Jessica Clare’s Dirty Scoundrel is the second book in her Roughneck Billionaires series. It’s also the first novel of hers that I’ve read, part of my quest to read more new to me authors this year (though she’d been on my to-read list for a while). The series name gives a good hint as to the background plot, that of poor ‘wrong side of the tracks’ brothers who strike it rich with a surprise find of oil on their land. Dirty Scoundrel is a second chance romance with a side of revenge, but if revenge is a dish best served cold, it’s doomed to fail in this hot and sexy story.
Seven years earlier, Clay Price had been in love with Natalie Weston and planned to propose. He knew he was probably not the sort of man her famous movie star father would approve of as a son-in-law, but while his pockets were empty, his heart was sincere. But somehow, things had gotten twisted all around and he and Natalie had broken up instead, with Clay believing that Natalie had been playing him for a fool all along. He headed off to follow in his father’s footsteps on an oil rig and put Natalie out of his mind, though she still claimed a piece of his heart. Now a wealthy billionaire and, along with his four brothers, owner of Price Brothers Oil, Clay has come home. He’s got money, he’s got success, but it’s not enough.
Where things have gone well for Clay, they haven’t gone so well for Natalie. Her father suffered a stroke on the night that she and Clay broke up, and while he thought she’d headed off to college and forgotten him, she’d in fact stayed behind to care for her father, discovering that he’d spent most of his money and leaving her to find a way to make ends meet. Natalie turned their ranch home into a museum with memorabilia from her father’s films, but it’s starting to get run down, and the medical bills are racking up.
Clay decides that if being nice doesn’t get him what he wants, then he’ll have to be ruthless. To that end, when he discovers Natalie’s circumstances, he offers her a deal. If she’ll agree to be at his beck and call as his ‘personal assistant’, he’ll pay all her outstanding bills and arrange for home care for her father so that she can be free to spend her days and nights with Clay. Natalie knows she can’t afford to turn Clay down, and reluctantly agrees to his blackmail. The sweet and caring man she knew has been replaced by a cold, hard, arrogant one. But the passion between them burns just as bright as it once did. Can it lead them back to love?
Based on the characterisations and actions of the principals, this romance straddles the line between the contemporary and new adult genres. When Natalie and Clay are first together, they are seventeen and they’ve both just finished high school. While there are a couple of flashback scenes, the majority of the story takes place seven years later – meaning they are twenty five, which seems pretty young for Clay to be a billionaire. The story is told in first person point of view, alternating between Clay and Natalie, and their general behavior and thought patterns are those of people in their twenties still finding their way. As well, Natalie has a best friend, Lexi, who runs a yoga studio and whom she texts with often. The text messages are yet another sign of the new adult nature of the story, as their messages to each other are more like those of teenagers than older adults.
Interestingly, while Natalie and Clay fooled around when they were first together, they never consummated their relationship in high school and are both still virgins. After they broke up, Clay put all his energy into his work and Natalie had found herself as caregiver for her elderly father (he was eighty when she was seventeen, and his last wife had abandoned him after his stroke). I was worried that in their first sexual encounter (which is hot by the way!) Clay would come across as too experienced for a self-professed virgin, but in fact, the author does a very good job of making them both hesitant but eager. For a ‘ruthless’ man, Clay doesn’t do anything without Natalie’s consent, and isn’t afraid to ask her if he’s doing things right (nor is Natalie shy to tell him what to do to make things better). For a little while they can forget the actual circumstances that have brought them together and indulge in their old feelings and the chance to make up for lost time. Once they start having sex, they’re both pretty addicted to it and there are several steamy scenes throughout the story. Natalie doesn’t have the figure she had in high school, and this makes her quite self-conscious but to his credit, Clay couldn’t care less that she’s not as thin as she used to be. In his eyes, she’s simply Natalie, and he’s as attracted to her now as he was then.
As with most series that involve family members, there are several scenes with Clay and his brothers that show their close ties. He talks the most with his brother Knox, who is his sounding board and gives him advice. Clay – of course – turns out to be not such a heartless fellow after all. In a variety of ways he surprises Natalie with little things that aren’t part of their contract, signs of the boy with whom she once fell in love. I really liked how the story unfolds as Clay realizes that his plan for revenge is failing miserably. There are some surprises that take things in a more serious direction than I’d expected but which drive Clay and Natalie to decide where their real future lies. Clay is definitely a roughneck – in language and actions – but is willing to own up to his mistakes and apologize, which makes him solid hero material despite a questionable start. Though I think an older couple would have kept the story on firm contemporary romance versus new adult ground, Dirty Scoundrel is an enjoyable and sexy story and I definitely plan to continue the series.