Accomplished spy Aden St. George prefers to stay away from the frivolous ton, especially after the way his mother was used by the Prince Regent. But his latest mission compels him to guard unconventional, vibrant Lady Vivien Shaw. Rescuing her from kidnappers was easy. Resisting her beauty is not. Duty demands he keep an eye on her—and naturally, his lips soon follow. For someone who views entanglements as a weakness, this is pure, delicious folly…
Though grateful for Aden’s help, Vivien has secrets she must keep hidden. Yet with her abductors still at large, she needs Aden’s protection almost as much as she craves his touch…
Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard is the first full-length novel in Ms Kelly’s new Renegade Royals Series, in which the heroes are the illegitimate – and fictitious – sons of English princes. I suppose the best way to describe the book overall is that it’s a Regency romp with a dash of skulduggery, adventure, and romance, complete with a suitably despicable villain, feckless relatives, a lovely yet put-upon heroine and a handsome, action-man hero.
Put like that, it sounds like a winner. Unfortunately, however, something in the recipe wasn’t quite right and as a result, this particular soufflé fell rather flat when it came out of the oven.
The reader is plunged into the action straight away. Our hero, Aden St. George (illegitimate son of the Prince Regent) has been sent to effect the rescue of Lady Vivien Shaw, who was snatched from her carriage in London and removed quickly to Kent, where she’s being hidden in caves formerly used by smugglers.
We don’t know who Vivien is or why she was kidnapped at this stage, and neither does Aden, although he is determined to find out. The escape goes fairly smoothly (although at one point, they are discovered by mounted thugs and have to evade their evil clutches!) and it’s not long before Aden has figured out that Vivien knows more about who is responsible for her kidnapping than she is letting on. Which of course, makes him all the more determined to find out what she’s hiding from him.
Even at this early point in the novel, I felt that there was a problem with the pacing – and as my reading progressed, I realized that the cause of it persists throughout the whole book. Because what could have been quite a tense and exciting opening was slowed down considerably by the fact that by about page two (I was reading on a Kindle, so can’t be exact) the hero is already obsessing over the heroine’s lips and lush curves (even though it’s dark and she’s covered in mud) and the heroine is shortly to be mesmerized by his dark eyes and handsome, chiselled features.
(I really wanted them to just get the hell away; there would be plenty of time to think about shagging each other stupid later on.)
I know there has to be a certain amount of this in any romantic novel and in skilled hands, at the right time and in the right place, it can work wonderfully. But here, I felt like I was being hit over the head with it from the get-go and seriously, if I’m so dumb as not to be able to work out which two characters in a romance are going to end up together then… well, I shall have to go back to reading The Famous Five and Winnie the Pooh.
Once safely back in London, Vivien is delivered into the capable hands of Aden’s mother, Lady Thornbury, who is a terrific character. Beautiful, intelligent and somewhat estranged from her son – who has a large chip on his shoulder because of his bastardy – she is perceptive, quick witted, and would probably have made a much better secret agent than Aden!
Actually, I thought the relationship between Lady Thornbury and her son was by far the most interesting one in the book, and I wish we’d seen more of it. Lady T is enlisted to help with Mission Protect Lady Vivien – if Aden is going to keep an eye on her, he will need to attend the same balls and parties, but given he’s eschewed going into society for the past decade, it will look odd if he just starts turning up out of the blue to these events. Escorting his widowed mother around London gives Aden just the excuse he needs to return to the fold.
Vivien is still holding back her suspicious from Aden, because she has discovered (or thinks she has) that she wasn’t far off the mark with them. Her younger brother, Kit – who really needs to grow a pair and start fending for himself – is up to his eyeballs in debt, and an off-hand comment in the wrong place appears to have led the moneylender to whom he is in hock to believe that kidnapping Vivien would ensure the payment of a fat ransom by their older brother, Cyrus. Both Kit and Vivien’s mother are deeply in debt, which accounts for the fact that Vivien herself is a regular at the gaming tables – except that she knows when to stop. She is supporting her selfish, stupid relatives by gambling, and getting herself a reputation for being “fast” in some circles in the process.
