Theresa Romain is one of my favourite authors; I’ve enjoyed all of the books of hers I’ve read, and there are a number of her historical romances on my Keeper shelf, so I’m always eager to read any new book by her. Lady Rogue is the third in her Royal Rewards series , and features as its hero one Callum Jenks, the Bow Street Runner – more correctly, Officer of Police – who helped Sir Hugo Starling and Georgette Frost to find the stolen gold in Passion Favors the Bold, book two in the set. The storyline in those books centred around the theft of a large number of newly manufactured gold sovereigns from the Royal Mint; at the beginning of Lady Rogue, the person behind the theft, Sir Frederic Chapple, is in Newgate awaiting trial – and to Callum’s disgust, is about to be released due to lack of evidence. Callum’s brother, Harry, was one of the guards killed during the theft, and he has made it something of a personal crusade to see those responsible brought to justice. So the fact that the principal mover in the operation is going to walk away a free man sticks in his throat. This is no kind of justice, and is not what he has spent more than a decade of his life working for.
It’s this disillusionment that prompts him to reconsider the most unusual request for help he’s probably ever received. The widowed Lady Isobel Morrow, whom he’d first met around eighteen months previously when he investigated the death of her husband Andrew, has just revealed to him that she had discovered that her late spouse, an art dealer, had been selling forgeries of valuable paintings and stashing the originals in a secret room in their house. Learning that the Duke of Ardmore had been planning to sell the (fake) Botticelli painting he’d purchased from Andrew in order to pay off a debt to a dangerous London crime lord, she has conceived a plan that while not strictly legal, is the right thing to do. She asked Callum to help her to break into the duke’s house, steal the forgery and replace it with the original – but he refused. No matter the rightness of her intentions, breaking and entering is illegal and he is, after all, bound to uphold the law.
But after learning of Chapple’s upcoming release, Callum isn’t so sure any more about the difference between ‘just’ and ‘right’, and decides he’ll help Isabel after all.
Over the months of her widowhood, Lady Isabel has begun to realise the extent to which her life has been controlled by the men around her, and how much of herself she had subjugated to her husband’s will. Her marriage was clearly not a happy one, and she is determined to move on and make an independent life for herself as well as to make a good match for Andrew’s young ward, Lucy, who resides with her. It’s Lucy’s reputation that has prompted Isabel to scheme to restore the Botticelli to the duke – if he tries to pay off his debts with a forgery and the forgery is traced back to Andrew, then the Morrow name will be blackened and Lucy’s marriage prospects will be irrevocably damaged. The one person Isabel trusts to help her is the man who investigated her husband’s death… who happens to be the man with whom she had a passionate sexual encounter a year earlier – Officer Callum Jenks.
Isabel and Callum may move in very different spheres, but they have obviously not forgotten each other or what happened between them that night at Vauxhall Gardens. Their mutual attraction is as strong as it ever was, yet after a little bit of initial awkwardness, they settle very easily into a friendship of sorts, each of them feeling able to be more themselves with each other than with anyone else. I liked that they had a history together, that they aren’t bitter about it and haven’t spent the last year mooning over each other – but the downside to it is that I felt as though the relationship had been established off the page and that I’d landed in the middle of it. Theresa Romain always creates interesting, likeable characters, and Isabel and Callum are no exception, but while I really enjoyed their interactions and the way they just ‘click’ together, in terms of the way their minds work and their sense of humour, their romance is a little… underdone.
The plotline that concerns the need to swap the original Botticelli for the forgery is well executed, but after the exchange is made (around the halfway mark) that plotline fizzles out and attention turns to Isabel’s decision to set up her own household, and her concerns over Lucy who, at eighteen, should be making her come-out, but who instead is very shy and doesn’t like attending the sorts of events where she might be able to meet prospective husbands. The hints dropped that Isabel’s life with Andrew wasn’t happy are never really followed up, and the last-minute introduction of a darker storyline involving abuse and murder happens so quickly and comes so far out of the blue that I wondered if I’d jumped into reading another book by mistake!
As I said at the beginning, I’m a fan of Ms. Romain’s, so it pains me to say that Lady Rogue didn’t quite work for me in terms of the storyline, which doesn’t feel cohesive and seems to jump from plotline to plotline. The characterisation, however, is excellent and is the book’s real saving grace. Callum is charming, generous and honourable, and is suffering a bit of a crisis of confidence when it comes to his chosen profession. I liked seeing him with his family, who run a grocery business; it’s clear they all care for each other, but that, like most families, they have their ups and downs, and Callum’s characterisation is enhanced by the glimpses we’re given of his relationship with them. Isabel is at pains to look after Lucy and find her a husband, but she is also starting to relish her independence and to want to leave the remnants of her marriage behind her and I enjoyed watching her grow in confidence and find the courage to strike out on her own. Both are strongly drawn and engaging and they make a very well-matched couple. I’d just have liked a little more chemistry and heat between them.
Lady Rogue didn’t quite fire on all cylinders, but it’s an enjoyable read in spite of its flaws. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, and will continue to look out for more from Theresa Romain.