The sixth book in the Bridgerton saga is a bit different than the others. Francesca is not a girl of marriageable age trying to find a suitable husband. Lady Whistledown has retired. The society drama that’s been a cornerstone of the series is totally missing. Yet, the book holds up well by delivering a compelling story of life, interrupted.
The aforementioned Francesca Bridgerton is set to marry John Stirling. At the engagement party, she meets his cousin and best friend, Michael Stirling. Francesca and Michael instantly become friends, only Michael has fallen for her. He will not pursue his cousin’s wife and buries his feelings while the friendship blossoms. Then John dies rather suddenly, leaving Francesca a widow and Michael the new Earl.
Michael has a bit of a reputation around London society. However, now that he has the title, that makes him more desirable. Still, his heart is with Francesca and he’s struggling with what to do after the death of John, so he runs off to India. He can’t deal with his own grief as well as Francesca’s and has to sort everything out before he can bear to be around her again. Francesca was pregnant when John died, and miscarried the child, leaving no heir. Michael doesn’t want the responsibility that will come his way, and he doesn’t want to betray John, so he takes the coward’s way out and leaves.
Francesca is in mourning for a while. She genuinely loved John and felt that he completed her. However, she decides that she must find a husband because she wants children. She confides this to Michael once he returns from India, and, to his credit, he doesn’t immediately pop up and ask her to marry him. They are both struggling with their feelings and the guilt they feel about getting on with life after John’s death.
I found that while When He Was Wicked talked a lot about reputation and sex, it was really more of a character piece. Michael is in love with his best friend. He’s had other women, but he hasn’t really enjoyed being around them, just uses them for sex. Francesca is different. They talk a lot and really enjoy each other’s company. For Francesca, perhaps it’s a case of letting her guard down a bit around Michael because she doesn’t think he sees her that way. They both are fighting feelings of guilt and betrayal, even if the person is deceased.
It takes a long time for this all to play out, and it was fun to watch it happen. More than once I wanted to slap them and tell them to do what they’ve been doing all along: talk. They talk to each other in a very natural, informal way, and yet neither of them wants to open up about having feelings for the other, until one night when they share a passionate kiss. Yet, Francesca is still frightened and confused. It is up to Michael to convince her they belong together.
There are some good moments between Francesca and her mother, Violet, who was also widowed at a fairly young age and had eight children to raise. With all of the books being about her children, I felt like I only knew Violet superficially. She opens up to Francesca and it really develops her more and gives her more depth to hear what that time in her life was like.
When He Was Wicked was a fun read. At this point in the series, we know all of the Bridgertons are going to get a happily ever after, but there have to be some obstacles to getting there. Sometimes the obstacles are society, and sometimes they are the characters themselves. Both of those were in play here, in a way, and the story played out nicely. There’s a lot of steamy desire and a few good sex scenes. I’m not usually a fan of romance novels, but this was one I enjoyed.
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