Shameless is the fourth in Ms. Stuart’s The House of Rohan series–Heartless comes out this week–and, while it’s not as stellar as the first two in the series, Ruthless and Reckless (my personal favorite), it’as good as the third, Breathless. And, because it’s by Anne Stuart, it’s a damn fun read.
The hero of Shameless, Benedick Rohan, is the brother of the heroine (Miranda) of the last Rohan tale. In Breathless, Benedick was last seen married to a woman he loved with one son and another child on the way. In Shameless, somewhat confusingly, Benedick has now lost two wives to childbirth and has no children. (No explanation is given for what happened to his first son.) In Shameless, Benedick is a rake who no longer believes in love although he, like all in the men in the Rohan series, is a big fan of sexual congress in all its varied forms.
As the story begins, Benedick has come to London to do two things: find a biddable, boring bride and get laid. The first task is a necessary chore—he’s an eldest son and must have an heir. The second task he plans to accomplish with the help of one of London’s most talented fellatrices, Violet Highstreet. Benedick sends Vi a note asking her to come and attend to him. Violet dashes to his side, sinks to her knees and… suddenly, the door to Viscount Rohan’s salon flies open, admitting a strident woman he’s never seen before. The “virago” sternly tells Violet to “get up” and stop degrading herself! Violet protests she likes degrading herself in this particular fashion. The woman at the door, Lady Charity Carstairs, in a long-suffering voice, reminds Violet she has chosen to leave behind her livelihood of salacious acts and instead reside in Carstairs House, a home for fallen women. Violet rather ungraciously opts for housing over whoring and, much to Benedick’s sorrow, leaves his house with the all no-play and all no-fun Lady Charity.
The widowed Lady Charity Carstairs, at age 29, is a genuine prude. Her marriage to a much older man did nothing to convince her of the pull of passion and, as a widow, she’s had one brief, pitiable affair that left her sure men have nothing to offer. She’s confident, or so she tells herself, she’s content improving the lives of the gaggle of fallen women she saves from the streets. So, despite thinking Benedick Rohan might be the best looking man she’s ever seen, she wants nothing to do with him until one of her “girls” is brutally beaten.
Charity is sure the girl was so abused by the nefarious group of upper-class debauchees who form the Heavenly Host. The Host has figured in each of the Rohan books and, though the group has always been unsettling and seriously off-putting, they’ve never been truly criminal and violent until now. Under their new mysterious leader, not only has the Host begun viciously beating unwilling young women, rumor has it they plan to sacrifice a virgin on the next full moon.
Charity asks Benedick for his help destroying the Heavenly Host, a group his family founded years ago. Initially, Benedick, who has nothing to do with the group, doesn’t care the Host have become so dissolute. Then Charity informs him his younger brother Brandon, a post-war wreck of a man, is involved with the group’s horrific plans. Worried for his opium addicted brother—and drawn to Charity–, Benedick agrees to work with her to destroy the Host.
I wasn’t crazy about the suspense plot in Shameless. It was clear to me who the mysterious head of the Host was and I had a hard time buying Benedick’s brother Brandon doing anything truly evil. I was also bored with the Heavenly Host. They have been in every Rohan novel and, at this point, they’re rather like garish wallpaper—you see them but other than making you cringe, they don’t have much impact on things that matter. Additionally, I was saddened there wasn’t Ms. Stuart’s trademark Rohan secondary romance in this novel. While it’s clear there’s something between Brandon and Emma, Charity’s best friend and former madam extraordinaire, nothing of real interest passes between them in this book. I hoped for more for Brandon and Emma in this tale.
But the primary love story, I loved. Charity has only had unsatisfactory sex and has never experienced romantic love. Benedick has had a superb sex life and has truly loved—he adored his first wife. Charity holds her heart apart because she doesn’t know what she’s missing; Benedick, his because he’s terrified of the pain that comes with loving and losing. As the two move into each other’s arms and emotions, they both slowly learn the value of risking one’s heart. Ms. Stuart always writes well about the way passion can bind. In Shameless, she writes not only about the power of sex but of the joy of companionship, and of the pleasure in finding that special someone you most enjoy sharing your day—and life—with. In this book, she writes convincingly of falling sweetly as well as passionately in love. It’s a treat to see Ms. Stuart, who does dark romance so well, write with great verve and skill about a lighter kind of love.