Ready Set Rogue
Manda Collins brings to life a quartet of very gifted, if slightly quirky young women in her new release Ready, Set, Rogue. They are all gathered at Beauchamp House as heirs to Lady Celeste’s academic collection; however Miss Aphrodite Wareham also inherits a mystery to solve, as well as a frustratingly handsome Marquess intent on keeping her and the other women out of his family home.
Miss Aphrodite “Ivy” Wareham had no connection to the late Lady Celeste, so being named in her will was something of a shock. The conditions of the will state clearly that she, along with the other heiresses, will have to remain in residence at Beauchamp House for one year before the inheritance is final. To have the chance to spend a year browsing through the lady’s renowned collection is worth the peculiarity of inheriting from a complete stranger. Using her meager savings to purchase a ticket on the mail coach, Ivy travels from her home along with a trunk full of books, much to the annoyance of her fellow passengers. At the stop just outside the manor house the coach leaves Ivy and her cargo behind and she’s left with no way to travel on to Beauchamp House before the deadline set by the will.
A turn in the weather has also kept Torquill Beauchamp, the Marquess of Kerr, stranded at the coaching inn near his late aunt’s estate. His frustration at being delayed only adds more fuel to his anger at having to travel to Beauchamp House and stop the manipulating bluestockings who somehow tricked his aunt into leaving them everything. A scuffle in the public rooms draws Quill’s attention towards a pretty young woman being accosted by one of the men also seeking shelter from the rain. He comes to her defense and immediately regrets his decision when he discovers Ivy isn’t a helpless governess on her way to a new position as he believed, but is one of the scheming women he’s out to stop. Their public encounter forces Quill to offer Ivy a ride to Beauchamp House; however he’s in no mood to let his unwanted attraction to the lady interfere with his mission to expose her and discredit her claim to his family’s property.
Fortunately for Ivy, the conditions of the will are fairly ironclad so her first night at Beauchamp House is full of pleasant introductions to the other scholarly women in residence: an artist, a mathematician and an archeologist. Each woman is a leader in their field but the stigma placed on women in academia has kept them all as relative outcasts and definitely unmarriageable in society circles. Quill isn’t willing to quit the field of battle and decides to stay on at Beauchamp House and even invites his ducal cousin to come to the house to defend it against the interlopers. Ivy and Quill manage to throw a few barbs at each other before retiring for the evening; however neither one realizes that Lady Celeste has one more request for the both of them that has nothing to do with her last will and testament.
Ivy enters her guest room that night to find a letter written specifically to her from Lady Celeste with regrets they never met in person but also the unnerving accusation that her death wasn’t from natural causes. Knowing that Ivy’s background of investigating clues such as those hidden in ancient texts is unparalleled, Lady Celeste tasks Ivy with discovering who poisoned her and hastened her death. As part of this posthumous request, Ivy must partner up with Lord Kerr as Lady Celeste believed her nephew can be trusted and would be just as devoted to finding justice for his aunt. Suddenly Quill and Ivy become reluctant partners, with their battle of wills giving way to a growing attraction and mutual respect for each other’s strengths. With a killer on the loose, it’s a race to uncover the truth before any of the other heiresses become the next victim.
Ready, Set, Rogue grabbed my attention quickly by introducing Ivy as an intelligent, unique young woman and allowing her to be smart without being too far outside what was expected of women of the time. Ivy is disappointed by the limitations placed on her because of her gender and in as many ways as she can, she pushes against those limits. On the other hand, she does feel some remorse at not being the perfect daughter or wanting the things that her family expects her to want. Arriving at Beauchamp House and finding three other like-minded women is quite a vindication for Ivy and gives her that added courage to stand up for herself when it comes to working with Quill. I was a little confused as to why Lady Celeste would think that a stranger who specializes in translating ancient Greek would be better at solving a mystery than her own family, but Ivy’s determination to prove herself is what lets her think outside of the box. She sees connections that Quill overlooks out of reverence to his aunt and his desire to protect his family.
The other heiresses add a lot of humor into a story that could have been a simple whodunit, especially the mathematician with a head for figures but no filter on her remarks. The strong female characterizations elevate the entire story and by association add dimension to the male characters who fall somewhat into the standard romantic outlines. Quill is stubborn and hardheaded about protecting his family’s claim on Beauchamp House and in a small way he arrives there prejudiced against the kind of woman who can think for herself. In working with Ivy and living in a house with the other women, he comes to appreciate all that they have to offer but more importantly Quill understands who his aunt really was and why she wanted to leave her house to strangers rather than her family. I appreciated that his feelings for Ivy grow from their conversations and his respect for her choices in life rather than everything hinging on a physical attraction.
Ms. Collins has shown in Ready Set Rogue that smart can be sexy and sometimes it takes an unconventional mind to solve the unsolvable puzzles in life. I’m excited to read what’s next for the Beauchamp House heiresses in the Studies in Scandal series.