Desert Isle Keeper
While I’ve enjoyed all the books in Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, Dearest Rogue has been the one I’ve most eagerly anticipated. In fact, it’s one of my most highly anticipated books of 2015. Perhaps that’s a little unusual, considering this is the eighth book in a long-running series, but something about the pairing of the older, world-weary, dour ex-officer with the young, vital but blind sister of a duke is intriguing and completely irresistible. Perhaps it’s that whole “bodyguard-falls-for-his-charge” thing – although that’s not a plotline I’m fussed about either way – or what’s more likely is that the glimpses we’ve been given of Phoebe Batten and Captain Trevillion in the earlier books, both separately and together, plus their appearance in the short Christmas story that appeared on the author’s website a couple of years back showed an already amazing chemistry that I was keen to revisit and experience in a whole novel.
Readers familiar with the earlier books will know that James Trevillion, Captain in the King’s 4th Dragoons was injured in the line of duty, his right leg severely damaged when he was crushed beneath his horse. No longer able to perform his military role, he resigned his commission and was then offered a job by Maximus Batten, the powerful Duke of Wakefield, as bodyguard to his youngest sister, Phoebe. Phoebe’s eyesight has been gradually worsening since the age of twelve, and now, at twenty-one, she is completely blind. She is not at all happy at the idea of having a permanent keeper, but her brother is an incredibly influential man, and the possibility of her being kidnapped or harmed in order to gain leverage over him is a very real one. Phoebe knows that her brother is concerned for her safety, but he’s stifling her; she may have lost her sight, but she wants to live as normal a life as possible, not be wrapped up in cotton wool like a china doll.
It was clear in the previous book (Darling Beast) that Trevillion was smitten with his charge, while Phoebe saw him as little more than an inconvenience. She still sees him that way, but he is well aware that the day is not far off when his growing attraction to her will mean he must resign his post. He can’t protect her properly if he is overly emotionally invested – and he is already in over his head, Phoebe’s courage, tenacity and determination drawing him to her as much as her loveliness.
Following a failed kidnap attempt at the start of the book, Phoebe finds herself suddenly curious about “her” captain and beginning to think of him as a person rather than just as an annoyance thrust upon her by her over-protective brother. A true friendship starts to develop between them as Phoebe comes to know more about the man who is constantly at her side and to finally realise something she’s always known – that Trevillion is the one person who will never lie to her or attempt to sugar-coat the truth.
When, following a second unsuccessful abduction, the captain resigns his post because he feels he failed in his duty, Phoebe is distraught. James – as she has begun to think of him – was the one person who truly understood her need for independence. Her brother instead surrounds her with lots of burly footmen, but even they cannot keep Phoebe safe from what, I admit, is her own stupidity when she ventures out to the stables early one morning. Fortunately for her, one of those footmen used to be a soldier under Trevillion’s command and quickly seeks him out. This is the last straw as far as the captain is concerned – he tracks the kidnappers and rescues Phoebe, then spirits her away to somewhere she won’t be found – and doesn’t even tell the duke where they’ve gone.
They journey to the Cornish coast, to the home Trevillion hasn’t seen for twelve years. While Phoebe has managed to prise some of his life-story from him, he hasn’t divulged the reasons for such a long absence, and clearly doesn’t like talking about his past. His father is simultaneously pleased to see him and angry with him for being gone for so long, but Phoebe is nonetheless made welcome and soon falls into the way of life on the remote horse-breeding farm. It’s at this point that she finally discovers the reasons behind James’ almost compulsive need to protect her; and while it’s not exactly a surprise, it nonetheless makes perfect sense.
I loved the way the relationship between the protagonists developed and especially the way in which Phoebe, unable to see, becomes aware of James as a man in other ways, through touch, scent and the sound of his voice. Despite the difference in their stations, once he realises the attraction between them is mutual, he doesn’t hesitate or keep pushing her away for her own good. He pays her the compliment of believing she knows her own mind – which is a refreshing change – so there is no overly contrived angst.
Even though I loved the book, it’s not without flaws. Phoebe is kidnapped so many times, the author even has the character metaphorically rolling her eyes at it and thinking she should be used to it by now! The reasons behind it are a bit wishy-washy, to be honest, although during this part of the story, the author introduces the heroine of the next book, and also keeps the Machiavellian machinations of the enigmatic Duke of Montgomery at the forefront of the reader’s mind.
But I was so wrapped up in Phoebe and Trevillion that it didn’t spoil the book for me, and in terms of the romance, Ms Hoyt delivers and then some. Phoebe is only twenty-one, but has shown such courage in the face of adversity over the time in which we’ve come to know her that it’s easy to sympathise with her and with her desire to be allowed to live her life in the light she can no longer see. Trevillion is a wonderful hero – deeply honourable and loyal, and possessed of the sort of unwavering devotion and quiet competence that are incredibly attractive. He’s not voluble, but has a dry wit and sense of humour that are normally buried, so it’s lovely to see him unbending around Phoebe, who, he quips, has “made him into a frivolity”; and incongruous as the pairing may have been at first glance, he’s the perfect hero for her. He’ll never talk down to her or try to coddle her; even though he wants to keep her safe from harm, he knows that sometimes one has to fall down in order to pick oneself up again.
As I’ve come to expect from this author, the writing is elegant and richly detailed, and the characterisation is strongly observed all round. The sex scenes are luscious and sensual and somehow, in a genre which is overflowing with them, quite unique. Ms Hoyt manages to imbue such moments with a kind of earthy romanticism that never descends into the overly crude; sex in her books is lusty and honest – emotional but not sentimental.
Dearest Rogue fulfilled all my expectations, so I can’t in all good conscience do anything other than make it a DIK, in spite of the small reservations I’ve mentioned. It’s gone straight onto my keeper shelf and I’ve already read it twice – so it’s a good bet I’ll be returning to it often.