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Lord of Always by Cynthia Wicklund

Friday, March 09, 2012

Lord of Always

Cynthia Wicklund
Historical Romance/Paranormal
Published in 2010

H/h - Evan Richmond, Viscount Rutherford/Brenna Hilliard
Setting: England, 1842.

Read in Mar, 2012.
My rating:

                                                    [spoiler alert]

My 1st experience with Cynthia Wicklund’s book has been pretty remarkable. I loved it, as simple as that. I loved the story, the plotline, the characters A LOT. And, CW’s writing, that was simply superb. Almost perfect in prose structure and style. Lord of Always has a great twist of paranormal going on in the book which starts with a story in the millennia old Ireland, about a man called Owein. I believe I have to start the review with this love story that played a vital role in the actual story of Evan and Brenna.

This story was unfortunately too short and I really wanted to know more… Owein broke the trust of the believers when he fell in love and slept with a young priestess Bryna in the year 356. He was accused and sentenced to ‘death’… that death is to cast his soul out of his body and let it hovering in the place between heaven and hell. His earthly body would house another soul that needs to be purged of all sorts of evil but Owein’s soul would have to wait another 1500 yrs to find its solace and possibly be reunite with his true love once more. As I said, this needed more elaboration but once you get into the story, you begin comparing the stories and what happens to Evan with this; something I found really interesting.

Brenna is the daughter of an English earl. She was illegitimate before her father married her mother after his first wife’s death. The old earl’s 1st marriage was of convenience and not a happy one but with Brenna’s Irish mother, it was a love match. Brenna’s life was very pleasant when both her parents were living. But today, as her father died, Brenna knows her life of a peaceful tranquility is over. She’s 24, been betrothed once in her life, which was broken and now a spinster. It’s not that Brenna isn’t attractive or anything, it’s just that she and her parents most of the times lived in Ireland and because of the nature of Brenna’s parent’s relationship before their marriage, I assume it wasn’t any easier for them to wade through the Ton. Now, Brenna’s only elder half-brother Malcolm has only contempt for her. He tries to look indifferent but that’s not at all the case. Malcolm didn’t forgive his father for being with another woman when his mother was ill and died, let alone marrying her later and bringing their daughter to the fold. So, Brenna knew something is coming up and soon because Malcolm would never want to take her into his family and look after her. In this regard, she was correct but what she didn’t count upon was to have a marriage enforced upon her just to be gotten rid of, which definitely was her brother’s intent, as clear as daylight. Malcolm, as the current Earl can do anything and he makes sure she knows how much he ‘doesn’t care’ for her and if she doesn’t marry, he’ll just up and leave her to fend for herself. And oh, he’s also going to sell the house where Brenna has been living since her childhood. Brenna could think of the marriage, had it not been the same disgusting man she was betrothed to at the age of 17; a betrothal that was broken when he was found with a maid. They were all in England back then and everyone who was there to attend the betrothal saw this mess. The man in question, Evan Richmond was as debauched and loose living as they came. Brenna knew it then but could’ve ignored it as a young man’s indiscretion until she saw how Evan shoved the maid on the street when she was fired from the job. Something always made her uneasy about this spoiled and lazy aristocrat. When she broached the subject to her father, he immediately talked to Evan’s father, Basil and broke the engagement. As far as Brenna knows, he’s still living the same way although she doesn’t know for sure how bad or worse he is. Now, as Malcolm leaves her with no choice, Brenna decides to go numb and gives into his demand.

