All Scot and Bothered
Note: There are spoilers for How to Love a Duke in Ten Days in this review.
A couple of prefaces to this review:
I barely remember the first book in this series, even after re-reading the blurb, the All About Romance review, and the first chapter. So. There’s that.
The series description suggests it is heavily focused on three fiercely independent friends who call themselves the Red Rogues because of their red hair color. Except we get this book blurb for All Scot and Bothered:
They are a dangerous duke, a fierce lord, and an infamous earl—dark, bold, brave men who know exactly what they want. And there is only one woman who can bring them to their knees…
…and suddenly the series is about three dudes. What kind of switcheroo bullshit is this?
I digress. Moving on.
Raised by a mother who preyed on weak men and then broke them, Cassius Gerad Ramsay decided early on that women were the root of all evil. His one and only attempt at love ended in disaster, and he’s vowed to never let another woman close to his heart. Now nearing his forties, he’s a wealthy, abstemious, sanctimonious, hypocritical bachelor with little patience, kindness, empathy or sympathy. He’s also Lord Chief Justice of the High Court, and gets to practice being better and more virtuous than everyone else on a regular basis.
When All Scot and Bothered begins, Ramsay is deeply involved in the investigation of several missing young girls, and trying to learn more about an organization supposedly known as the Crimson Court – a super-secret organization of powerful men rumored to be up to their eyeballs in nefarious activities. He’s had his eye on a notorious gaming hell and the woman who runs it, and believes she may be behind the abductions of said young girls. Unfortunately, he finds himself increasingly distracted from his work and life by an altogether different woman, Cecelia Teague, a close friend of his new sister-in-law Alexandra (wife of his step-brother, Piers, Duke of Redmayne), who keeps showing up at the same shindigs.
As a young mathematics prodigy, Cecelia Teague was blamed, belittled and abused by men who didn’t like her, her body or her intelligence. Her father, the local vicar, was the worst of the lot. He regularly locked her in their damp, dark basement without food or water as an additional form of punishment. She’s just spent two long days locked in the basement when she’s rescued by a glamorous stranger acting on behalf of a mysterious benefactor (say that five times, fast). The stranger tells her the vicar isn’t actually her father, removes her from the vicar’s home, takes her to Paris, and then deposits her at a prestigious boarding school. The mysterious benefactor asks only that Cecelia write regular letters detailing her life.
A lonely Cecelia spends her days with the school gardener, a widower who lost his wife and daughter to the flu. He becomes a pseudo-father figure to her, and then she meets and becomes fast friends with two other girls, Lady Alexandra Lane, and Francesca Cavendish, Countess of Mont Claire. They adopt masculine nicknames and dub themselves the Red Rogues (for their red hair). When Alexandra is raped by their headmaster, and then ‘accidentally’ murders him, the girls conspire with the gardener to hide the body. The murder doesn’t fracture their friendship, it cements it. When this story begins, they’re still deeply in each other’s pockets, Alexandra is happily married to Piers, and Cecelia’s life is about to change.
When Cecelia is bequeathed Miss Henrietta’s School for Cultured Young Ladies (recognize the name? It’s the same place Sir Carlton Morely and Prudence Goode meet in A Dark and Stormy Knight, Victorian Rebels #7), by the mysterious benefactor, she isn’t sure what to expect. She’s disappointed she never had the chance to meet Miss Henrietta (a maternal aunt), shocked that she now owns a gambling hell (with a staff that dabbles in prostitution), and that it doubles as a school for indigent mothers and girls. And she also inherits a young ward, Phoebe, along with a warning never to let the girl’s father have her. Cecilia’s already overwhelming first visit is interrupted when the Vicar of Vice (you know who he is don’t you?) arrives with a warrant to search the premises. Donning a disguise, the Scarlet Lady meets Lord Ramsay in her new office and bluffs her way through his accusations. No, she doesn’t know anything about the missing girls. No, Miss Henrietta’s isn’t a brothel. No, he won’t find any evidence of wrongdoing.
Cecelia doesn’t know what to do about the Vicar of Vice, and things take a turn after she runs into him at Alexandra’s house and kisses him in the garden. Oops. But she’s determined to run the gambling establishment (because she’s a math prodigy, running a gambling establishment should be easy), and take care of her new ward. Lord Ramsay is enormous and distractingly handsome, but since he hates women and wants to destroy her business, he can never know who she is. Unfortunately, someone tries to blow up the school, and then murder Cecilia and Phoebe on the street, and Ramsay learns her secret. Despite his disappointment once he learns who she is (I’m majorly understating this) and his constant state of lust, he takes Cecelia, Phoebe and the gardener and spirits them away to Scotland.
I want to tell you this messy premise finds its footing after Cecelia and Ramsay wind up together with her found family in Scotland… but I can’t. He lusts for her, but won’t fall for a woman who owns a gambling den. Or really, for any woman, because he’s a misogynist who thinks women’s vaginas are the root of all evil. Except for voluptuous, lovely Cecelia. Ms. Byrne: Ramsay can be big, burly, hot, sexy, a Scottish wizard of the loch and a wolf under his skin, but if he hates women… I can’t ignore it. Thankfully, Cecelia is bright and clever and kind and good, and unwilling (too smart) to give up her life so that he can feel better about himself and his life choices. She’s been there, done that already. So she sets him straight. Well, right after she gives him the most amazing blowjob of his life, and he blows her mind returning the favour, and then after, he gets confused because his big cock won’t fit in her vagina because OOPS, SHE’S A VIRGIN, all while her former gardener/pseudo-papa and seven-year-old ward are sleeping nearby. Cecelia prolongs his delusions of happily ever after for while, but when Ramsay incorrectly assumes she’ll give up the gambling hell and school to marry him, Cecelia refuses. And when she has the temerity to suggest they needn’t be married to be together or that perhaps he accepts her as she is… guess what? He refuses. Quelle surprise. Cecelia refuses to bow to his demands, so he lashes out and pushes her away.
Meanwhile, someone is abducting young girls and trafficking them, someone is trying to kill Cecelia, and maybe, just maybe Ramsay’s boss/mentor is a villain. And there’s a twist. Or two!
Reader, I read everything Kerrigan Byrne writes hoping to discover another The Highwayman. Maybe it’s time to give up.