The Wicked Wager

The Wicked Wager - Anya Wylde 3.5 starsThis book is a fun Regency romance/farce with a bit of a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. The opening grabbed me right from the start: the author had me at the first line - the heroine's creative curse "Bloody blooming roses sprouting out of a fairy's arse!"And so Emma Clearwater and Earl of Hamilton, Richard Hamilton, become engaged. Which starts the romantic farce, because Emma's father is first cousins to the Duke of Arden; the duke's daughter, Catherine, is a close particular friend of Emma's - they've spent the summers together throughout childhood. Emma adores the duke, and so despite Richard's insistence that they be married in 2 months time, the duke insists that they wait for a whole year. Emma's family doesn't want to displease the duke, in case he should decide his title wouldn't pass to Emma's father.So Richard, exasperated at Emma's going on and on about how wonderful, witty, wise, and exceedingly clever the duke is, makes Emma a wager: Believing that the duke can be fooled, Richard will become the duke's new Head Gardener, donning the disguise of a 60-year old gardener he patterns after his own family's head gardener. Emma will forge a letter from her father to the duke recommending that he hire this specific man to be head gardener. After one month's time, if the duke doesn't uncover Richard's disguise, Emma will appeal to the duke to marry immediately by special license. If the duke does uncover Richard's disguise, Richard promises that Emma follow the duke's advice and concede that the duke is far cleverer than he.But it doesn't take long for the others at the duke's estate to question why Emma spends so much time with the elderly head gardener. So the duke decides Emma is bored and invites the Earl to visit. Except that Richard doesn't want to give up his disguise, so he convinces his childhood friend, Lord William Raikes, to play him and visit. In the usual twists and turns, Lord William becomes infatuated with Emma's cousin, Catherine, who is confused and worried about her own feelings for Emma's "fiancee". Catherine's aunt (the duke's sister) tries to blackmail the new Head Gardener (Richard), because she knows he's a young man; she suspects that he's Emma's unsuitable lover. But what other blackmail schemes is she up to?While a bit more Regency romance/farce than murder mystery, the events do lead to murder. A murder that the duke, as local magistrate, must solve with the help of a detective that he's already hired for other business... business that Richard is concerned means the duke has uncovered his scheme.During the investigation and subsequent reveal, the duke reveals all... and it's a rollicking good time! A perfect ending to a fun, engaging book.