A Most Devilish Rogue by Ashlyn Macnamara

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Years ago, when Isabelle Mears was still a young miss too infatuated to know better, she surrendered her innocence to a dishonorable man. Though ruined and cast out from society, she has worked hard to shelter her illegitimate son, Jack. Having sworn off men in her quiet but dignified life, Isabelle is unprepared for the deep longing that rips through her when a handsome stranger rescues her rambunctious six-year-old from the pounding ocean surf.

George Upperton is a man in trouble with debts, women, and a meddling family. He is, by all accounts, the last gentleman on earth Isabelle should be drawn to. But loneliness is a hard mistress, and caution gives way to desire . . . even though Isabelle is convinced that happiness can’t be found in the arms of such a devilish rogue. Only when Jack is kidnapped does Isabelle discover the true depth of George’s devotion—and how far a good man will go to fight for the woman whose love is all that matters.

Rating: C+

I enjoyed Ms Macnamara’s début (A Most Scandalous Proposal) earlier this year, and so looked forward to reading the follow-up novel about George Upperton, just plain “Mister” Upperton, who featured in a secondary role in the first book.

George himself is a charming character, although his situation as presented at the beginning of the book may well fail to endear him to some readers, and did, I admit, colour my opinion of him for rather a lot of the story. He presents himself to the world as a world-weary foppish character, a man possessed of a quick wit, disarming charm and the ability to talk himself out of (almost) any situation. He is witty and charming, but beneath the façade is a man who is tired of acting a part. He is also deeply in debt, and fed up with his mother’s constant nagging at him to find himself a wife.

At the beginning of the book, he receives the unwelcome news that his current mistress is pregnant. He is horrified – as is the lady herself, who makes it clear she doesn’t want to be responsible for a child. George is completely floored; figuratively as well as literally, when the lady’s brother bursts in upon them and proceeds to knock seven bells out of him.

In a state of mild panic, George flees London in order to attend a house party in Kent at the home of his friend Benedict Revelstoke. He feels as though his life is spiralling out of control – he has no desire to be a father and no idea how he is going to continue to pay his mistress’ expenses as he is honour bound to do.

Isabelle Mears is a very well-born young lady who fell from the upper echelons of society when she bore an illegitimate child. Cast out by her family, she lives in a tiny cottage close to Revelstoke’s country home with her six-year-old son, Jack, and is barely able to make ends meet.

Life is hard, yet she is determined to remain independent and cares for her boy as well as she can.

Given her past experience with an unscrupulous man, Isabelle is naturally suspicious of a handsome rogue like George, but fate puts him in her way when he saves Jack’s life. She struggles with her attraction to him and tries hard to put him off by being curt and stand-offish, but when Jack disappears a few days later, George is the one person in the neighbourhood to offer his assistance, both with searching for her son, and with a shoulder to lean on.

Up until this point, I thought things were progressing reasonably well. George and Isabelle were dancing warily around each other, trying to fight their mutual attraction, and it was becoming clear that there was much more to George than his rakish reputation would indicate. In the previous book, he came across as a hedonist ; fun-loving, charming and as fond of gambling as he was of loose women, but his impending fatherhood has pulled him up short and is making him face up to the fact that he doesn’t really like the face he presents to the world. We also learn that he is a gifted pianist, but his typically stiff-backed father forced him to suppress such an unmanly talent. Even though his father is long gone and George is a grown man, he still suppresses his love for music even though he is finding it more and more difficult and frustrating to do so.

But with Jack’s disappearance, I thought the novel seemed to lose its way. Despite her misgivings, Isabelle finally allows George to ‘comfort’ her and the story is now focused on their growing attraction and, more particularly, on George’s gradual shift from a man who was shying away from responsibility to a man who is prepared – indeed, willing – to take on those responsibilities now he’s found the right woman for him. I don’t object to time being spent on relationship development – indeed, I expect it to happen in a romantic novel. But while George and Isabelle were busy discovering each other and getting it on, her son was missing, disappeared without a trace. As a result, I felt that the kidnap plot didn’t have a sense of urgency or peril; indeed the first clue as to Jack’s whereabouts turned up conveniently on the morning after George and Isabelle have at last consummated their relationship. It was as though, now they’d done the deed without having to worry about Jack running in on them, they could get on with solving the mystery of his disappearance, which also turned out to be so incredibly coincidental that it seemed as though the author was anxious to wrap up as many of the plot-threads as possible in one fell swoop.

While I thought that George was probably the most well-drawn of the two principals, I did find it hard to reconcile his attitude towards his own unborn child with his attitude towards Jack, a boy he meets just a few days later. His mistress turns out to be a total bitch (presumably he chose to ignore that facet of her personality while he was shagging her) so it’s not so surprising that George would feel trepidation at the prospect of being linked with her forever, but even though I really liked him as a character, his attitude towards the children struck a false note with me. In his favour however, I will say that I enjoyed watching him turn from a rather frivolous and glib individual into a solidly dependable man who was capable of great love and loyalty.

When it comes to the heroine, I can’t say I especially liked or disliked her. On the one hand, I thought she was brave in trying to assert her independence, but on the other, I thought she was being overly stubborn in her insistence on letting it be known that she was an unmarried mother when the status of such a woman at the time the novel is set was practically the lowest of the low. I was surprised that Isabelle chose not to pass herself off as a widow and instead let her true circumstances be known. I can understand her need not to be cowed by the actions of her family in casting her out, but I would have thought she would have considered her son’s situation, given that an illegitimate child was practically blamed for his own bastardy, and swallowed her pride on that count for his sake.

Overall however, I found her to be rather bland, because she didn’t make much of an impression on me one way or the other .

I’m afraid I came away from A Most Devilish Rogue feeling disappointed. I think Ms. Macnamara displays a deft touch with humour and that her writing is immediately engaging, but I don’t think the plot was especially strong and – even though this is a romantic novel – the conclusion to the kidnap plot was just toocoincidental for me to swallow. I found the heroine hard to connect with and I found her willingness to let George distract her (with sex!) from her anxiety for her missing son was just too implausible. Hell, if one ofmy kids went missing, I imagine a distraction from the search is the last thing I’d want.

On the positive side, I liked that the Epilogue showed that although Isabelle and George had married, society didn’t suddenly welcome them with open arms. Not that they were worried, being content with a small circle of genuine friends, but I thought it was refreshing to see that Isabelle hadn’t suddenly been restored to respectability by her marriage, and that George was perfectly happy to live on the outskirts of society and that he was finally able to be himself.

Even though I have reservations about this book, I nonetheless consider Ms Macnamara an author to watch and will certainly be looking out for her future projects.

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