Her brother Cyrus controls the family purse-strings and has already threatened to cut Kit off without a penny, which is one of the reasons Vivien doesn’t turn to him for help. Another is that he’s got a stick up his arse and is selfishly focused on furthering his political career. And another is that he wants to marry her off to a loathsome Russian Prince because he is rich enough to pay off all their debts and having a sister who is a princess will undoubtedly bring Cyrus some degree of cachet.
While all this is going on, Aden is gradually weaseling the truth from Vivien – although I have to say that I wondered more than once how on earth he became one of England’s premier intelligence men, because at times he’s really dim! For instance, he fails to perceive that Vivien is not, in fact, welcoming the Prince’s advances – something which is readily apparent to almost everyone else and especially to his mother. And on at least one occasion, he determines to distance himself from her at the worst possible time and for no reason that makes sense.
But of course, no romantic hero is complete without a bit of guilt or suffering in his background, and Aden’s curse is to feel guilty because he didn’t prevent the death of a good friend a few months earlier. He has always believed that emotion dulls his wits and makes him less effective at his job – the slights he suffered as a result of his birth and his treatment at the hands of his mother’s husband have hardened him, poor lad – so he doesn’t want to be close to anyone and keeps pushing Vivien away. Or trying to, because she manages to do some monumentally stupid things against both common sense and Aden’s advice which mean that he has to keep coming to her rescue.
What I said earlier about the beginning of the story being poorly paced meant that the book took a while to fully engage my interest, but once the story got going in earnest, it rattled along nicely. The writing is more than decent, and it’s clear that Ms Kelly is capable of telling an entertaining story and creating interesting characters. Events come thick and fast, the true villain of the piece – while fairly obvious from the beginning – steps up his game and Aden’s method of preventing the announcement of Vivien’s betrothal to Prince Loathsome is rather wonderfully melodramatic.
But my biggest problem with the book was the one which began on page two and never really disappeared. The continual mental lusting and “heightened awareness” of and for one protagonist by the other kept on and on until I felt there was practically zero sexual tension between them because I knew that every time they so much as thought about or glimpsed each other, they’d turn into puddles of lust. (Also – it’s a miracle that Aden can actually walk most of the time, given the frequency and size of the hard-ons to which he is prone!) When it comes to creating really good sexual and romantic tension, it should be a case of less is more. It should develop slowly so that when the reader does finally get to that unintentional embrace or first kiss, it’s a wonderfully sensual moment and not, as is the case here, something that has been so presaged that when it comes to it, it’s a non-event.
The thing which links this series, apart from the fact that the heroes are royal bastards (in the literal sense!) is the character of Sir Dominic Hunter, whom we first met almost thirty years previously as a fourteen year-old boy in the prequel novella, Lost in a Royal Kiss. He is now one of England’s most powerful officials, operating a network of spies and intelligence gatherers from the Home Office. It’s Dominic who tasks Aden with Vivien’s rescue, and Dominic who insists he is the one to protect her once she returns to London. I understand that Ms Kelly will be continuing his story in a future novel, and I admit I’m interested enough in the character to want to read it, but in this book, Dominic comes over as little more than a mother hen and matchmaker, which was something of a disappointment.
To sum up, Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard isn’t a terrible book, despite the reservations I’ve expressed above. Aden is a sexy hero, Vivien is no simpering miss and the pacing picks up once the story moves to London. We meet the hero of the next book – Griffin Steele – who is certainly intriguing – and the love scenes (which don’t actually take place until fairly late in the book) are sensual and well-done. But I thought the chemistry between the leads was seriously impaired for the reasons I’ve stated above, and there were too many instances of nonsensical behavior for me to be able to rate it more highly.