by Beverley Eikli
Who loves a bad boy with a soft heart that can only be breached by a worthy heroine? I do. I don’t often write about them but in my recent Georgian-set romantic mystery, Wicked Wager, my bad boy Sir Peregrine emerged out of nowhere, raised one sardonic eyebrow and said it was time to write a story about a bad boy in velvet and lace.
Sir Peregrine is an unparalleled dresser of his time and the fall of the lace at his cuff and the cut of his brocade coat indicate his wealth, power and influence. Certainly during the Georgian and Regency eras, you cannot have a poor rake.
So what defines bad boys or rakes who need reforming? I’ve put together a few ideas.
- A self-confident exterior and a good dose of arrogance.
- Perhaps a goal of dubious merit that the heroine will mess with as enlightenment or the necessary rake-reforming process takes place.
- A core of either softness or essential humanity that is not revealed—to the heroine or the world—until the arrival of the heroine, or after she’s done her ‘work’.
I love this trope. There is so much scope for misunderstandings regarding the motivations of the characters. In Wicked Wager, I took the basic premise of Les Liaisons Dangerous (Dangerous Liaisons) by Choderlos de Laclo but had fun changing the motivations. In other words, though the motivations appear to derive from a couple of bored aristocrats proposing and accepting a wager, their true motivations form a multi-layered mystery.
Essentially the storyline has bored and dissolute Sir Peregrine falling in love with innocent Celeste after he agrees to make her ruin the terms of a wager. This wager has been suggested by another bored aristocrat, the exquisite and jaded beauty Lady Busselton. whom Sir Peregrine has long lusted after. Why does Lady Busselton propose the wager? Well, that’s the mystery, which for obvious reasons I cannot reveal.
But let’s not talk about our villain, let’s return to our raffish rake. A rake—no matter how dissolute—is unable to be a hero if he is so without morals that he would seduce an innocent without conscience or the belief that he is justified in his actions.
This is easily done in Wicked Wager when Lady Busselton persuades Sir Peregrine that Celeste is the as-yet-unrevealed young woman guilty of breaking the heart of Sir Peregrine’s sister and that the innocence Celeste parades to the world is a farce.
I won’t go on about the plot except to say that it was fun to work with polar opposites. My rakish hero would not normally be drawn to a heroine as pure and virtuous as Celeste Rosington as deep down he knows she’s too good for him. But a rake will trifle with a woman if he believes her morals are questionable. It’s how Lady Busselton ensures Sir Peregrine dances to her tune.
A rake needs careful handling as it’s important to show him develop finer feelings that he may not believe he possesses. That’s the heroine’s role: to humanise him, and Celeste, as the incarnation of all that is good and true, does that easily, at the same time as she shows up Lady Busselton as a venal, jaded creature.
This is the moment the consummate rake would normally raise his proverbial sword and strike a blow for justice— unless the villain (in this case, Lady Busselton) ensures by other means that the purity of her arch nemesis is besmirched by other means.
There are lots of plot twists and turns in this Georgian mystery/romance and I felt a real historical sleuth as I layered them and then tested these layers from different perspectives. My goal was to surprise readers with the resolution at the same time as leaving them feeling satisfied that the rake was redeemed, the villain vanquished and the worthy heroine got her Happy Ever After.
A dissolute rake, a virtuous lady, a ruthless society beauty and a missing plantation owner with secrets — just another day in Georgian England…