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.
Rating: A for narration; B+ for content
In A Scoundrel by Moonlight, the fourth book in Anna Campbell’s Sons of Sin series, the hero has a slightly different background to that of the other three, who are united by long-standing friendship and through the scandal they have weathered owing to the fact that they are all illegitimate. There are no such questions over the parentage of James Fairbrother, Marquess of Leath, who has appeared as rather a villainous figure in the previous books, although like the other men, he now finds himself the subject of unpleasant gossip. A man of vast political power and ambition, Leath has a reputation for iron control and implacability, but the taint of scandal resulting from his nefarious uncle’s suicide (A Rake’s Midnight Kiss) and his sister’s elopement (What a Duke Dares) has led his political masters to “suggest” that perhaps he needs a break from London to allow the gossip to die down. Frustrated and angry, he takes himself off to Yorkshire, hoping this enforced period of rustication will not last for too long.
In order to fulfill the deathbed promise made to her younger sister, Miss Eleanor (Nell) Trim has taken a position in the household of Alloway Chase, Leath’s Yorkshire estate. Nell’s younger sister died in childbed and made Nell swear to expose the identity of and the crimes perpetrated upon her and many other young women by her seducer. She discovered that the man actually kept a diary in which he stored details of his encounters with all the other girls he had ruined – and names him as none other than the Marquess of Leath.
On his first night back home, Leath is surprised to encounter a young woman snooping around in his library in the early hours of the morning, and naturally demands to know what she is doing. Nell, who is searching for the diary her sister spoke of, is intimidated by her employer’s darkly forceful presence, but refuses to kowtow to him, standing her ground and explaining that she’s a housemaid. The marquess is suspicious – she’s well-spoken, literate, and doesn’t carry herself like a servant, but he lets it go, determined to find out more. The next day, he encounters the delectable Miss Trim again and discovers that she’s actually his mother’s companion, something about which he’s not at all happy. He doesn’t trust her, and worse, for a man not given to sudden sexual urges, is shocked and annoyed at the powerful physical desire he feels for her, which given Miss Trim’s status as an employee, puts her firmly off limits.
Having believed the marquess to be a cruel, rapacious seducer, Nell is surprised by his kindness to and obvious love for his invalid mother, his fairness towards his staff, and by his industriousness when it comes to taking care of his estates and tenants. By every word and action, Leath reveals himself to be a decent, honourable man and gradually, Nell comes to realise that he can’t be the man her sister had described. The intensity of their mutual attraction is palpable and leaps off the page, but both of them know they don’t have a future together. He’s a peer of the realm with a glittering political career ahead of him, and she’s the daughter of a mere sergeant-major; marriage isn’t an option so they only way they can possibly be together is for Nell to become Leath’s mistress. It’s something they both struggle with; to sleep with a man outside of marriage goes against everything Nell has been taught, but she’s deeply in love and is torn between upholding her morals and pursing a course which will bring her happiness for as long as it lasts. And Leath, whose sexual liaisons have previously been confined to women of experience, knows what he’s asking of an innocent young woman but his feelings run just as deeply as Nell’s and he can’t find it in himself to walk away.
The relationship between the protagonists crackles with sexual tension right from their first meeting, and the choices they face are realistically portrayed. The class differences between them are fully recognised, as are the problems which could arise as the result of an illicit liaison. But just as it seems that happiness – albeit temporary – is within their grasp, Nell makes a heartbreaking discovery that overturns everything she has come to believe about the man she loves.
The scenes in which Nell confronts Leath with her knowledge, and the way he doesn’t try to bulldoze her concerns, but rather asks her to think back over the weeks of their relationship and own what she knows to be the truth are affecting and very well done. Characters from the other books make a reappearance towards the end of the story, and I especially enjoyed the way they welcome Leith – a very solitary man, in spite of wide circle of influence and acquaintance – into their circle, regardless of their previous enmity. I always enjoy well-written friendships, and even though this rapprochement doesn’t take place until late in the book, it’s a definite high point.
I may have raved – just a bit! – about Steve West’s performance in What a Duke Dares – and have had my fingers crossed ever since that he’d return as narrator for Leath’s book. He is a superb vocal actor and his delicious baritone is an absolute pleasure to listen to. He makes the most of an extensive vocal range that allows him to use a higher pitch for the female characters without resorting to falsetto, as well as to find a suitably gravelly tone at the lower end for the hulking Jonas Merrick. His portrayal of both principals is excellent; Leath is described as being a large man, “built like a prize-fighter”, and Mr West voices him accordingly, employing a deeply resonant tone that is by turns commanding and tender, and which he uses to knee-weakening effect in the love scenes. He expertly brings out Leath’s admirable characteristics – softer notes when speaking with his mother, his underlying dry humour in many of his exchanges with Nell – but there is no mistaking that this is a man of influence and power. Mr West’s interpretations of the secondary characters are just as good, and he differentiates very effectively between the heroes of the previous books and their wives in the scenes in which they all appear together. The narrative is expressive and well-paced, and all in all, this is a wonderfully characterised and emotionally resonant performance. I can’t wait to hear more from this highly talented narrator.