Born to the street but raised within the aristocracy, Drake Darling can’t escape his sordid beginnings. Not when Lady Ophelia Lyttleton snubs him at every turn, a constant reminder he’s not truly one of them. But after rescuing her from a mysterious drowning he realizes she doesn’t remember who she is. With plans to bring her to heel, he insists she’s his housekeeper—never expecting to fall for the charming beauty.
While Ophelia might not recall her life before Drake, she has little doubt she belongs with him. The desire she feels for her dark, brooding employer can’t be denied, regardless of consequences. So when her memory returns, she is devastated by the depth of his betrayal. Now Drake must risk everything to prove she can trust this rogue with her heart once more.
Drake Darling – born Peter Sykes and son of a convicted murderer – is now a successful businessman and, as the adopted son of the Duke and Duchess of Greystone, has been fully accepted into London society. Being both attractive and wealthy, Drake is never short of female admirers, although there is one woman who refuses to see him as anything other than a lowly street-rat and who treats him at every opportunity as though he’s worse than anything she could want scraped off the bottom of her shoe.
Lady Ophelia Lyttleton is beautiful and much sought after, but she’s cold, standoffish and, to Drake, downright unpleasant and rude. She has been brought up to be very mindful of her standing in society and to look down on those who are of lesser station, although right from the start, it’s clear that there is something else fuelling her intense dislike for him.
On a late night walk, Drake pulls an unconscious woman from the Thames, not realising until he gets her home that it is Lady Ophelia. When she eventually comes round, she has no idea who she is or why she was in the river – and doesn’t recognise Drake either. He knows it’s not kind, but he decides to exact a small revenge on her for her horrible treatment of him, and tells her that she’s his housekeeper. He only intends the deception to last for a day, after which he will return her home. But when he realises that Ophelia – Phee – may be in danger from someone in her family, he decides to delay her return while he investigates. In the time they spend together, he finds himself becoming fascinated by the young woman who is emerging from behind the previously iron-clad exterior.
And Phee, while she is initially dismissive of Drake’s assertion that she is his servant, soon finds enjoyment in her new role, discovering a joy and freedom she’s never experienced before in doing things for others. She is also more than a little attracted to her employer – a complicated man who insists he is not kind or good, but whose actions towards her and others continually prove otherwise.
I confess I’m wary of stories which use amnesia as a plot device, but having very much enjoyed the previous book in this series (When the Duke Was Wicked) and others by this author, I trusted that Ms Heath would be able to make it work – and that trust was not misplaced.
Right from the first moment we meet the snobbish, shrewish Ophelia, the author drops hints that perhaps there is something more to her than meets the eye;
No man would ever love her enough to forgive her for what she’d once done, and it was a secret she could not forever keep from a husband.
The reader is obviously meant to dislike her intensely because of the way she treats Drake, but I found her intriguing and almost deserving of sympathy because in spite of her beauty and social advantages, she is clearly a very unhappy young woman.
And Drake, who has made something of himself in spite of his humble origins, is also struggling with his own inner demons, never feeling that he is good enough for the position he occupies, persisting in believing himself tainted by his father’s heinous crimes and thus not worthy of the deep affection shown him by his family – and most definitely not deserving of affection of a more romantic nature.
The thing about this particular amnesia plotline is that it doesn’t work in quite the way one would expect it to. Of course, it gives Phee a chance to look at Drake with a fresh pair of eyes, free from prejudice and prior knowledge of him, and allows her to own her attraction to him and come to know the kind and honourable man he truly is. More importantly, however, it enables Phee to come to him with a clean slate. Freed from the awful memories which have cheated her of happiness and the ability to enjoy her life; freed from the memories of her authoritarian father’s strictures, she can finally let her true self have free rein, and we see her transformation from the emotionally crippled woman we first met into a funny, kind-hearted and compassionate woman who is able to love without shame or fear.
Drake’s manipulation of Ophelia into believing herself his servant may have been unkind, but it seems to me to be a very human reaction. Who wouldn’t want to get their own back after receiving such treatment as Ophelia meted out to him? The fact that he allows the deception to continue beyond his original intentions is perhaps not the most honourable thing he has done – but then Drake doesn’t consider himself an honourable man, and deep down, knows he will deserve every horrible epithet Ophelia can throw at his head when all is revealed.
And he has an emotional journey to make, as well. I don’t mind admitting that the part near the end when he finally comes to understand the truth about his fathers brought tears to my eyes.
Once More My Darling Rogue is an emotionally satisfying read which features two flawed characters who have to confront dark events in their pasts if they are to move forward both individually and together. Drake and Phee are strongly drawn characters, the romance develops at a steady and believable pace, and Ms Heath writes with a lot of tenderness and gentle humour. I enjoyed reading it and am eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series.