An Unmistakable Rogue
by Annette Blair
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7468-9
***
Twin sons born to the degenerate Earl of Barrington are falsely reported to have died with their mother. In truth, they were secretly given to two different women and raised apart. Their father died without other offspring. A cryptic note is sent to two different men stating that they are each the true Earl of Barrington.

Chastity Somes is the widow of William Somes, to whom one of the letters was addressed. He perished at sea, but Chastity continued to England. Learning that her husband’s four young cousins, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Bekah, have been left alone, Chastity rescues them from a workhouse. She follows the instructions in the note and seeks out a lawyer. An orphan herself, Chastity wants to use Sunnyledge, the residence of the earl as an orphanage. The lawyer tentatively approves her plan. In three months if no one claims the title, he will select a charity to receive the estate; till then Chastity will assume the position of housekeeper. Her future depends on her absolutely scrupulous behavior.

Reed Gilbride received the other mysterious note. He has come in response not so much to be named the true earl but to learn of his origins. He observes Chastity stealthily removing the children from the workhouse. To his dismay, she has already moved into the earl’s residence when he arrives. After some negotiation, they agree to share the residence and try to find documentation that will establish the true ownership.

Misinterpreting some signals, Reed believes Chastity to be a nun, but he finds this does not lessen his attraction for her. Chastity finds herself being increasingly aware of Reed’s masculine attributes.

Reed and Chastity and the four children tentatively establish themselves as a unit, but there’s another individual who is working to wreak vengeance for a perceived wrong.

An Unmistakable Rogue is an acceptable romance – it has some good features, some not so good – making it a solid three-heart book. The plot has a tendency to waver off-track – such as an episode where a balloonist who has no other role in the plot makes a surprise appearance – and the conclusion relies heavily on a deus ex machine discovery.

The book would benefit from a tighter plot line and a smoother transition from scene to scene. The romance is fit in awkwardly around the basic story line of how the various characters become a family unit. Reed and Chastity feel serious lust then they’re interacting with the kids – it makes for unsteady pacing.

The story’s characterization is stronger. Reed is a very nice hero. He’s had a difficult past, but it hasn’t left him bitter and angry against the world. The most appealing thing about him, however, is not his romance with Chastity but his growing relationship with the children. The way the shy Bekah begins to respond to him touched me more than anything “romantic” between Reed and Chastity.

Chastity is one of those aggravating scatter-brained heroines – raised in a convent and pretty much ignorant of any life skills except making bread. Goodness knows what those nuns taught her because she doesn’t seem to have learned a thing. It’s no surprise that she’s sexually innocent (the marriage was short and non-intimate), but some of the other gaps in her knowledge make one wonder if the convent lived on bread alone.

Some of the details of Chastity’s past including how she stumbled on the orphans are barely touched on in the narrative. It seems any flimsy excuse to get the six characters under one roof works, and neither author nor editor much cared whether it came across as credible.

The depiction of the four children is more plausible than is often the case in romances. Each of the children has his own personality, and they interact with the adult characters individually. Some of what they do is cute enough to cause tooth decay, but they’re not unrealistically perfect as too many fictional children are.

An Unmistakable Rogue is the third in a “Rogues” series about several of Wellington’s officers. Characters from earlier books make a fleeting appearance, but the book stands well on its own. Those who read the previous books will probably want to look for this one, too. Other readers might also want to check it out.

--Lesley Dunlap


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