If credible character motivation is important to you, you won’t find much to like in A Reckless Encounter. If it doesn’t matter to you at all why characters act as they do as long as it’s a touching love story, you still won’t find much to like in A Reckless Encounter. In fact, other than diehard Rosemary Rogers’ fans, I doubt many readers will find much to like in it.
After the murder of their freedman servant and the rape and subsequent death in childbirth of her mother, Celia Sinclair has sworn vengeance on Lord Northington. She travels from America to England under the name of Celia St. Clair bearing the official charges to bring him to justice. A few men board the ship after it arrives in England for the completion of the voyage to London.
Celia stays with her cousin and godmother Jacqueline, Lady Leverton, who presents her to society along with her daughter Carolyn. Beautiful and exquisitely gowned, Celia is a great success, even being singled out for attention by the Prince Regent. She soon discovers that Lord Northington is considered a desirable connection which puzzles her until she learns that Lord Northington is not the man she seeks but rather the magnetic man she glimpsed on the ship at the end of the voyage. In the nine years since the crimes, Lord Northington has succeeded to the title of Earl of Moreland. Moreland, who is seldom seen in society, is generally disliked and viewed with suspicion. The new Lord Northington, handsome and irresistibly desirable, is his son, Robert George Colter Hampton.
Celia realizes that the authorities will not be impressed by her documents; Lord Moreland is too powerful a man. She decides her revenge will take the form of marrying the son rather than ruining the father. (Does this make any sense at all? Scheming to make your mother’s rapist your father-in-law?)
Northington, meantime, is dividing his attention between overseeing a questionable situation in the family’s shipping interests which he heads, helping the government contain possible civil unrest, and making moves on Celia. She may be thinking proposal; he’s thinking proposition. After they make love at his house party (where Northington is amazed to discover she’s a virgin), this tension between them becomes even more complicated.
Lord Northington is a typical Rosemary Rogers hero - one of those heroes who make me question why the heroine would want to be in the same hemisphere with him much less be intertwining body parts. He’s got a sexual history that is supposed to be impressive but comes off as sleazy. His kisses approach assault rather than affection. He’s rude, he’s insulting, he’s contemptuous. Apparently, being rich, handsome, and titled excuses the lack of a winning personality. On the basis of a few minutes’ acquaintance, he jumps to unjustified conclusions about Celia. “She was no missish virgin playing a game, but a woman who knew what she wanted. Just as he knew what he wanted from her.” From there on, his treatment of her is positively offensive. And she actually wants this guy? For life?
Celia, however, isn’t the soul of courtesy either. She’s often rude, snide, and disparaging. On the occasion of their second meeting, she calls him a “rutting boar.” (Why does he keep coming back for more?) She plots to use him as an instrument of her revenge without examining his relationship with his father. How does Celia think Moreland is going to suffer by her marrying his son? What if the father utterly despises the son? (In fact, there’s mutual dislike between them.)
This is only one example of the contrived elements of this plot. By chance, Celia meets a man on board ship at the end of the voyage. Instantly, Northington leaps to the conclusion that she must be part of a large subversive plot. (Northington leaps to a lot of unfounded conclusions.) The sole purpose of these contrived elements is to get Celia and Northington into close proximity to snarl, quarrel, and paw one another.
Readers don’t pick up a Rosemary Rogers romance for a tender love story. Her heroes and heroines are about as sweet and congenial as two tomcats in a sack, but usually there’s a lot of action that goes along with the hostility. A Reckless Encounter is atypical in that there’s a lot of conversation that covers the same topics again and again, lots of plotting and scheming, but things move pretty slowly until the second half of the book when a convoluted subplot about political dissension takes over and the romance takes second place.
There’s a lot of description of Celia’s beautiful gowns. (Ignore the cover illustration of the late Victorian-era gown. A Reckless Encounter is set during the regency period.) There’s a lot of Celia engaging in introspection over her losses, her desire for revenge, her remorse over not confiding in Lady Leverton about the true circumstances behind her mother’s death. Similarly, Lord Northington ponders whether there’s more to Celia than first appeared, whether a particular ship has really been lost in a storm at sea, how he’s sorry his older brother died leaving him the heir to the title. In other words, a lot of words but little forward movement.
There’s not much to enjoy in this book. The plot is confused, the main characters are sometimes unpleasant, and the pacing is uneven. If you should encounter A Reckless Encounter at your bookstore, don’t be reckless. Take my advice: think twice. Maybe more.