by Caroline Linden, historical (2007)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-8217-8050-3
What A Rogue Desires is one of those frustratingly rare historical romances where the hero and the heroine are on equal footing both intellectually and emotionally. Factor in plenty of credible and often heartwarming emotional bonding between those two and some unexpectedly erotic love scenes as the result of the chemistry between the two characters and I have a marvelous time reading this book.
We have David Reece, easily one of the best woobie characters I've come across. He is a former never-do-well younger brother who has decided by the time the story opens to turn over a new leaf. I have not read the previously related book What A Gentleman Wants when I read this book so I am not sure of the exact details leading up to the man's epiphany. Apparently there was some kind of drama involving David getting manipulated by a wicked cousin into almost killing the hero of the previous book. He was also injured as a result - in this book he has a bad leg that is still hurting despite having healed completely.
David's first task when it comes to becoming a responsible and sober man is to manage the business affairs of his brother Marcus while Marcus and his wife embark on their honeymoon. For a man who used to spend money without thinking much about balancing the account books, this is not an easy task indeed. But David is determined to succeed in proving to everyone that he can do something good for a change without screwing up.
His first true trial comes in the form of a stagecoach robbery. David is not happy to lose the family signet ring, and he is definitely even less amused when he tracks down the ring and realizes that "Mrs Gray", a charming widow that shared the stagecoach with him, was actually one of the robbers. Catching her as she attempts to fence the items that her fellow robbers had stolen from the passengers, David decides to lock her up in his town house until she gives up his ring. Vivian Beecham, our heroine, doesn't trust him and therefore she won't tell him anything in case he uses what she has told him to see her hang. The two people, who would have never met under usual circumstances, end up bonding and maybe even falling in love as days pass.
David, oh David. As I've mentioned earlier, he is an excellent example of a well-written woobie hero. Charming, mischievous, and full of dash, he also has plenty of insecurities that fester and eat at him, especially when he realizes how he has wasted so much of his life being drunk and reckless with nothing much to show for it. What makes his reformation believable is that he is already determined to change before he meets the heroine. This isn't a case of true love changing the tiger's stripes - it's a story of a man determined to reform and finding love in the meantime. David is a great hero because he doesn't wallow in the past here as much as he tries very hard to overcome his own insecurities. Sure, sometimes he falters, but what do I expect? He's supposed to be human, not a superhero.
Vivian is a weaker character compared to David because she doesn't have the character growth progression that David has. Her role here is more of a supportive/catalyst role for David's character growth. However, I have to love a heroine who is aware and sensible enough to tell David to stop feeling sorry for himself because he, as the youngest son of one of the most powerful families in England, is far more well-off than the average person on the street. She doesn't let David wallow in self-pity and she gives him a good figurative kick in the rear end when he needs one. And he appreciates her for that and more, which makes him even sweeter.
Vivian is a pretty smart heroine. I'm not sure about her willingness to give David her real name, but when push comes to shove, Vivian is able to lie her behind off like the best of them to get herself and David out of trouble. She helps David as much as he helps her throughout the story, which is great if you ask me. I always love a story where the heroine is the hero's equal in many ways. Don't worry, folks, Vivian is the genuine thing here. She's not some virginal lost-daughter of some Duke of Whatever - she's a thief who live on the streets and the author doesn't try to white-wash or romanticize the less-than-pleasant aspects of Vivian's life.
While I have plenty of love for the hero and heroine, I do have my qualms about the plot though. A big part of the problem is the author's introduction of Simon, Vivian's brother. While having a brother to protect is always a good way to shield the heroine from the inevitable shrieks of disgust from the "How dare that starving homeless woman steal and how disgusting that she doesn't try harder to save her virginity for the hero! I tell you, Agnes, the romance genre has become truly immoral ever since those homosexuals showed up!" crowd, it also creates some problems when it comes to Vivian. For a while, Simon is Vivian's "Don't hate me, readers, I'm really not a whore, honest!" crutch and she is worried about him, but once she and David become intimate, she pretty much forgets about Simon until the plot demands her to. This story, in my opinion, would be so much stronger if Simon doesn't exist.
But oh, David and Vivian! From their talks to the trip to the theatre, everything about their blossoming relationship feels so bittersweet romantic. I actually feel happy reading this story. When finally I put the book down - and with great reluctance, mind you - I feel as if I can dance on air because I am so, so happy that those two are in love and I get to read all about it.
How embarrassing that this is the first book from this author that I have read when she has already written two books before this. I shall rectify my oversight immediately. But for now, What A Rogue Desires is exactly what I desire - need - when it comes to reading romances.
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