The Marquess of Hawksfield’s lineage is impeccable and his title coveted, but Archer Croft is as far from his indulgent peers as he can get. His loathing for the beau monde has driven him to don a secret identity and risk everything in order to steal their riches and distribute them to the less fortunate.
Lady Briannon Findlay embraces her encounter with the Masked Marauder, a gentleman thief waylaying carriages from London to Essex. The marauder has stirred Brynn’s craving for adventure, and she discovers an attraction deeper than the charming thief’s mask.
Brynn is a revelation, matching Archer in intelligence, wit, and passion. Stubborn and sensuous in equal measure, she astonishes him at every turn, but when someone sinister impersonates Archer’s secret personality, and a murder is committed, Archer begins to think he doesn’t stand a fighting chance without her.
When I read the storyline of My Rogue, My Ruin – in which the hero is a kind of latter-day Robin Hood – it was obvious I was going to have to be prepared to suspend my disbelief to a larger degree than normal. But that’s okay. I was in the mood for an adventure story, and if an author (in this case authors) can spin a good yarn without too many contrivances and create interesting characters I can root for, then I can accept a degree of implausibility. And as Ms. Howard and Ms. Morgan quite quickly managed to do both, things went swimmingly for the first part of the book. There’s the usual (unfortunate) smattering of Americanisms and a few small anachronisms, but the characters and motivations were established well and I was enjoying the story. But as the book progressed and the pacing started to flag, those errors and inconsistencies began to happen more frequently, culminating in an inaccuracy so large, that I had to ask myself not only if the authors had done any research at all, but also if they’d ever read an historical romance before.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, because in spite of what I’ve just said, there ARE things to enjoy in this book, which saved it from receiving a much lower rating.
Archer Croft, Marquess of Hawkesfield has a reputation for being aloof, ruthless and bad-tempered, all things that make him the complete opposite of his life-and-soul-of-the-party father, the Duke of Bradburne, whose sobriquet of ‘The Dancing Duke’ pretty much sums him up. He lives for wine, women and song – probably not so much the song – indulging his dissolute lifestyle to the extent that he has nearly bankrupted his estate and forced his son to assume the reins of the dukedom far earlier than he would otherwise have done. His constant infidelities were naturally a matter of great unhappiness for Archer’s late mother, who actually took in one of the duke’s by-blows and brought her up as her ward. But Bradburne refused to acknowledge Eloise as his daughter, and pretty much ignored her, behaviour that has continued since his wife’s death some years earlier, in a fire which also left Eloise badly scarred.
Unlike many of his peers, Archer is strongly motivated to improve the lot of the less fortunate in society, and he spares as much money as he can for charitable causes. But that isn’t – and can never be – enough, and it’s this that has led him to turn highwayman; but he takes only from those who can afford it and uses all the proceeds to help those in need.
When the book opens, Archer – or rather, the Masked Marauder – is in the process of robbing Lord and Lady Dinsmore and their daughter, Lady Briannon, on the road that joins their two estates. Even though they are neighbours, he hasn’t seen Briannon for years, and is impressed with the way she refuses to give ground even as he is stealing from her and her family.
In the days following the robbery Briannon – or Brynn as she is referred to in the chapters from her PoV – is shocked to find her thoughts so preoccupied by the handsome highwayman, and especially by the reaction evoked by the memory of the gentleness of his touch as he relieved her of her grandmother’s pearls. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t despise both him and his way of life.
Archer was similarly entranced by the glimpses of fire in Lady Briannon’s eyes that night, but can’t afford to become emotionally attached to anyone. He has recently received a couple of anonymous notes which indicate that someone else is aware of his secret occupation and he must focus on tracking down that person and finding out what they know. And I will say at this point that the authors do a great job of concealing the villain’s identity, because I couldn’t narrow down the list of suspects to just one.
So far, so good. Both principals are well-drawn, and Archer’s motivations – which stem from his mother’s desire to atone for the duke’s treatment of Eloise’s mother and women like her – are effectively explained and make sense. I liked the set-up, with Archer now having to fear exposure from an unknown source, and expected the story to be about his search for that source while trying to keep his secret and falling in love with Briannon. But then, the authors ramp up the tension with the introduction of a copy-cat highwayman whose vicious, violent acts are laid at the door of the Masked Marauder, making life for Archer even more difficult and dangerous.
But the pacing starts to lag around the middle of the book; a terrible murder is committed, and it seems that someone is trying to point the finger at Archer for that, too – but somehow the tension slacks off instead of heightening, and even though this allows room for some romantic development, both Briannon and Archer act inconsistently. They indulge in heated kisses and passionate interludes, but then one of them pushes the other away for reasons I couldn’t quite make out, and this continues until almost the end of the book.
The last quarter of the story picks up again with the couple coming up with a plan to draw out the villain – but this is where the authors drop the most enormous clanger. Without giving too much away, Archer and Briannon host a ball just a week after the death of a family member. Anyone who has read only a few historical romances, or who has done the thirty seconds’ research I just did by Googling “nineteenth century mourning conventions” would know that people in mourning – which could last for months or years – were not supposed to socialise at all, let alone host a massive society event. I had already suffered through the lack of knowledge of men’s and ladies’ attire (there was no such thing as a Dinner Jacket and ladies didn’t wear bloomers – mostly because they hadn’t been invented yet!), the scene of our heroine attempting to dress a gunshot wound to the thigh sustained by the hero but instead spending her time ogling his wedding tackle, and the ridiculousness of a highwayman holding up a coach in the middle of London – but the ball-in-mourning was a faux-pas too far, and it threw me so far out of the story that instead of being eager for the dénouement, I just wanted it to be over. And speaking of wanting it to be over, the sex scene that takes place right before the epilogue is unnecessary and feels as though it’s been tacked on because, hey, it’s a romance and there has to be some nookie.
It’s obvious that I’m not going to recommend My Rogue, My Ruin. BUT – the authors have shown that they can craft a decent plot and create engaging characters who possess depth and insight. There are clearly more stories to be told – I was intrigued by Lana, the Russian maid; and Rhiannon’s brother, Gray, will make an attractive hero. So I may try another book by Ms. Howard and Ms. Morgan in the hope that next time, they will do some actual research into their historical setting and perhaps delay the ogling of manly bulges until the hero isn’t almost unconscious and in excruciating pain.