I have an interesting history with Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels.
I have no idea when I first read it because it left an indelible blank on my mind. Years later, I found a nearly pristine copy in a box of books I'd read and then culled, intending to donate them to charity or something.
Before I found that box, though, I'd found Romlandia, the collection of romance lovers, reviewers and bloggers on the Internet. In Romlandia, Lord of Scoundrels is on a very short list of books that might be considered The Best Romance Novel Ever. Ooh, how wonderful, I thought at the time. A new-to-me author!
I bought a copy of LoS, read it and didn't much like it. As I recalled, I felt that the hero was too damaged. I did, however, like Ms. Chase's writing, and consider many of her other books to be among my favorites, particularly Lord Perfect.
Then I found that box of books and realized that I must have read LoS before. That explained why during the second reading I'd had that odd but distinct sensation of reading something that should be new but was almost familiar in places (called, I gather, "déjà-lu"). How could I have read the Number One Romance of All Time and literally not even registered it? I really must not have liked it the first time.
Her publisher currently has LoS at a come-hither 99¢ price for the Kindle, which is a bit of a no-brainer. Yes, even for a book I've tried twice and not liked.
And -- ignoring a bookcase-worth of TBR books -- I have now read LoS for the third time. And, as you might expect, I liked it better. I even know why!
I also think the tone of the prologue is all wrong for the rest of the book, which is smart, witty and resourceful. But I'm vulnerable to counter-argument here because halfway through the prologue I gave up on it and skipped ahead to the rest of the book.
Guess what? I think you could skip the whole demented introduction. Does it help "explain" the hero's issues? Maybe, but any reader can infer the horror. Keep the prologue as an addendum if you want -- text you can refer to after you've finished the book in case you still have questions about how Dain, the hero, got to be the man he was.
(There's also the risk that the prologue actually doesn't explain Dain because it's so heavily larded with agony and suffering that Dain seems almost magically functional in adulthood. But I don't have a Ph.D. in psychology, so I won't argue that point.)
Next tip for enjoying this book: keep your eyes on Jess, the heroine. She's wonderful -- smart, inventive, determined, and yet not overly anachronistic. I had no trouble following her thinking as she worked out hypotheses and strategies based on the evidence. She struck me as psychologically astute without lapsing into implausible psychobabble.
It helps that the language in LoS is more formal than some current authors of historical fiction prefer. Fewer contractions and more plausibly outmoded expressions and old-fashioned turns of phrase. I'm not saying every romance set in early 19th century England has to sound like this, but soothed my worries that a woman of that time period would have trouble deducing Dain's neuroses decades before Freud and Jung gave us our current understanding of the concept.
At the end of three different reads, LoS is never going to be my favorite "love healed his black soul" romance. But now, finally, I can see the appeal.
And yes, I'm sure I'll read the last 95% of it again.