Kate Bateman returns to the world of the feuding Davies and Montgomery families for this second book in her Ruthless Rivals series. The protagonists this time around are Carys Davies and Tristan Montgomery, sister and brother respectively of the hero and heroine from A Reckless Match – but while the leads are attractive and the writing is strong, the humour and witty banter I so enjoy from this author is missing and there simply isn’t enough story to carry a full-length novel, especially as the rivalry between the families has been rendered moot by the marriage of Maddie and Gryff in the previous book.
Since being seduced and immediately dumped by the man she’d believed herself in love with, Carys Davies has been doing everything she can think of to avoid marriage. To keep potential suitors at bay, as well as a way to distract attention from her still unmarried state, she’s spent the past couple of seasons shocking the ton with her outspokenness and scandalous outfits. She’s under no illusions about the potential consequences of her mistake; she can’t risk a husband discovering, on their wedding night, that she’s not a virgin, so it’s easiest to eschew the institution altogether – and anyway, her single sexual experience was so utterly underwhelming, she can’t imagine why she would ever want to do it again. To add insult to injury, the gentlman responsible (who is clearly no gentleman) is now blackmailing her, threatening to expose her ruin if she doesn’t meet his frequent demands for money.
Carys refuses to allow herself to be cowed however, and continues to take delight in needling and scandalising the darkly gorgeous but rather staid Tristan Montgomery, who has been her nemesis since they were younger. The attraction that smoulders between them whenever they’re in the same room is both delicious and incredibly annoying – but despite the fact that they can’t go near one another without wanting to rip each other’s clothes off, Carys’ determination never to marry and Tristan’s to find himself a sensible, respectable wife who will support him in his career choices puts paid to thoughts that there could ever be anything more between them.
Tristan finds Carys intensely infuriating and intensely desirable in equal measure, and when he inadvertantly discovers the secret she’s been keeping he’s hurt and then furious. On learning that Carys’ seducer had neglected to show her “a good time”, he offers her the chance to find out what all the fuss is about when it comes to sex. After all, they can still be enemies… they’ll just be enemies with benefits.
While the chemistry between Carys and Tristan is terrific and the sex scenes are nicely steamy, the emotional aspect of the romance is sadly underwritten. Tristan uncovers Carys’ secret – and learns about the blackmail – fairly early on, so I’d hoped to see the development of a deep emotional connection between them alongside the sexual exploration, but it doesn’t happen. Instead, it feels as though all that has already happened by the time we meet them, and all that’s left is for them to actually admit to each other – and themselves – that they’re in love. The denial makes little sense given that Tristan is looking to get married anyway – he and Carys are dynamite in bed and they obviously share similar tastes and a sense of humour – and the family feud is over and done with thanks to Maddie and Gryff. There’s literally nothing standing in their way and the denial as a point of conflict is weak and unconvincing.
Tristan and Carys are likeable and clearly made for each other. I often dislike so-called ‘unconventional’ heroines, but Carys is, fortunately, not one of those TSTL curl-tossers; rather she’s a bright and intelligent young woman trying to make the best of a bad lot and trying to keep her family safe in doing so. She hasn’t told her brothers what happened to her for fear they’ll do something stupid, like challenge her seducer to a duel and either be killed or forced to flee the country, and I liked her for her clear-sightedness on that score. Tristan is more your stock-in-trade dark, broodingly sexy hero; he’s charming and clearly cares deeply for Carys, but struggles to be more than two-dimensional.
In the end, despite the engaging characters and their great chemistry, A Daring Pursuit is just a bit… dull. There’s a crazy plot involving traitorous gold and an escaped bear (yes, really!) introduced just after the three-quarters mark, but it’s so silly and so last minute that it doesn’t really help matters. Kate Bateman is capable of writing detailed and well-thought out plots that really anchor a story in a time and place, but this comes across as just a ridiculous turn of events to get us to the end of the book.
I may check out the next in the series – which I am guessing will be about Carys’ brother Morgan and Tristan’s cousin Harriet, whose dynamic seems very different to the other couples in the series so far – but unfortunately, I have to put A Daring Pursuit in the ‘not quite recommendable’ column.
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