Revenge never tasted so sweet…
When Clayton Campbell shows up on her doorstep, Olivia Swift is stunned. For long ago, Clayton was the boy who stole her heart. He’s also the man her betrayal had sent to the gallows. A man she believed dead, now standing before her, looking leaner, harder, more powerful than ever, his haunted eyes filled with a lust she had never seen—for vengeance…
Or burned so hot…
He’s a Crown spy who once faced death and escaped unscathed. Yet Clayton Campbell cannot deny that the sight of Olivia rouses in him something more than a thirst for revenge. Or that the bold beauty would lure him once more into a dangerous game. Only this time, Clayton plans to be the victor—with the tempting Olivia in his bed as his prize. But once passion ignites between them, the hard-hearted agent will face his greatest battle yet—for his heart…
Anna Randol is a new-to-me author, although this isn’t her first novel. It’s the second of a trilogy featuring “The Trio”, a group of young people who were saved from execution during the time of the Napoleonic wars. In exchange for their lives, they were put to work as spies for the British government, but with the cessation of hostilities, have been released from their service. I haven’t read the first book (yet), and I don’t think it’s necessary to have done so in order to work out what’s going on in this one.
At first, I thought Sins of a Ruthless Rogue was going to be a tale of revenge and eventual reconciliation. The book opens with both protagonists – Clayton Campbell and Olivia Swift – as teenager-sweethearts. Clayton works for Olivia’s father who owns the paper mill that prints banknotes for the Bank of England – and he has discovered something untoward about the operation. The prologue ends with Olivia naively thinking this is all a misunderstanding on Clayton’s part and heading off to ask her father about it.
Then, ten years on, we’re back at the paper mill which is now being run by Olivia because her father is very ill. After about three pages, Clayton – whom she’d thought had been hanged ten years earlier – appears completely out of the blue and tells her that he’s out for retribution against her, her father, and the mill.
In the intervening years, Olivia has lived with the guilt of believing she sent the man she loved to his death. She’s grown up a lot and is no longer the spoiled child she once was; feeling the need to make up for what happened to Clayton, she has been throwing herself into various charitable works, social reform, and the improvement of life in the surrounding villages by providing work at the mill.
So there I was, settling in for cold-hearted Clayton and strong-minded Olivia to engage in a battle of wills over the ownership of the business, sparks flying, love-hate growing until their eventual reconciliation. But to my surprise, that’s not what I got. In chapter three, Olivia is kidnapped (by enemy agents who, because of Clayton’s association with her, mistakenly believe her to be a spy) and spirited off to St. Petersburg, where she becomes aware of a plot to kill the Czar and his entire family by members of a revolutionary movement.
Clayton, realizing his part in Olivia’s abduction, follows, tracks her down and rescues her, then reveals to her that he was recruited as a spy instead of being hanged and has spent the last ten years doing whatever dirty work the British government needed doing as part of “The Trio,” a crack group of spies.
The story of how Clayton and Olivia elude capture, bring the plot to the Czar and have to work together to decipher a code that will reveal the nature of the plot and the identity of the conspirators is fast-paced and enjoyable. I liked the different setting – Russia rather than England or France – and thought that when Ian (the third member of the trio, otherwise known as “Wraith”) turned up, the book acquired some much-needed humour. (I’m rather looking forward to Ian’s story.) Clayton has become cold and ruthless over the years (he’s had to be to survive) and he’s certainly good at what he does; he’s clever, resourceful and good with a knife or his fists. Olivia, while somewhat impressed, finds herself remembering the kind, honourable boy he was and wanting to rescue him from his “inner darkness.” He, however, doesn’t want any of it, although he does begin slowly to unbend towards her. He spends the first part of the story thinking she’s an enemy spy; but when he finally does begin to trust her, she agonizes about the lies she’s told him about the business and believes that once she tells him the truth he’ll walk away and want nothing more to do with her.
Naturally, by this point, I was thinking that’s the least of their problems, when they’re enmeshed in an assassination plot and racing around St. Petersburg trying to crack the code and prevent themselves either getting killed or dying of frostbite while doing so!
And when Olivia finally did reveal all, it wasn’t anything that the reader hadn’t probably already guessed, which made Clayton’s reaction to it appear rather overblown.
In terms of the characterization, I felt that Clayton was more compelling than Olivia, although I will say that on the whole, they were well-matched. He’s dark, brooding, and bent on revenge; and while deep-down, he still has feelings for Olivia, he doesn’t want them, or her. Olivia is clever and capable; while she holds herself responsible for what happened to Clayton all those years ago and has never forgotten it, she nonetheless stands up to him and doesn’t have a fit of the vapors when she finds herself lurching about on a ship or shivering in the Russian winter.
On the negative side, I felt she was rather too forward when it came to the sex scenes, and at times, her manner of speech was too modern. Using “right?” at the end of a sentence is certainly not something a nineteenth century miss would have done.
As the story progresses, Clayton grudgingly comes to appreciate – and even take pride in – Olivia’s intelligence and quickness of understanding, although he can’t quite let go of his mistrust. He’s spent his life believing that women are not to be trusted, thanks to a mother who would run off with anything in trousers, and finds it easy to question Olivia’s motives, even when she confesses the truth to him about the mill and business at home.
Needless to say, however, Clayton does redeem himself and is man enough to admit when he’s wrong.
Overall, Sins of a Ruthless Rogue was an entertaining read (although I really can’t work out what the title has to do with the actual story – who comes up with these things?!). Set in an unusual location, it moved at a cracking pace; and while I think that the characterization lacked real depth, the leads were appealing enough to keep me reading and wanting to find out what happened next. I’d say that the romance is secondary to the adventure story, but if you’re in the mood for a rollicking tale of derring-do, you should find this enjoyable.