I would’ve loved to know what was going on Evan’s mind before his transformation but we never know that part until the big incident happens. Then again, he probably didn’t think at all because he was that awful, mean and evil along with his troublesome twin sister Evangeline. They were two peas in a pod, totally inseparable and as inhospitable to anyone they deem unworthy of their attentions. So, we come back to Brenna’s visit to England and to Covington Manor, Basil’s country holdings. Now, Evan’s parents Basil and Mary are totally different from their offspring. They are very nice and loving. It’s plain to see that the couple is still very much in love. The only sadness in their life is the fact that their offspring are so spoiled and not-so-nice to people; makes one wonder how these two turned out to be this mean. Even though Brenna was very apprehensive, Basil and Mary make her feel welcome. But the viscount isn’t at residence and doesn’t come home for at least 2 weeks into Brenna’s arrival. On the other hand, she meets his twin Evangeline or Geline. She comes off very mean and self-centered. Brenna, being half-Irish, believes just as her mother did, that she can sense people, good or bad and Geline definitely gives off the aura of something very ugly. Brenna can’t shake this feeling off. Moreover, she verbally attacks Brenna whenever she could, calling her a ‘country mouse’ and so on and that it’s such a pity that her dearest brother has to go through this. Her parents can’t control her anymore. She’s always cranky and spiteful which distorts her beauty and gives her an ugly demeanor. Brenna thinks on that too, that how a beautiful woman like her can give such nasty vibe all the time. When Brenna was kinda settling back to her new life (and hoping that the viscount forgets about her), he returns. Of course, it wasn’t a happy ‘reunion’ for her. The man looks exactly like all the debauchery he’s indulged into in the past years. When they were betrothed, Evan was about 23 and Brenna was quite infatuated with his handsome features before it went wrong. But Evan of now looks florid and soft in body. Brenna feels nothing but aversion for him. Even though he still can loosely be termed as handsome, he won’t be so soon enough, if he keeps on living his dissolute lifestyle. Evan is not nice to Brenna but I felt he was less attacking than Geline. Geline was quite possessive of her twin and that possessiveness proved to be really odd later. Brenna tries to talk Evan out of this marriage but he is willing to go through this. In all these, Brenna does notice the unusual and inseparable bond that the twins share. They’re always together, always talking to each-other and no one was welcome in that world of theirs.

Spooky Willow (photo courtesy: Chrissy323)
On a cold morning, Brenna and Evan were married in a small ceremony. Brenna’s only strength was Basil and Mary and Brenna saw how they wanted her to try to work through this marriage. She didn’t want to disappoint them as she’d already come to think of them as a sort of adopted parents to her. At night, Brenna’s ladies maid and the only one who came with her from Ireland, helps her to get ready for her wedding night. Brenna was dreading this with all her heart. Even though she found the viscount’s nearness repulsive, she’d do her duty. When the viscount is at his room, he sends the maid away and makes Brenna drink some brandy. Brenna loves to imbibe brandy and being nervous, she doesn’t hesitate… and falls unconscious. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a drugged state and the viscount fondling her (and himself). Geline is also there and they talk about something that she doesn’t quite get. When Geline finds her conscious, she makes Brenna unconscious again with a blow to her cheek. When she wakes up this time, Brenna finds herself in a willow grove, far away from the main house… and on an altar with hooded figures circling and chanting around her. She’s scared and wants to break free as she was bound to the altar. She sees this blonde man, later known as Jason Fricker, who definitely is the head of this little pagan congregation. She recognizes Geline’s voice as she speaks and then sees another hooded figure coming towards them. When the man took off his robe, Brenna is horrified. It’s her husband, naked and erect... and Brenna understands what kind of ‘ritual’ takes place in this god-awful place. They expect Evan to have sex with her, and initiate her in their little fold, in front of all these people. It was also palpable that this ceremony is common to these people and is often happens here, in this very same alter, led by the man Fricker. I wasn’t sure of how many such ‘initiations’ had Evan participated in though and maybe it was for the best that I didn’t because the whole thing left a knot on my stomach anyway. It was also implied that this group offers sex openly, so probably all the men would’ve had sex with Brenna after Evan was done with her, doesn’t matter that she’s totally unwilling. Evan gets the right to be her first since he’s her husband. *shudders*

