Twice Tempted by a Rogue
In the first book of Tessa Dare’s Stud Club trilogy, Rhys St. Maur is rude, dismissive, and unpleasant—the type of man who will pick a fight for the sake of picking a fight (and because he knows he can beat you to a pulp). Twice Tempted by a Rogue is Rhys’s story, and we quickly learn why he is the way he is, and that he desperately wants to make amends for the person he’s become.
Rhys has been picking fights since his schoolboy days at Eton. He can’t seem to control his temper, and his reckless, death-defying ways make those who know him think he’s indestructable. But several years before this story takes place, something did affect Rhys. Nethermoor Hall, his family home in the Devonshire moors, was destroyed in a fire. Rhys left the ruins of his home and the town of Buckleigh-in-the-Moor behind, presumably forever. But as this story begins, he finds himself drawn back to the place where, in his youth, his reckless nature was shaped.
Buckleigh-in-the-Moor has been economically devastated by Rhys’s absence. The locals are barely scraping by, and the center of activity in the small community is the Three Hounds, an inn that caters to locals looking for a drink and a good time. Its owner, the comely Meredith Maddox, longs to improve her establishment and make it a stop for high-class travelers journeying through the moors. But that requires money, and she doesn’t have much so Meredith partners with Gideon Myles, a local smuggler, to ensure that her inn is well-stocked with the things that a better class of traveler might need.
When Rhys arrives at the Three Hounds, he is immediately struck by the barmaid’s beauty and finesse with the crowd of angry, fighting locals. Then he finds out her identity—she’s Merry Lane, the daughter of the former horse trainer at Nethermoor Hall . Merry had a childhood crush on Rhys, and she’s grown into a beautiful woman. When Nethermoor Hall burned, Meredith’s beloved father was injured, and the destruction of the stables meant that there was no work for him. Since her father was unable to support the family, Meredith married the innkeeper, and took over the inn after his death. When Rhys hears Meredith’s story, he feels responsible for her plight—she’s lived a hardscrabble life (and married a much older man) because his family left the community without a protector.
As a widow, Meredith is free to pursue physical relationships with men as she chooses. She has no desire to remarry, since her physical relationships have been underwhelming, and she is loath to give up the meager power that she has amassed as the town’s innkeeper. But she cannot deny the attraction she feels for Rhys, and the two begin a flirtation that is as entertaining as it is sensual. As their physical closeness builds, the two begin revealing more about themselves, and we learn quickly that there is more to Rhys St. Maur than meets the eye.
The main source of tension in the story is the give-and-take between Rhys and Meredith. They are both stubborn people, and are generally unwilling to compromise. Rhys believes strongly in fate and thinks that it is his destiny to marry Meredith; Meredith doesn’t want to give up the life she has created for herself. She knows that the town is dependent on the Three Hounds for their well-being, and is not interested in being a nobleman’s wife. Meredith’s father sides with Rhys—perhaps because he sees that Rhys makes her happy and that he has no intention of stifling her in any way.
Dare has a gift for dialogue, and the plot is often advanced by conversations between the characters rather than lengthy narrative descriptions. This keeps the pacing of the novel brisk. The secondary characters, including the colorful cast of villagers and inn regulars who have become Meredith’s extended family, are entertaining.
I like that Dare gives out Rhys’s backstory slowly. We know at the outset that he has suffered abuse at the hands of his father, but we don’t immediately know the nature of the abuse or how deeply it has damaged him. We know that there was a horrific fire at Nethermoor Hall, but we don’t know how the fire started or who was involved. As Meredith and Rhys grow to trust each other more, Rhys becomes more comfortable revealing the dark secrets of his past to her, and Meredith finally unburdens herself of a secret that has haunted her since the night of the Nethermoor Hall fire.
There’s an overarching story arc involving a murder, that began in One Dance With a Duke, the first book in the trilogy. At the end of Twice Tempted By a Rogue, the murder is still unsolved, but a promising new lead has been found, and a resolution seems imminent. I appreciate that the overarching subplot isn’t shoehorned into the novels. Too often, these ongoing stories that tie series together seem forced, and that isn’t the case with this series. I look forward to finding out who killed Leo Chatwick, and reading the story of Julian Bellamy, the third member of the Stud Club, in the final book in this very enjoyable trilogy.