Whenever someone mentions horrible, rapey, sadistic romance novel heroes, Catherine Coulter's first historical romance comes up. Obviously, we had to check it out. And boy, this book is no joke.
The Hero: Anthony Welles, Earl of Clare, a handsome, ruthless nobleman of 34. In addition to his British lands, the Earl holds and Italian title and an estate in Genoa. He's also had all kinds of dealings with pirates and brigands, including some pirate king, with whom he had a wager that he couldn't bring some woman in the harem "to pleasure"...anyway, it's not important. Suffice it to say, he's a legendary lover, adventurer, horseman, sea-captain, businessman and man-about-town. He could have any woman in the world! However, he's obsessed with...
Our Heroine: Cassandra "Cassie" Brougham is a stunningly beautiful, high-spirited 18-year-old noblewoman who loves flouting convention, sailing, and swimming in the sea. She's grown up not far from the earl.
The Plot: [Spoiler Alert] Cassie has been in love all her life with a dashing soldier named Edward. When he comes back from the wars, much petting ensues, manhoods become engorged, lusts are unsated, and they decide to marry. However, on the eve of their wedding, Cassie is kidnapped while sailing by the Earl of Clare, who takes her aboard his yacht, The Cassandra. Turns out he was obsessed with her late mother, has been grooming Cassie all her life to be his wife, and is determined no one else shall have her. ("I've never known a man to raise his own wife," his crusty Scottish manservant tells him, somewhat admiringly.) He rapes her, repeatedly. Like, unambigous, tearful, painful, she's-tied-down raping. Of course, by the next time it happens her traitorous body responds to him, and then she can't help herself from having sex with him constantly. At one point, in a scene ripped right from the pages of Georgette Heyer's Devil's Cub if Devil's Cub were awful, she shoots the earl and tries to escape. Then she feels bad about it. Oh, and there's also some part where she demands the earl give her a lashing as he would any of his men over some minor infraction; this, you see, demonstrates her courage and strength of character.
They arrive in Genoa, where all the earl's servants treat her with contempt because she's his mistress. They have a lot of sex. When Cassie gets pregnant, an ex-mistress of the earl's and his jealous half-brother plot to get her out of the way; she is brutally and graphically gang-raped. After the earl breaks it up and she recovers and is starting to get serious Stockholm Syndrome, she runs across a bunch of letters that inform her her trusted companion had been corresponding with the earl for years and helping plan her abduction. For some reason this - rather than the rape, the kidnapping, the letting her family think she's dead or putting her in a position where her life is endangered - is the Great Betrayal that she cannot stand. She gets some ship to take her to New York, where her original fiance is fighting in the Revolutionary War.
Once in New York, the ex-fiance, who by this point is obviously wrong for her and uptight and doesn't really love her for herself, kind of rapes her. They plan to get married. Except, oh yeah, she's pregnant with the earl's baby and Edward has been sleeping with some Tory girl, because that's how everyone carried on in the 18th Century. Cassie realizes she can't go through with it, which is fine because then the earl shows up in New York. He and Edward have a swordfight (also a straight-up Devil's Cub ripoff), which Cassie breaks up. Everyone is happy. Love is confessed, a few plotters are killed (because in case you've forgotten that whole gang-rape thing needs to be tied up) , and all's well that ends well.
"And to assist you to accept me more quickly as your husband, we will begin tonight in married intimacy."
"No, damn you, no."
"Yes, we shall."
"I will not let you. Damn you, you will not touch me."
"Cassandra, heed me. To allow you to continue in your virgin state would be the height of foolishness, for it would encourage you to nourish unfounded hopes and keep you all the longer away from me."
"You will be a bit sore, but it will pass quickly."
"So that is how you dismiss brutal rape, my lord. Your victim will be a bit sore - nothing of importance."
"Not my victim, Cassandra, my wife."
"I fear you are growing repetitious, Cassandra, in your conversation. How else will you learn a woman's pleasure if I do not touch you?"
"I marvel at your recriminations. I should not leave you alone, cara, your mind is too fanciful, and the conclusions you draw about your own character really quite unfounded. The truth of the matter is that I am a very desirable man and an excellent lover, most skilled at bringing a woman to pleasure. Curse me, Cassandra, for your awakened woman's passions, not yourself."
How We Know He's A Good Guy: He lets her sail and sit in on business meetings. Oh, and he's anti-slavery.
"I used to think you the devil himself, my lord. If I am a witch, then we are well-suited, I think."
"Very well-suited," he said, and kissed her with infinite tenderness.