Reading this story was like eating a tuna sandwich; fast, filling and forgettable. A Rogue’s Embrace uses one of the genre’s favorite plot devices -- the marriage of convenience. When done well it provides excellent opportunities to show the how and the why of characters falling in love. This book does that but in such a mediocre, predictable fashion that it was easy to lose interest. The characters are solid or more to the point stolid, but very likeable. The time period is historically interesting (the Restoration of Charles II) as a backdrop, but the author doesn't really utilize to an advantage. The sexual tension is nicely done and consummated frequently. All of the above combined to make this an OK story.
Sir Richard Blythe, a loyal supporter of King Charles II, returns from exile to find his uncle has sold his ancestral home. The sale, however unjust, was legal. Seeing no other option but to get on with his life, Richard turns his hand to playwriting and attains some success and notoriety. His plays are invariably cynical and almost always deal with adulterous aristocratic marriages.
That’s right, you guessed it -- his parents had a marriage filled with hate and adultery and, as a child, Richard was by turns ignored, verbally abused or witness to his parents' decadence. In spite of this, Richard remains a nice guy beneath his cynicism.
Elissa Longbourne, the widow of the man who purchased Richard’s home, has a young son and she’d been managing the estate for 5 years when the King summons her to London. She is ordered to marry Sir Richard. There is the obligatory instant attraction hidden beneath sharp words. Again rather predictably, Elissa’s husband was uncaring of her feelings emotionally and sexually, especially when she declines to participate in some of his more...hmmm...esoteric activities. Suffice to say, she didn’t expect much from the marriage bed.
Richard quickly demolishes Elissa’s expectations and she enjoys her wedding night. Elissa’s chief concern, however, is safeguarding her son’s inheritance. With the help of her wily lawyer, she has Sir Richard sign a marriage settlement that pretty much just allows him to live on the estate, which they quickly travel to once the marriage has been consummated by order and in the presence of the King and his courtiers.
Elissa and Richard are nice likable people. One of the problems with this story is that neither character engenders any strong feelings in the reader. Most of the misunderstandings they have are resolved quickly and logically by the simple expedient of the characters talking to each other. This is nice but the conflicts were never really anything to be that upset about in the first place.
The neighbors all remember the scandal of his parents and make for some interesting dinner parties that provide more insight into both Richard’s and Elissa’s character. But Elissa holds on to her prejudice regarding the type of man she perceives Richard to be just a tad too long. There is one particularly jarring incident where, well beyond the point where this would have made sense, Elissa exhibits the rudest just this side of nasty behavior when Richard’s friends come to visit (Arabella & Neville from A Scoundrel’s Kiss). Elissa falls into the “I want him” one minute “I don’t want him” the next minute enough to be annoying but not enough to totally ruin the story. However, her hot & cold behavior doesn’t prevent her from seeing that Richard is basically a good man. Which makes her behavior at the climax almost completely inexplicable.
The secondary characters hold no real surprises and are rather boring including the King who in this story doesn’t exhibit any of the qualities that enabled him to regain his throne. There’s the oily neighbor Mr. Sedgemore eager to cause dissention and has "ulterior motives" stamped on his forehead. The explanation of his real motivation did provide a bit of a surprise.
Oddities like Richard knowing nothing about managing the estate where he’d lived until about age 16 and forgettable characters like Richard’s friend Foz weakened what could have been a really good book. If you want a quick tuna sandwich at your desk then by all means read this story. You won’t remember it but you’ll read it. However, if you’re looking for a well stacked reuben requiring both hands and your attention -- keep looking.
--Wilda G. Turner