This final book in the Rakes of Cavendish Square trilogy features Lord Lawrence Byron, the twin brother of Lord Leo whose story was told in the first instalment, The Bedding Proposal. I enjoyed both that and the previous book (Happily Bedded Bliss) enough to want to read this final one, even though it uses one of my least favourite tropes – a woman passing herself off as a man. It’s testament to the author’s ability to tell an entertaining story and craft strong characters that I was able to set aside that dislike and enjoy the developing relationship between the two protagonists, which is well-paced and imbued with a slow-burning sexual tension that really draws the reader in.
Rosamund Carrow and her brother, Bertram, were both extensively tutored in law by their father, a renowned barrister. Even though the profession is closed to her purely because of her gender, Rosamund showed a great aptitude for the subject and regularly assisted her father in his preparations and research, but his sudden death leaves behind a lot of unfinished, untried – and unpaid – cases. The obvious solution would be for Bertram to complete the work and make the necessary court appearances, but he suffers from a speech impediment which becomes worse whenever he gets nervous, and it quickly becomes apparent that he isn’t going to be able to take on his father’s role. Nervously, Rosamund agrees to Bertram’s suggestion that she should pose as their cousin, Ross Carrow; that way, she can assist Bertram in court and as soon as the cases are cleared, she can return to being herself again and quietly disappear.
On their first day in court, Rosamund and Bertram find themselves pitted against none other than Lord Lawrence Byron, a man with a formidable reputation for winning his lawsuits and a keen legal mind. He’s also the handsomest man Rosamund has ever seen, with a rakish reputation to go along with his abundance of good looks and charm. The case – brought by a young widow against her late husband’s family – is a tricky one, Bertram’s nerves prove his undoing and he’s forced to ask Rosamund to take over as lead counsel. Still unable to believe that nobody has noticed the deception she is practicing, she nonetheless rises to the challenge and, incredibly, wins the case.
Lawrence is gracious in defeat, acknowledging that “Mr. Carrow’s” persuasive arguments carried the day, and, finding himself rather well disposed towards the young lawyer, invites “him” to dinner at his club.
Over the next few weeks, as Rosamund continues to represent her late father’s remaining clients in court, she also gets to spend more time with Lawrence, who has taken her under his wing. Lawrence is amused at the gaucheness of this slight young man who can’t hold his drink and doesn’t quite seem comfortable in his own skin, but he can’t help admiring his quickness of mind and his ability to construct a strong legal argument. The problem is that for the first time in his life, Lawrence finds himself distracted by the speaking eyes, plump lips and nicely rounded bottom of a member of his own sex – and is unnerved by it.
Luckily for poor, confused Lawrence, a random comment made by his brother very quickly brings everything into focus with startling clarity; all those things about “Ross Carrow” that didn’t add up before do so now, and Lawrence is determined to unmask “him” as a fraud. But then he decides against it; Miss Carrow is obviously talented and clever and even though her sex precludes her from entering the profession legitimately, he believes she deserves to be able to continue to do something she so clearly loves. And besides, Lawrence has appreciated her friendship and wants it to continue – while also adding other things to the mix. Things like kissing and… more than kissing.
During the weeks of their acquaintance, Rosamund has found it more and more difficult to deny the strength of the attraction she feels towards Lawrence, but she knows that even if he met her as a woman, a twenty-eight year old spinster is unlikely to have attracted his notice. So when she realises he has seen through her disguise, the last thing she expects is for him to tell her that he wants to take her to bed – and also that she should continue her work. She is wary, but when Lawrence makes it clear that there are no strings attached, and that he doesn’t expect her to go to bed with him for any reason other than that she wants to, Rosamund decides to take what Lawrence is offering; a chance to experience pleasure and passion with a deeply sensual and devastatingly attractive man.
The story is a simple one, and because the author takes care to emphasise Rosamund’s misgivings about her disguise and how careful she is to maintain her male persona, it helped me to achieve the necessary suspension of disbelief required to accept not only that she could pass as a man, but that she could pass as a man working in as complex a profession as the law. She’s a well-defined character, a strong, intelligent woman who has the ability to be and to do more than the constraints of the time will permit, but who recognises that she’s playing a dangerous game. I particularly enjoyed watching her growing confidence as “Ross”, and seeing how much her work means to her; and, importantly, that Lawrence is able to recognise both those things, too, and to appreciate her all the more for it. Lawrence is less strongly characterised, however; while his being the son of a duke who actually has a profession makes him a bit different from so many of the other titled heroes who abound in historical romance, he’s otherwise a little stereotypical. That’s not to say he’s dull or unattractive – he’s not – just that he isn’t as fully fleshed-out as Rosamund.
While the central relationship develops at a good pace and the romance is tender and sensual, there are other aspects of the story which I found problematic and which caused me to lower my final grade. Throughout the book, Lawrence is paying court to the daughter of an influential judge whom he hopes will help him to advance in his career; which didn’t worry me because the supposed-to-marry-one-while-in-love-with-another thing isn’t uncommon in historical romance. The problem is that this is the sole element of conflict throughout the entire novel, and it’s weak, because ultimately, Lawrence hasn’t made any promises or offers and can change his mind if he wants to. The fact that he allows his ambition to blind him to what he really wants isn’t his finest hour, but if he hadn’t done that, there would have been no conflict at all in the story. Our lovers undergo a separation and are miserable for a bit, but after that, things are wrapped up quickly and easily – rather too quickly and easily, really – and I was left thinking “oh – was that it?” and also with a few unanswered questions.
Bedchamber Games is an entertaining read and I certainly don’t regret the hours I spent reading it, but it’s the weakest of the trilogy and brings it to a rather lacklustre close. So I’m giving this one a qualified recommendation, because the romance is well done, I liked the author’s exploration of what it meant to be a woman and therefore unable to enter a profession – and there aren’t enough sexy barristers in historical romance.