Along Came a Rogue
This second book from new author Anna Harrington is an enjoyable story with an engaging central couple and a steamy romance that is based around one of my favourite tropes – that of youthful would-be lovers who come together some years later and discover they never really got over each other. That aspect of Along Came a Rogue works well in the sense that the author shows clearly that there is a strong bond between the protagonists, despite their separation; but while the book is very readable and well-written, the pacing is uneven, there are places where things could have been tightened up and there is one particular plot point that is redundant.
Five years before the book begins, sixteen-year-old Lady Emily Matteson became infatuated with the dashingly handsome Captain Nathaniel Grey, a friend of her brother’s. Even then Grey had the sort of reputation to cause the respectable matrons of society to want to lock up their daughters; added to which he is a nobody – the son of a blacksmith who has made his own way in life through dint of hard work, he is doubly unsuitable as a match for a well-bred young lady. Not that anything so permanent crossed his mind when Emily one day asked him to kiss her so that she would know what to do when she had a suitor. Against his better judgement, Grey gave in to her pleas, only to be thrown out of the house at gunpoint when they were discovered in a full lip-lock.
Five years later, and now a major, Grey has been relieved from active duty due to an injury and has been offered a prestigious position in Spain, one he is keen to take up as soon as possible. But his plans are changed abruptly when his good friend Thomas Matteson is attacked by thieves and severely injured. With death hovering close by, Thomas begs Grey to fetch Emily from her home in Yorkshire. The last time they saw each other was years ago, and they quarreled – and Thomas wants desperately to see her. Grey sets off immediately and arrives at Snowden Hall travel-stained and weary only to be shot at and threatened by a harpy he doesn’t immediately recognise as the “stick with blond braids” he’d kissed all those years ago. And when he does recognise her, he’s stunned to discover that the vibrant, happy young woman he left behind has become a woman haunted by fears she won’t disclose and whose immediate reaction to his presence is to try to push him away.
Ms Harrington creates a potent atmosphere of tension and menace in these early chapters, and achieved a good balance between making me want Emily to confide in Grey and let him help her, and not wanting the suspense to come to an end too soon. She wisely opts not to drag it out, but once we find out why Emily is behaving as she is, and after she and Grey have to flee her home to escape the danger, the story starts to drag until it reaches the last few chapters.
Once Emily and Grey have left Yorkshire and she has told him about her situation, the plot shifts to concentrate more on their relationship and on the … I was going to say development of the romance, but to be honest, this is another place the book falls down, in that the author places a great reliance on the fact that Grey and Emily were smitten with each other before and it doesn’t take much to rekindle those embers. In spite of Emily’s initial hostility and Grey’s determination to get to the bottom of it, the mental lusting gets going speedily, and not long after that, the lusting – and the relationship – turns physical. The love scenes are sensual and well-written, but – again, there’s a but – the inclusion of several of them as the couple journeys to London slows the pacing and I was tempted to skim them.
The biggest problem I had with the story, though, is with Emily’s sudden realisation late on in the story that if Grey were to abandon his posting to Spain and remain in England with her, he would come to resent her because she has tied him down and stopped him doing all the things he wanted to do with his life. I really dislike this sort of self-sacrifice and the “I know what is best for you” attitude adopted by those characters who attempt to martyr themselves because they are convinced they will make the person they love miserable. Grey is initially presented as the “love ‘em and leave ‘em” type – he even tells Emily that he uses women for sex and that’s all he wants, giving her the chance to change her mind about becoming his lover. But he comes to realise that he’s changing and that some things are more important than his career, while Emily is regressing emotionally for reasons that are ridiculously flimsy. She tries to get Grey to believe she no longer wants him because she has a position to uphold in society and he is a commoner – he does have a bee in his bonnet about the fact that he is barely tolerated by the ton, and gets his own back by bedding bored society wives – but he knows her better than that and won’t give up.
And this brings me to the redundant plot point I mentioned. Grey has always told his friends that he is the son of a village blacksmith, whereas in fact, he’s an orphan. I’m not sure what difference this knowledge would have made to them or to his career, but when Emily rejects him, he decides he needs to find out the truth once and for all. He confronts his benefactor, and finally discovers the truth of something he has long suspected and which suddenly makes him a more eligible match for her. I can’t say much more without spoilers, but suffice to say, it makes no sense and the story would have been better off without it.
In spite of my criticisms, Along Came a Rogue is by no means a bad book and I’m going to give it a qualified recommendation. The writing is generally strong, and the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did given its faults, says something about Anna Harrington’s abilities as a storyteller. Grey’s character growth, in particular, is handled well and even though I wanted to smack some sense into Emily in the latter parts of the book, they make a well-matched couple and I came away from the novel satisfied that they had each got what they deserved.