Madeleine Russell, the beautiful daughter of a shipping magnate, counted on marrying a wealthy husband. Then her father’s disgrace and death left her with no dowry and no suitor. But Maddy and her sisters fully intend to restore their good name. Their first step: find the villain who framed their family. One of her father’s captains, a notorious former pirate, becomes a prime suspect. When Maddy joins the captain’s household disguised as his newest servant, her dark-eyed, charismatic employer soon develops his own agenda: seduction…
Captain Thomas Morgan spent most of his life amassing vast riches and respectability…and keeping his gypsy roots a secret. Now, he just needs to marry his prim, polished fiancée…and resist his intriguing new housemaid. A pirate never falls in love, he reminds himself. As mutual deception leads Maddy and the captain into uncharted territory, the truth could anchor them to terrible heartache…or to passion beyond their wildest dreams.
This is the second book in Ms Stuart’s Scandal at the House of Russell trilogy, and it features the middle Russell sister, Madeleine.
Eustace Russell, a wealthy shipping magnate, died suddenly at the beginning of the first book (Never Kiss a Rake), having widely been believed to have embezzled huge sums of money from his company. His death, immediately following the discovery, looked like suicide, but his daughters are not at all convinced – and a scribbled note in their father’s hand warning them not to trust his business partners makes them even more determined to prove that he was murdered.
The girls have been left with nothing, so while Bryony remains in London to investigate her father’s relationship with the Earl of Kilmartyn, Madeleine and Sophie are sent to Somerset to stay with their old nurse, Nanny Gruen.
When the news reaches them of Bryony’s marriage to Kilmartyn, and the couple’s subsequent flight from England, the sisters realise that the earl can have had nothing to do with their father’s death, and Madeleine determines that it’s now up to her to continue the investigation. Taking a leaf out of her sister’s book (Bryony had gone to work as Kilmartyn’s housekeeper), she obtains a position as a housemaid in the home of Captain Thomas Morgan, a man of whom her father had been very fond.
Believing a salty old-sea-dog is going to be somewhat grandfatherly, she is naturally surprised when Morgan turns out to be a gorgeous, dark-eyed half-gypsy with a penchant for open collars (thus flashing heretofore unimagined areas of male flesh) and a gold earring, who isn’t even thirty.
The half-gypsy sea-captain’s name isn’t Thomas or Morgan; he’s Luca, abandoned by his gypsy mother in the streets of London where he did what he had to do to survive, which seems to have included a period spent as a rent-boy. One night, he wasn’t quick enough to evade the press gang, and ended up on board ship where, unusually for a gypsy, he discovered an affinity for the sea. Since then, he’s worked his way up, becoming Eustace Russell’s most efficient and profitable partner, and is now rich enough to have purchased a number of Russell’s ships after the company’s collapse. He is currently negotiating the purchase of the Maddy Rose one of the last clipper ships to have been built by the company – and named after the middle Russell daughter.
Maddy manages to blag her way into the housemaid job and is immediately tasked with doing absolutely everything – cleaning, mending, more cleaning – by the lazy housekeeper who, it seems, does very little other than a bit of cooking. Maddy is permanently exhausted, but being the sort of girl she is – stubborn, and damned if she’ll let a woman like Mrs Crozier get the better of her – determines to do everything to the best of her ability. Even though she’s not used to such hard work, she throws herself into it as she tries to work out how to get into the captain’s study so she can go through his papers looking for evidence of his involvement in her father’s death.
What she doesn’t know is that Luca has recognised her, and after his initial fury at her presence in his house and her deception has abated, he decides to wait it out until he can work out exactly what she’s up to.
It’s a decent story, and there’s plenty of sexual tension between the leads but… there’s just something missing in this book and I’m not exactly sure what it is. Luca is very sexy, but he’s not quite in the usual Anne-Stuart bad-boy mould. He’s a ruthless businessman to be sure, and he talks a harsh game when it comes to Maddy (he insists he’ll shag her a few times and then cast her off) – but he’s clearly a decent bloke underneath the swagger, and there’s never any doubt about that. Of course, we all know that a hero – even an Anne Stuart hero – is going to turn out that way, but there’s none of the edginess to him that one has come to expect from this particular author. Of the other hand, he’s clearly had an interesting (to say the least!) past. He and one of his friends made money “servicing gentlemen” and there’s a throwaway line to the effect that he’d been raped – what?! But neither of those things is expanded upon. I’m not saying I wanted him to be angst-ridden and full of insecurities – if there’s one thing Luca isn’t, it’s insecure, and it makes a change to find a hero who is actually pretty well-adjusted. But Luca’s character isn’t particularly well fleshed-out, and I’m not sure if this is due to lack of space or time, or some other reason.
Maddy is more of a well-rounded character. She’s the beauty of the family, the one who was expected to make a grand marriage, and who, until their father’s demise, was fighting off the young bucks with a stick. Well, all except one, with whose stick she became acquainted before he buggered off to South America the morning after. But Maddy is a tough cookie, and although she’s hurt by the man’s rejection, she doesn’t show it, and gets ready to rejoin the fray that is the marriage mart. Her father’s death changes everything of course, and now, Maddy is left with just the one suitor – a much older man who already has his heir and spare (and more), but he’s an earl, and Maddy hopes he’ll shuffle off this mortal coil fairly soon and leave her a rich widow.
The plot is fairly predictable, and we are once again introduced to the mysterious Mr Brown – now calling himself Griffiths (which, incidentally, is the name of the hero of the next book), who is still suffering from the injuries sustained as a result of his attempts to do away with Kilmartyn and Bryony in the previous book. Now he’s out to get rid of Maddy, although we still don’t quite know why – I imagine the whys and wherefores will be revealed in the final story.
I didn’t dislike Never Trust a Pirate, but perhaps, being the middle book of a trilogy meant that it was treading water somewhat. I also felt that it was narrative-heavy and that there wasn’t as much interaction between Luca and Maddy as I’d have liked. But I’ll still be reading Never Marry a Viscount because I want to see how it all turns out.