Anything can happen in the moonlight . . .
Justice. That’s all Nell Trim wants-for her sister and for the countless other young women the Marquess of Leath has ruined with his wildly seductive ways. Now she has a bold plan to take him down . . . as long as she can resist the scoundrel’s temptations herself.
From the moment Nell meets James Fairbrother, the air positively sizzles. Yet for all his size and power, there’s something amazingly tender in his touch. Could he really be such a depraved rogue? The only way to find out is to beat the devil at his own game . . . one tempting kiss at a time.
This is the fourth book in Anna Campbell’s Sons of Sin series, but although some characters from the previous books appear and there are some references to events therein, it can easily be read as a standalone. It opens upon Miss Eleanor – Nell – Trim, as she tries to comfort her dying half-sister, Dorothy. The latter has experienced complications following the birth of a still-born child, and in her last moments, exhorts her sister to find the man who seduced her and expose him as a ruthless despoiler of innocents – for she knows that she was not his only victim.
Nell is surprised, but Dorothy goes on to tell her that the man not only derided her when she announced her pregnancy by telling her of his experiences with other women, but that he kept a diary of all his seductions. If Nell can find that and put it into the right hands, it will ruin him forever. With her dying breath, Dorothy names the man as the Marquess of Leath.
Leath – James Fairbrother – has appeared in earlier books in the series as rather an arrogant, coldly villainous figure. He is a man of wealth, power and influence, a skilled politician who looks set to rise to the highest office, but the recent scandals surrounding his disreputable uncle’s suicide and his sister’s elopement have caused a lot of unpleasant gossip, and his political masters “suggest” that he repair to his Yorkshire estates to wait for the furore to die down. Leath is aghast – but has no alternative and heads home to Alloway Chase.
On his first night back, he is surprised to discover a young woman creeping around in his library in the early hours of the morning, and naturally demands to know what she’s doing. Confronted with Leath’s dark, towering presence for the first time, the girl is clearly nervous, but stands her ground, informing him that she is looking for something to read, and introducing herself as Nell Trim – a housemaid in his employ. Leath is justifiably suspicious – the young woman is well-spoken, literate and nowhere near as deferential as a servant should be – but given the late hour and his exhaustion, he lets it go. For now.
The next day, when visiting his mother’s chambers, he encounters the lovely Nell again, and discovers that she’s not a housemaid at all, but rather his mother’s companion. Leath is not at all happy, given his suspicious about the young woman, and makes his displeasure plain. But he hides the other problem he has with Miss Trim’s presence, namely that he is unexpectedly in the throes of an intense desire for her, the like of which he’s never previously experienced. He’s a man given to caution and strategy, and certainly not one given to being led around by what’s in his breeches. Rationally, he knows that as an innocent, and as his employee, Nell is firmly off limits. But her beauty, bearing and obvious lack of obsequiousness intrigue and arouse him to a fever pitch.
Leath’s presence in the house has somewhat stalled Nell’s search for the incriminating diary, and has started to confuse her intensely. She finds his darkly austere features and large, athletic build incredibly attractive, and keeps reminding herself that she needs to be on her guard against him – but as the days pass and she sees his solicitude and love for his invalid mother, the fairness with which he treats his staff and tenants, and the amount of sheer hard work he puts into managing his estates, a different picture emerges to the one painted by her sister. The Leath she is coming to know is a decent, deeply honourable man, which only adds to his potent physical attractions. But as he’s a peer of the realm and she’s a housemaid, the daughter of a mere soldier, there is only one way for them to be together – and it’s not an honourable one.
Ms Campbell skilfully shows the reader that these are two people who are meant for each other, and how the strict social hierarchy of the time stands between them, making this a little different from your average master/servant romance. Both Nell and Leath really do struggle with the decisions they have to make about their relationship, and it’s not easy for either of them. The strength of their feelings for each other can’t be denied – but just as it seems they have achieved a degree of happiness, Nell makes a shocking discovery that turns her world upside down.
This my favourite book of the series, although I have thoroughly enjoyed each of the others, too. While the relationship between Nell and Leath is certainly born of a strong physical attraction, this is no mere case of insta-lust and nothing more. Ms Campbell develops the romance very well and builds the sexual tension with incredible skill. She adeptly turns Leath into a wonderful hero – strong, clever, caring and ultimately prepared to risk all for the sake of the woman he loves, and Nell matches him all the way. She stands up to him when necessary, supports him, and wants the best for him, even if that has to come at the expense of her own happiness.
A Scoundrel by Moonlight is a terrific read, and one I’d defintely recommend to anyone who enjoys a strongly-written, character-driven historical romance.