The Devil's Cub: The Alastair Trilogy, #2, by Georgette Heyer
Dominic, the Marquis of Vidal, son of Justin, the Duke of Avon, is known as The Devil's Cub. His nickname is apt, not just because his father is the man once known as Satanas, but because his behavior leads to introductions like this:
"This is my cousin, by the way. I dare say you know of him. He is very wicked and kills people in duels."
Not only does he run around dueling anyone and everyone who looks at him sideways, but he also has lots of lady-friends (AHEM—you know what I mean...), gets drunk, drives much too fast, gambles, refuses to wear a wig and his hair is never properly powdered. (His poor valet is a very frustrated man.) On the second page of the book, he shoots a highwayman dead and then just leaves the body on the side of the road, because, as he puts it:
"My good fellow, are you suggesting that I should carry a footpad's corpse to my Lady Montacute's drum?"
His particular lady-"friend" of the moment is one Sophia Challoner, a gorgeous blonde nitwit who, along with her nitwit mother, is of the opinion that she'll be able to do what no other woman has been able to do: trap Vidal and marry him.
Of course, it's clear to the reader from the very beginning that Sophia's sister is the woman for Vidal:
It was not that the girl was ill-favoured. She had a fine pair of grey eyes, and her profile with its delightfully straight nose and short upper lip was quite lovely. But placed beside Sophia she was nothing beyond the common. What chance had chestnut curls when compared to a riot of bright gold ringlets? What chance had cool grey eyes when the most limpid blue ones peeped between preposterously long eyelashes?
She had, moreover, grave disadvantages. Those fine eyes of hers had a disconcertingly direct gaze, and very often twinkled in a manner disturbing to male egotism. She had common-sense too, and what man wanted the plainly matter-of-fact, when he would enjoy instead Sophia's delicious folly? Worst of all she had been educated a a very select seminary—Mrs. Calloner was sometimes afraid that she was almost a Bluestocking.
...but it takes the characters an abduction, a couple of shootings, identity theft, a swordfight, carriage-chases, the swapping and re-swapping of fiance/fiancees, much yelling, some vomiting, blackmail, and lots of running around France to figure it out. Not that I'm complaining. If the book had been twice as long I probably would have been twice as happy.
The major characters from the first book are all here, twenty-four years later, just as ridiculous and just wonderful. Justin, I think, has mellowed the most. Leonie is exactly the same, as is Rupert (who I still picture as Hugh Laurie's Bertie Wooster). Vidal acts absolutely terrible towards the beginning of the book, but I ended up loving him. He has his mother's temper and his father's drawling manner. I mean, really. The man is irresistible:
His lordship swore softly and long, to the admiration of a lackey, who stood reverently listening to his fluency. Then he proceeded to set his household by the ears, and the word flew round inside of ten minutes that the Devil's Cub was in rare taking, and there would be bloodshed before nightfall.
I'm going to have to buy a copy of this one—it was a joy to read, it's a keeper for sure, and one that I know I'll read and re-read until it falls apart. I'm SO happy that I have a copy of the third book at home. I'm totally going to start reading it tonight.