honourable leadership as the new patriarch of the Ravenel family. Devon and Kathleen then maintained a subtle romance while sorting out their own feelings and what they actually wanted in life. 

As months go by, Devon, having shifted his worldview after realizing that he was able to take in responsibility as the earl, had questioned himself – if he could commit to managing the large estate, then what could be wrong with committing himself to become a husband and father, too? He eventually proposed to take Kathleen as his wife, and Kathleen had accepted – even before the mourning period was over – after she found herself pregnant with Devon’s child.

Devon and Kathleen were married in a small ceremony, which were mentioned in the second book of the Ravenels series, Marrying Winterborne.

Another romance in the making

Meanwhile, Devon’s plans of acquiring capital for the estate had paved the way for another romance story (to be told in detail in Marrying Winterborne).

One of the plans Devon had devised to obtain money for the estate was through the leasing of part of the farmlands to the London Ironstone railway company to make a new railroad that crossed the area. With the lease, the estate would be able to earn some money and thus lessen the financial burden Devon had to take care of in order to maintain it.

Another strategy Devon had had in mind was ‘pawning off’ his cousin Helen to his friend Rhys Winterborne, who owned a vast business empire that include the world’s largest department store. Helen was chosen for the scheme as she was more graceful and ladylike in her demeanour, in comparison to the twins Pandora and Cassandra who were rather rambunctious and obviously not suited for marriage yet. Devon had no scruples about it, thinking that the match between Helen and Rhys would result in good for all parties involved. In the current situation, Helen’s prospect of getting a husband was almost non-existent as she was without dowry. And Rhys, as rich as he was, was not accepted into the highest tier of society as he was only a common-born businessman. If the match between Helen and Rhys was agreed upon, Helen would get a chance to marry, Rhys would get to elevate his status for marrying an aristocratic lady, and the estate would also gain money from it because Devon was planning to have Rhys provide a handsome dower for Helen.

So when the attraction between Helen and Rhys turned out to be for real – in fact, it commenced before Devon had even managed to lay out out his plans nor to introduce them to one another – Devon was perplexed.

It all began when Devon invited Rhys Winterborne to Eversby Priory for Christmas with the family. On their way to Hampshire from London, the train they were in was derailed and both of them had sustained injuries. While Devon was lucky enough to escape with only some cracked ribs, Rhys had broken his leg and was temporarily blinded after glass shards flew into his eyes.

Upon examination by the family doctor, Rhys had to be bedridden in Hampshire for several weeks, with his leg in cast and eyes covered. It was one of the most wretched moments of Rhys’ life, and he was on the brink of a breakdown when Helen had voluntarily approached him to comfort and care for him. Initially Helen had helped Rhys out of compassion. The servants who were supposed to look after Rhys’ needs were all driven away in fright after he angrily vented out his frustration over his helpless condition. Only the tender care of Helen had been able to make Rhys feel comforted, and he had sought for her company as often as possible while recuperating.

By the time Rhys’ vision was restored, both Helen and Rhys were aware that they had now been attracted towards the other. So when Devon finally conceded that he consented for Rhys to court Helen, they surprised everyone by getting engaged after a mere two weeks of courtship.

The nature of Rhys and Helen’s courtship was rather quiet and subdued that other people had failed to see the extent of the attraction between them. Kathleen had mistaken it as a sign that Helen was actually not interested with Rhys; that Helen had forced herself to accept Rhys for the sake of the estate.

One day, Helen was distressed after Rhys kissed her for the first time: it was her first kiss after all, and she was just too shocked about it. Kathleen misunderstood Helen’s reaction as rejection and quickly went to see Rhys to break off his engagement to Helen. Rhys had been outraged over Kathleen’s actions that he taunted her by propositioning Kathleen as a replacement for Helen. He never meant the words; he only wanted to frighten Kathleen and was too angry to think of its consequences. The insult had been overheard by Devon, and that had sealed Rhys’ fate: Devon promptly agreed to the breaking of the betrothal, and withdrew his consent for Rhys to continue courting Helen.

The Ravenels estate, in fact, had no need of Rhys’ money anymore after a precious mineral was accidentally discovered on the farmlands. With the money they would obtain from mining the hematite ore, Devon planned to provide dowries for his three cousins and prepare them for the upcoming London Season.

The final pages of Cold-Hearted Rake saw Helen feeling lost and disoriented after learning that her engagement to Rhys Winterborne had been broken...


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