A Reckless Match
Set in nineteenth-century Wales, Kate Bateman’s A Reckless Match is an entertaining frenemies-to-lovers romance between scions of two noble families who have been enemies for so many hundreds of years that no-one now alive can remember the reason for that enmity. The humour and effortless banter between her leads are things I’ve always appreciated about the author’s work, and her ability to create strong chemistry and palpable sexual tension is once again in evidence here, as her two protagonists – Gryffud Davies and Madeleine Montgomery – continue both the family rivalry and the relationship built on verbal sparring and one-upmanship they engaged in as children.
The prologue explains the feud and why, for centuries, it’s been necessary for a Davies and a Montgomery to meet at noon on the summer equinox on the disputed stretch of land that lies between their estates. A representative from each family must shake hands as a show of good faith at that time and place every year, and if one of them doesn’t show, then the land is forfeit to the other. On day of the spring equinox of 1815, noon is getting closer and closer and there’s not a Davies in sight – and Maddie Montgomery is gleeful at the thought that her father will finally be able to take possession of the land and the rich deposits within it she’s sure will replenish the Montgomery coffers. Not having to marry the lecherous Sir Mostyn Drake (who’s sixty if he’s a day) is an added bonus, as is finally getting the upper hand over the insufferable Gryffud Davies, an irresponsible rakehell who hasn’t been home since he inherited his father’s estate and title – and her nemesis since childhood.
Sadly, however, Maddie is destined for disappointment, as with just minutes to spare, a lone horseman appears, galloping furiously towards her – and there’s no mistaking that broad silhouette or the effortless grace of the rider. Her pulse pounding, Maddie hopes that perhaps Gryff has lost some of his appeal or his looks – but no such luck. If anything he’s even more handsome than he’d been the last time they’d seen each other three years earlier, and his wicked green eyes and gently mocking smile turn her knees to water and make her insides lurch as much as ever. Maddie steels herself for confrontation, telling herself she doesn’t care a whit what Gryff thinks of her.
Gryff, who has recently returned from the war on the continent, inherited the title of Earl of Powys while he was still serving in the army and wasn’t even able to return home for his father’s funeral. Since returning to England, he decided to spend a bit of time in London and have some fun; he knows it’s his duty to take a wife and set up his nursery, but he’s not ready to settle down quite yet; he’s decided to give himself a year to get to grips with how his life has changed before taking a wife. This is the first time he’s been home since his return and he’s delighted to see Maddie waiting for him, his spirits soaring at the thought of resuming his verbal battle with the beautiful, tart-mouthed thorn in his side and noting with appreciation that she’s no longer the skinny tomboy he’d left behind. The sexual tension thrums between them from the start, but of course, neither is ready to admit to the attraction they feel for one another and attempt to hide it behind cool disdain (her) and flirtatious teasing (him) while waging their “merry war” of verbal darts and well-aimed barbs.
When they accidentally discover a network of caves and passages that lead to the coast, they realise they’ve uncovered a large-scale smuggling operation – and their attempt to put an end to the illegal trade leads them into great danger… and unprecedented discoveries.
Maddie and Gryff are a great couple who light up the pages whenever they’re together. The adventure plot is well-crafted and unusual, with never a dull moment as the pair banter their way through their various exploits while it becomes harder and harder for them to deny the pull they feel towards each other. The characters are engaging and well-defined; I liked that Maddie, who is something of an amateur archaeologist, is not your typical wallflower bluestocking; she’s very knowledgeable and passionate about her subject, but is also a convincing woman of her time, concerned about her reputation and loyal and loving towards her father. And while Gryff has been labelled a rake by the gossips, he isn’t really; he’s a young man blowing off steam after years at war, who is sensible of his responsibilities – and it’s very clear he’s always had a soft spot for Maddie. He’s another of Ms. Bateman’s delicious heroes; smart, gorgeous, determined, and obviously head-over-heels for his lady-love once he’s ready to admit it.
There were, however, a couple of things that dinged the grade on this one a bit. The whole ‘I don’t want to die a virgin’ thing was a cliché too far, there are a couple of places where the pacing lags a little, and towards the end, there’s a bit of very obvious set up for the next book(s) that felt rather out of place.
Otherwise however, the book is a delight. Well-plotted, fast-paced and devoid of over-the-top drama, A Reckless Match is a charming romance full of adventure, sexual tension and great banter, and it gets Kate Bateman’s new Ruthless Rivals series off to a strong start.