The Rebel Heir
Romance is full of rakes and rogues but I’ve never before run across a con-artist as a hero. An unusual main character is one of the many things I enjoyed about The Rebel Heir, book two of Elizabeth Michels’ The Spare Heirs series. Ash Claughbane may be a swindler by trade but when he meets the right woman he becomes a true gentleman at heart.
Handsome, charming Lord Crosby has made quite the splash in London society. Arriving from an extended jaunt on the continent he is in town to gather investors for his company which is ready to introduce a personal-sized steam engine to the market. All of the business-minded lords are eager to meet with Crosby and the ladies are curious if he’s attached to anyone or looking for a wife. What none of them know is that Lord Crosby doesn’t exist!
Ash Claughbane has come to London with the sole purpose of pulling off the biggest con of his career; one that will settle him for life and exact revenge on the man who ruined his family many years before. Selling shares in a fictional company on the cusp of a technological breakthrough played well in smaller society circles but with a few gentlemen getting suspicious Ash has to be at the top of his game. He enlists the help of Fallon St. James and his Spare Heirs Club to give him a home base while in London but also to get him invited to the right parties and introduce him to the people most likely to influence his true target, Lord Rightworth. The debut of Lord Crosby goes perfectly for Ash until he is confronted by a beautiful young woman with a familiar face. While her name might escape him and she could spell trouble if she recognizes him, Ash can’t help but steal a kiss.
Lady Evangeline Green is certain that the man introduced as Lord Crosby is the same person she knew as Lord Barnish while her family was in Bath the previous summer. He was attractive, funny and had singled her out before disappearing from town, leaving her heartbroken. To see him again excites Evie but his failure to remember her name and their previous kiss shatters her illusions about the man. Now, Evie sees Crosby for who he really is – a swindler up to no good – and she cannot afford to let him divert her again or get herself caught up in whatever mischief he’s making. Evie’s life has been dictated by her overly controlling mother who would never allow her perfect daughter to fall in with a man with no name, no family and no prospects. Whenever Evie has tried to express herself outside the mold her mother has created it’s caused problems for her family or cost her personally. This season is Evie’s last chance to make the marriage her mother wants for her and perhaps make amends for her past.
Against their better judgements Evie and Ash cannot seem to keep away from each other. Evie finds herself justifying Ash’s lifestyle and gets caught up in the excitement of living in the moment or letting herself be imperfect with someone who accepts her flaws. Ash sees the passionate woman hiding behind Evie’s façade of the perfect debutante and it calls to his own roguish side. Whenever she is around him his focus shifts from wooing potential investors towards wooing Evie. Things become complicated when Ash realizes that Evie is the daughter of Lord Rightworth, the man Ash has sworn to ruin through his scheme. His years of planning for the ultimate revenge are suddenly weighed against destroying the happiness of the one woman who has captured his heart.
The Rebel Heir could have very easily fallen into the well-trod ruts of romantic storytelling, with a revenge-bent hero manipulating the heroine to achieve his goal. Fortunately Ms. Michels takes the story in another direction by keeping Ash self-aware enough to separate Evie’s father’s actions from her own innocence. His mission to ruin Lord Rightworth is fueled by memories of his mother’s desperation and how difficult things were for his family; however the coincidence of Evie’s family being involved too actually lets Ash see the other side of the coin. What Ash had always seen as a premeditated attack on his father was nothing more than a single misfortune that changed the course of the lives of two families.
There is much more development of Evie’s character and it showed in how strongly I rooted for her to break free from her mother’s influence. For seven years Evie has paid penance for a youthful mistake by following every one of her mother’s rules for behavior and suppressing her own desires. The few times that she has allowed herself to do something for herself there have been severe punishments and it has beaten down the real woman Evie could be. Ash’s influence and love become the lifeline Evie needs to discover the person inside who finds joy in the little things instead of just existing as a tool for her mother’s social climbing. Her breakthrough moment may have been a little over the top but I felt all of her long repressed emotions in every word she says and everything she does to push back at her mother and reclaim her life.
My only complaint is that I wish there was more of Ash actually setting up his marks or playing up his role of the successful Lord Crosby away from Evie’s eyes. Everyone mentions how good a con-man Ash is but there is very little evidence of that on the page.
The Rebel Heir is light and entertaining throughout, making it an easy book to pick up for readers new to The Spare Heirs series.