Anyway, just when Evan was setting himself on the altar, something very weird happens. I loved how CW’s weaved the atmosphere that was very creepy and gave me chills throughout the story. I loved all the scenes that took place in the willow grove due to her narratives. It was already windy and it seems a storm was brewing… then as Evan was about to (I would say) rape Brenna, a strong lightning crashes and something strikes Evan unconscious. All the followers scatter away, only Evangeline is there, equally moaning for Evan and berating Brenna. Somehow these two manages to take Evan in the house. His man, Riley, is very discreet and doesn’t ask a question. Brenna isn’t very surprised since the man probably has seen the viscount worse than this. Brenna could’ve cared less for the viscount or his sister and thanks God for saving her from this disgusting ceremony. Still, she decides she’d have a look on him before going to bed. As she was, Brenna couldn’t help noticing the marked difference in Evan’s feature. It was the same man and yet he looks different somehow; younger. Brenna is again astounded to find how handsome her  husband truly is. As she was going back to her room, suddenly Evan grasps her wrist. She is shaken to find that Evan’s eye-color has changed into a sky-blue from its usual lapis-blue. And they keep changing back and forth throughout the story, giving Brenna some odd feelings before she understood the reasons behind this change.

As Evan becomes conscious of his surroundings, he’s aware that he feels different. At first he thinks he imbibed too much last night. But as he becomes fully conscious, he finds Riley with him. This Evan, as he starts speaking with the man, is so very different in his wording and attitude that would have you totally in awe. He’s nice and sensitive to others’ wishes for a starter. Riley is quite in shock to find him thus. But to Evan, he feels like himself and yet, he doesn’t feel like himself; means, he had the memories of his old self, he knows his own skin, his house, servants, parents... everything and yet, he feels so very different. I did applaud his continued work with himself and those who are around him, to let them know that there have been some astonishing yet permanent changes in him. Of course, no one would believe in him, least of all his wife. And God, he was aware of her always, everywhere. And every time he’d remember one of his past transgression, mostly what he almost did on his wedding night, would leave him wretched and cringing with mortification. Evan is also very surprised to find that he doesn’t want to be with Geline any longer, that her presence gives him the creeps. He couldn’t believe he was so close with her once upon a time. He tries to be the best son to his parents. Mary is definitely happy, even a bit in disbelief at first. Basil berates Evan for the mess on his wedding night and he takes it all in without a word. So, to his parents, Evan is a miracle at this point. But, Evangeline? Well, she’s not!

Even though Evan wants to make amends with people around him, from his parents to the lowly servants with whom he’s always been rude and mean, it’s Brenna’s forgiveness that he craves the most. Evan can’t shake off the feeling from time to time that he knew her for a very long time, although in literal sense, it wasn’t true. He feels that she’s very important to him. He finds her very beautiful, which the old Evan definitely didn’t. But Brenna keeps avoiding him as much as possible. Pretty reasonable, Evan deemed, after what he almost made her go through. Poor guy! Couldn’t have been easy for him to work through the ugliness he called ‘life’ once, now that change, however otherworldly, has taken over him. To Brenna, she senses something not unpleasant about Evan, and even though she’s trying to avoid, it’s not working. She feels attracted to him, most especially now that he’s leaving off all the indulgences like too much food or drink and started doing exercises to make himself fit. Too bad for her that he’s becoming more pleasing to the eye, along with this pleasant and overwhelming change in his personality. As per Mary’s advice, Evan tries to talk to Brenna, somehow at least to make her listen to him and his apologies. After sometimes, Brenna starts softening up because this changed Evan was what she never hoped to have in her life; a good, honest man who definitely wants and cares for her. It was just too good to be true! She can sense the change too but not sure if it’s permanent. Brenna is scared that the old Evan would come back and break her heart if she gives in.

