Beauty and the Rake
Beauty and the Rake is the third book in Erica Monroe’s Rookery Rogues series, and although I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to have read the other two, events from the previous book have a strong bearing on the story in this one. However, the author has given enough information during the course of this book to make it easy for the new reader to catch up, and I certainly didn’t feel at a disadvantage because I hadn’t read Secrets in Scarlet.
Having earned a meagre living as a factory worker, the injury Abigail Vautille sustained at the hands of one of London’s most notorious criminals means she is no longer able to work and cannot support her irresponsible father and younger sister. All she has left is her lovely face and has resigned herself to the fact that any money she makes from now on will be made on her back. She hopes that perhaps she will be able to find herself a protector rather than have to work as a common whore, but beggars can’t be choosers, and at least the money will enable her to keep her father out of debtor’s prison and save her sister from a similar fate.
Michael Strickland, a police inspector, has been haunted by Abigail’s beauty ever since he first saw her, and holds himself responsible for her injuries, having had information that might have prevented her capture and subsequent torture. So when she arrives to haul her father from the gaming tables one evening, only to discover that Michael has won two hundred pounds from him that he cannot pay, Michael is stunned when the woman of his dreams offers herself as payment of the debt.
Abigail offers to spend two weeks with him at his home, and after that, she hopes she will have gained enough experience to be able to become another man’s mistress. Michael reasons that he’ll be doing her a favour by making her first sexual experiences pleasant ones and treating her kindly, and plans, once their fortnight is over, to put in a good word for her with some of the more decent local madams.
The initial attraction between the couple soon blossoms into something stronger, and Ms Monroe writes a tender, sensual romance. Michael quickly finds he doesn’t want Abigail in his bed because he’s paid her to be there, which means they have time to get to know each other better before they finally become lovers. What works really well is the way in which they help one another to come to terms with their feelings of guilt and resentment: Abigail, robbed of choices and saddled with a profligate father, has become very bitter; and Michael, whose daily life among the poor and destitute of the slums has numbed him inside and inured him to the hardships they face. There is sub-plot in which Abigail’s torturer, now escaped from prison, is hunting for her which adds a touch of tension to the later part of the book, but the bulk of it is devoted to the relationship developing between Abigail and Michael.
Ms Monroe has set her story far away from the glittering ballrooms of the ton, and her descriptions of the lives and conditions experienced by the poor and downtrodden are detailed and evocative. I did have one or two niggles with it though, which are to do with Abigail’s over-reaction upon discovering the truth about Michael and that he could perhaps have prevented her injury, and the fact that she reads Swift and Voltaire and speaks like an educated woman. If she’s had an education, it’s never mentioned in the book.
Those things aside, however, Beauty and the Rake is an engaging and satisfying read, and one I’d certainly recommend to anyone looking for an historical romance that dispenses with the usual round of Dukes and Duchesses.