Compromised by the Prince's Touch
I’ve had a bit of a hit-and-miss relationship with Bronwyn Scott’s books. I’ve enjoyed some and been less enthused about others, but I’m pleased to say that Compromised by the Prince’s Touch – which is the first book in her new Russian Royals of Kuban series – falls very squarely into the ‘hit’ column. Ms. Scott has crafted a story of romance and intrigue boasting a well-constructed a plot full of political scheming and high-stakes manouevering that skilfully blends fact and fiction to create a highly entertaining story.
Exiled from his home of Kuban (in Southern Russia on the Black Sea and bordering the Crimean Peninsula) Prince Nikolay Baklanov now lives in London with three of his closest friends, all of whom have also been banished from their homeland. He wants to make a new life for himself in England, although he feels as though he is merely treading water; he misses Kuban – the language, the food, the traditions, the people – and the knowledge that he can never go back still rankles, especially as his exile was forced upon him by the actions of others. He currently works as a riding instructor at a prestigious London stable and plans to set up his own riding school as soon as he can find an appropriate property. His clientele seems mostly to consist of young debutantes who can barely sit a horse properly and seem to think they’re there to giggle and cast flirtatious glances his way, so when he sees that the daughter of the Russian ambassador has booked a lesson with him, he anticipates more of the same.
He quickly discovers his error, however, when he returns to the training arena to find his pupil already mounted – and wearing breeches, no less – more than competently putting a splendid black mare through her paces. Nikolay is immediately suspicious; this young woman is already an extremely good rider, so what can she expect him to teach her? As the daughter of a powerful Russian diplomat, could she have an ulterior motive? Are the Kubanians searching for him? Could she have been sent to smoke him out?
Klara Grigorieva has indeed been sent by her father to ‘vet’ Nikolay. The prince has been in London for two months, and has not yet called on the ambassador – but Grigoriev wants information about his intentions and his loyalties. The ambassador is at the head of a small group of disaffected Russian nobility and military men who are planning to engineer a revolution and having a man like Nikolay as one of their number – a man of great courage, a natural leader able to inspire loyalty in the troops – would give them a massive advantage. It will also give them an obvious scapegoat should things go awry.
But Nikolay is far from stupid and is well aware of the reasons for which he is being ‘courted’. He is reluctant to be dragged back into Russian politics, but recognises that it may be impossible to avoid it or simply refuse to take sides. Much as he wants to see the outmoded, backward ways of his beloved country changed and modernised, he knows he is likely being set up to take a fall; but if he declines to involve himself, he stands – at best – to lose the new life he has envisaged for himself and at worst, to lose his life altogether.
Since the death of Klara’s English mother, it has been her father’s aim to bring up and educate his daughter as befits her station as a member of the English ton and then to secure her an excellent marriage. Intelligent, quick-witted and a good judge of character, Klara has proved herself to be extremely useful to Grigoriev in his work, her ability to draw people out and to assimilate and relay information providing insights that he might not be able to obtain from other sources. She has always taken pride in the fact that her father includes her in his life in this way – which is unusual among people of her station – but when she begins to realise exactly why she has been sent to get to know Nikolay, and the danger their acquaintance poses to him, Klara begins to reassess her situation and to wonder if she is merely a pawn in her father’s schemes and not a beloved daughter after all.
Nikolay and Klara are attracted to each other from their very first meeting, but both are guarded, Nikolay especially, as he is immediately suspicious of Klara’s motives for seeking him out. For her part, Klara is enjoying her role as her father’s confidante and the chance it gives her to flirt with such a dangerously attractive and vital man. But as the story progresses, and Klara begins to realise that her association with Nikolay has drawn him into a life-threatening situation, she becomes determined to protect him at all costs – even if it means she can never see him again.
There’s a lot of plot going on in this novel, but I enjoy stories featuring politics and intrigue and Ms. Scott does a very good job of keeping the storyline focused and of continually raising the stakes for our two protagonists. Nikolay is reluctant to lower his guard around Klara, but the more he gets to know her as opposed to the ambassador’s daughter, the more he finds to like and admire about her. The romantic chemistry between the couple is strong and the love scenes are sensual, but the best parts of their relationship are those snatched moments when they can just be together, such as the night Nikolay takes Klara into the Russian ex-pat community in Soho, which is full of local colour and vivid descriptions that paint a wonderfully detailed, exotic picture in the mind’s eye.
Such stories usually demand a villain, and there’s a particularly nasty one here in the form of the Duke of Amesbury, an unscrupulous and ruthless man who is set to make a huge profit by selling arms to the revolutionaries and who is determined to obtain the spirited Klara for himself. There are a few times he’s in danger of veering into cartoonish, moustache-twirling territory, but mainly, he’s nasty and creepy; it’s clear he poses a very real threat to Klara and is prepared to ruin Nikolay by any means necessary.
I suspect that some may feel the romance is a little overshadowed by the other plot elements in this book, but speaking as one who enjoys romantic suspense novels, the balance between the romance and the intrigue here is just about right. I enjoyed Compromised by the Prince’s Touch and will definitely be on the lookout for subsequent books in the series.