Desert Isle Keeper
“Move your bleedin’arse,” Miss Charlotte Spenser’s maid, Meggie, said to her.” With these opening words, Ms. Stuart, in the second book in her historical Rohan trilogy, pulls the reader in and doesn’t let her go until the very lovely last line. The series tells the story of three generations of Rohan men. The sexy anti-hero of this tale is Adrian, the son of the lovers in Ruthless, the first book in this series.
And when I say sexy, I mean sexy. Adrian, like his father, is a member of orgy-oriented, debauched Heavenly Host, a clutch of aristocrats who gather for all sorts of scandalous pleasures. Adrian lives life as recklessly as possible. He lives for pleasure and doesn’t care about its cost. He is “gorgeous, delightfully wicked and… the very devil in bed.” Women flock to him and, frankly, so would I.
Much to her dismay, our heroine Charlotte Spenser has been smitten with Adrian for years. She’s sure he’d never look twice at her — she sees herself as a too tall, too old spinster with no beauty, wealth, or charm. Adrian only dallies with dazzling beauties and yet, every time Charlotte sees Adrian, she can’t stop watching him — something Adrian has noticed.
Charlotte lives with her gorgeous cousin Evangelina, a young widow who, for complex reasons, is sleeping her way through the ton. Charlotte talks Evangelina into taking her to a Heavenly Host revel so Charlotte may see what she is — and will be – missing in her celibate life. The cousins plan for Charlotte to disguise herself as a man and simply watch the revels. Unbeknownst to Charlotte, Evangelina plans to seduce Adrian. She believes that once he has slept with her, he will lose his appeal to Charlotte. (She suspects Adrian would ruin Charlotte if given the opportunity, and she’s right.) Nothing goes as planned. Adrian sees through Charlotte’s disguise and, after kissing her, determines to bed her. He hustles her off to one of the “caves” at the Revels — a room with a bed, a bottle of wine, a fireplace, and a door that can’t be unlocked until morning. Evangelina ends up caring for her dying friend Monty and thus is unaware Charlotte is missing. Over the next two days, after some token resistance from Charlotte which Adrian ignores, Adrian seduces the hell out of Charlotte. Ms. Stuart’s scenes between Charlotte and Adrian are so vivid some readers may find them a bit much. Not me! Adrian is the god in bed he is reputed to be, and both the banter and the passion he and Charlotte share is spectacular.
As in any good historical romance, the course of true love ne’er runs smooth. Ms. Stuart tells her story with verve and humor — I loved watching the relationship between Adrian and Charlotte develop. Their happy ending is delightful and credible. Adrian’s conversion to being someone who is good enough for Charlotte is one he fights and it’s a lot of fun to watch him lose. Charlotte learns what a catch she really is and it’s rewarding to watch her begin to take control of her relationship with Adrian.
As in all of Ms. Stuart’s books there’s a villain. And while he’s quite a nasty piece of work, I didn’t find him very interesting. Far more fun is the grumpy local reverend, a reformed rake named Simon Padgett, whose developing relationship with the sexually promiscuous Evangelina is full of well-done sexual tension and well-reasoned philosophical discussions. Theirs is one of the best secondary romances I’ve read in awhile.
In Reckless,” Ms. Stuart has reworked the standard “reformed rake falls for plain spinster” romance into a sexy love story with a hero worth sighing over and heroine worth rooting for. It’s a marvelous book.