Meanwhile, Geline continues to be mean to everyone. Her hatred for Brenna and now Evan was just plain to see. Her brother would never detach himself from her and support that country mouse! She could sense too that this Evan isn’t her brother, though she can’t prove it. One day, Evan and she have an altercation, where the fight goes out of hand because of her and ends up in bad accident. Evan is hurt in the wrist and Geline, on the side of her face. Brenna takes care of Evan, which pleases Evan. Even though Brenna talks about Mary’s request and so on, actually she was pretty scared after the incident. It shows her that she’s already stated caring for her husband. Soon, as Evan heals, Brenna makes her decision to make her marriage real. She knows Evan wants her, and if his kisses say anything, his desire for her is real; but most of all, she’s not repulsed by him as before. As she was thinking of going to Evan’s room one night, Brenna sees that man Fricker coming out of Geline’s room. It was very apparent what they were doing and that he came through the servant’s stairs close to Geline’s room. Even though Geline doesn’t see her, Fricker does and his oily smile before his departure gives her all sorts of crawling sensation. Brenna senses some omen in the atmosphere and just then Evan finds her. Brenna tells him about Geline’s lover and her feelings about all these. Evan is very angry but then, he asks her what she is doing out so late and Brenna tells him what’s on her mind. It makes Evan crazy with want. But he needs to confront Geline first and this confrontation of the twins brings forth a lot of uneasy feelings, along with the fact that Geline must’ve lost her mind totally. She acts like a veritable shrew, with loads of hatred towards them all. It doesn’t help that Basil totally humiliated her before for being so mean to other... well, I didn’t feel even a bit of pity for her because she deserved that set down. When Evan returns, Brenna won’t let him go. Evan is in seventh heaven now and they consummate their marriage. The next day, Evan discusses Geline with Basil and what’s to be done about this. Geline eavesdrops and when Evan comes out of the room, makes sneering comments about his night with Brenna. Evan is mad and threatens Geline and she, again, makes it clear that she knows he’s not real Evan, which gives Evan the negative feeling that something very bad is coming up. Other than Geline, Evan and Brenna’s life was going great. They make love again and talk and both are worried about what Geline might do. They need to get her out of Fricker’s manipulation. One dawn, after a night of lovemaking, Brenna decides to take a walk but comes across Fricker waiting for her. He makes very dirty suggestive remarks about Evan and Geline’s relationship, which leaves Brenna shaken. When she comes back, she sleeps in her own room but upon waking up, finds Evan waiting for her. Evan is angry and hurt when Brenna confesses about Fricker’s remarks, that she’d even believe the poisonous lies. Even though Brenna says that she doesn’t, Evan knows that the old Evan was capable of doing almost anything and so he can’t really fault Brenna if she does. Trust me, the old Evan and Geline’s relationship was really creepy.

Weeping Willow (photo courtesy: solea)
Later in the story, Geline and Evan face-off again when Geline asks him to meet in the willow grove that night because Fricker wants to talk to him. Evan agrees against his better judgment. The last part of the book was as good as it started... with the same paranormal twist that strikes Geline this time, only there was no good soul to occupy her mind, so she’s left in a vacant state. Evan is wounded too, something leaves Brenna scared but thankfully he recovers. I had this distinct impression that Geline might have a story of her own. Would she? I’d definitely like to check that out! The epilogue was sweet, with some excellent news waiting for these two. I finished the story with some questions about Owein and Evan hovering in my mind... 4.5 stars for Lord of Always. It has been such a splendid read and the discovery of a great new author for me!

Favorite Quotes:
As always, when she needed God most, He chose to ignore her.
For long moments they clung to one another, only their heavy breathing filling the quiet. Gradually the mist cleared from Brenna’s sight, and she gazed into the summer-sky blue of her husband’s eyes. Eternity stared back at her. There was no world beyond their world, no time that did not belong to them.
Her husband leaned forward on the bed, hands balled into fists. “There’s something you must understand, Brenna. I feel your emotions. I sense when you are upset. Don’t ask me why, I haven’t a clue. But your distress woke me. I’ve been sitting there,” he waved at the chair, “for more than three hours waiting for you to stir.

Did she sense his emotions also? She thought maybe she did.

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I love to read in my spare time and do reviews the books I read. My blog Punya Reviews just turned 6 in 2017 and still going strong. I love music and traveling. Sometimes, I wish I could live inside a book, having my own HEA. :)
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