I started to read this story last year and it actually received the lowest grade of any book I read in 2006. I actually couldn't finish reading the darn thing because I found it utterly boring. At the insistence of one of my fellow readers in my reading group (Thanks Mal!) I gave it another shot and I was very surprised in discovering that I actually enjoyed the book!
Raphael, Viscount Fontvilliers had a difficult childhood after his mother abandoned him to the mercy of a man who doubted Raphael's legitimacy. He was emotionally battered and his faith in love destroyed by his father. He became a cynic which made him vulnerable to the wager his friends put upon him. He was to prove love did not exist and he was to do this by destroying one of the most stable couples in London.
Julia Brodie was just at the wrong place at the wrong time when she was chosen to be the instrument to win Raphael's wager. Julia has lead a comfortable life, never aspiring more than she felt her station merited. She had an 'understanding' with her beau, Simon and just awaits the day in which he pops the question. Every thing in her life is smooth and on target until she meets Fontvilliers and he makes her question the complacency of her life.
The problem with this book originally was that the story was too slow to start with. It didn't help that I was really not in the mood to read it. I originally felt no connection with Raphael and found him a bit on the slimy side. He was just so calculating and uncaring I could not feel anything besides anomosity toward him. On this second reading I actually picked up more on little nuances in Raphael's behavior that made me more receptive to his actions. After I passed the slow start (which didn't really change on the second serving) the story picked up a life of its own, Raphael seemed to become more vulnerable the more his heart is given to Julia. Julia becomes more secure in herself, rallying up the nerve to defy her family and go after what she wants.
There was an interesting twist close to the end of the book when Simon and Raphael have a duel over Julia. This added a different atmosphere to the book itself and I'm not sure I really cared for it. I guess it gave Julia and Raphael more time to be together; also it gave more time for Raphael to accept his vulnerability to Julia's love as well as acknowledge what was in his own heart. I loved the ending though. Raphael needed some redeeming and a lot of groveling for all that Julia had to put up with. HE did an excellent job at earning her love.