Desert Isle Keeper
Taming an Impossible Rogue
I am really upset with Suzanne Enoch. Here’s a book that I loved enough to stay up to read in one sitting waiting for the happily ever after. But Ms. Enoch gives us her typical ending with no glimpse into the HEA itself, just the very start of their commitment to each other. It left so many questions unanswered for me that I had to briefly consider if the book truly was a Desert Isle Keeper. A couple of weeks after having read it, my enjoyment of the book and its position on my re-read shelf confirms that this book does indeed deserve five star status.
Lady Camille Pryce has been engaged to Stephen Pollard, the Marquis of Fenton, for twenty-one years, and he has never made the effort to interact with her or court her. Camille feels that she can’t be married to a stranger, and runs away on her wedding day. She is socially disgraced and thrown out by everyone including her own family. She finds shelter and the means to earn an income at Tantalus Club, a gambling house.
Stephen Pollard is an arrogant aristocrat who feels he was publicly disgraced when his fiancée chose to work at a gambling house rather than marry him. Because he has been publicly vicious towards Camille, he is banned from entry into Tantalus Club. He enlists the help of his socially outcast cousin, Keating Blackwood, offering a large sum of money to bring Camille back to the altar willing to marry Stephen.
Keating Blackwood, a former rake, was cast out by society when he admitted to murdering the husband of a lover. He accepts Stephen’s wager only because he needs the money to financially support the woman whose husband he killed and a child borne of his relationship with her. He returns to London after a gap of many years, expecting to find a woman who can be easily persuaded to return to the bosom of society after having suffered from being cast out. Instead, he runs across an independent and wise Camille, who has learned her lessons about superficial society and relationships. He finds himself drawn to her honesty and vulnerability.
Camille also finds herself drawn to Keating as the only male who understands her reasons for not wanting to wed Stephen, and stands up for her without any expectations of physical or other gains. She learns of Keating’s arrangement to return her to Stephen’s side as a bride, and is persuaded to consider the option because she wants to help Keating earn the money he needs to support his son. The rest of the book is about resolving their feelings with the context of the financial issues and emotional pressures from Camille’s family and Stephen.
There are so many things I loved about this book that it’s hard to figure out where to start. The one area where Ms. Enoch shines repeatedly in all her writings is her characterization. This book is no different. The slightly flawed characters, both the hero and heroine, are wonderful. Camille is no-nonsense yet humanly vulnerable. Keating has been touched by the events of his past, and needs redemption by supporting a woman and a son he has never seen. I loved that he could relate to being hurt by society’s taunts, and as a result, he stood up for Camille and deflected negative attention from her. They are both on society’s fringe, evaluating if there is any good reason to return to it at all, and they are in an honest friendship.
I also loved the secondary characters. The support and advice from Camille’s friends at the Tantalus Club, and the understated friendship between Keating and a duke, are meaningful to the plot. I am looking forward to the duke’s love story in the next book. I didn’t love Stephen or Camille’s families as the antagonists, but they are very well sketched out. Stephen’s motivations for wishing Camille to return to him and all his actions are completely in line with his character.
The romance develops through friendship and meaningful interaction, which is a refreshing change from so many romances these days where the story seems hinged on sexual interaction and tension alone. I also found it sweet that both of the primary characters are willing to consider options that are less than ideal for themselves but would benefit the other.
The only negative in this book for me was the lack of resolution of all the open questions for a complete Happily Every After to materialize. As she usually does, Ms. Enoch left this book at a Happy for Now (more like, Happy This Minute) for the couple. As a reader, it is important to me that resolutions (like society’s acceptance of the couple, or potential impacts to family) are explicitly spelled out, or at least allow me to to make the jump from HFN to HEA. This book shortchanges the reader in that area a little bit.
Other than a few questions about the loose ends for the ending, this romance was touching and wonderful. I can sincerely say that I am waiting to re-read this in a couple of months to enjoy the characters and the story all over again, especially as the prelude to the next book in this series.