Baron. Physician. Smuggler. Sir Harland Hayward is living a double life as an aristocrat by day and a criminal by night. As a doctor, Harland has the perfect cover to appear in odd places in the dead of night, a cover he uses to his advantage to bring in all sorts of illicit cargo from across the English Channel. He’s chosen this life to save his family from financial ruin, but he draws the line at taking advantage of the honest and trustworthy Katherine Wright.
Katherine has returned to Dover to find that her family is working for a mysterious new crime boss. Growing up in a family of smugglers, she knows it’s only a matter of time before they are caught—and killed. So after her brother is shot, she convinces her family to move away and start over. After they honor their last contract, of course. With her injured brother and elderly father unable to work, Katherine reluctantly steps back into the life she had left behind. And straight into the path of the merciless Harland Hayward.
I’ve read and enjoyed a number (nearly all?) of Kelly Bowen’s historical romances, and have particularly admired her ability to create strong, determined heroines who manage (mostly) to operate within the conventions of the time period in which her novels are set. Yes, they have unusual professions or ambitions – a fixer, a bounty hunter, a professional gambler – but they’re not generally obvious about it and don’t go about proclaiming their unconventionality. The same is true of the heroine of A Rogue in the Night, Katherine Wright, a young woman born into a family of smugglers who became very good at that particular ‘craft’ until she fell in love and followed her lover to war, where it appears she developed her knowledge of the healing arts to become a highly competent surgeon. But this time around, I couldn’t quite buy into it. I know there were women who disguised themselves as men in order to train as doctors, so I’m not saying it could never have happened; my problem with it here is that I was just asked to accept that she’d been a battlefield surgeon and was told nothing about how she became one other than that the army surgeons were grateful for the help so hadn’t minded that she was a woman – which seemed rather… convenient. It was easier to believe that the hero – having two independent sisters and, as both a peer and a doctor, being unconventional himself – could so quickly and unquestioningly accept Katherine’s abilities, but the fact that he insisted on introducing her as Dr. Wright, when he surely must have known no woman could actually hold that moniker (and anyway, surgeons in the UK are addressed as Mr./Miss not Dr.) came across as gimmicky.
Harland Hayward, Baron Strathmore, is an unusual peer of the realm in that he is a doctor and surgeon who served on the battlefields during the Napoleonic Wars. Society frowns upon the idea of a nobleman actually having a profession, but Harland doesn’t care – being a doctor is more than a job to him, it’s who he is. Faced with the ruin of his family’s shipping business after a number of terrible losses, Harland made a deal with King, the enigmatic, ruthless crimelord who has appeared in several of Ms. Bowen’s other books (and whose story I continue to await with bated breath!), which saved the business and his family, but at quite a cost. Harland now works for King, co-ordinating smuggling runs off the Kentish coast and secretly acting as a liaison between the smugglers and purchasers. Katharine’s brother Matthew is a member of one of these gangs, and when he’s shot while on a run, she’s surprised when Harland – Lord Doctor, as she calls him at first – turns up at their cottage to offer his help. She’s suspicious of titled men and she’s wary of him, even though she’s attracted to him, too.
But when Harland not only helps treat her brother but also hides him from the soldiers who arrive to search the cottage, Katherine starts to unbend a little, and agrees to allow him to transport Matthew back to Avondale House (where the summer school run by his sister Clara, Duchess of Holloway operates) so he can be properly cared for. He hits on the idea of asking Katherine to teach the medical students at the summer school – an idea Clara supports enthusiastically – and Katherine, after her initial surprise, is pleased to accept.
Not long after this, however, Harland receives a dangerous commission from King, and knowing he’s likely to need a skilled medical practitioner to help him, asks Katherine to accompany him. The pair embark upon an adventure which carries them from London to the French coast and back as they dodge bullets, hide from soldiers and face up to past mistakes. The plot is fast-paced and well-executed, but ultimately, all the action in the story detracts from the romance between Harland and Katherine, which is of the insta-love variety and not nearly as well-developed as I’ve come to expect from this author.
I liked both characters, particularly Harland, a dedicated professional who is determined to do his best for his family no matter the heavy price. (And I would completely dispute the adjective “merciless” applied to him in the synopsis!) Katherine is similarly motivated, her talent and competence making her a good match for Harland, but there isn’t a great deal of chemistry between them and the sex scenes seemed forced and ‘for the sake of it’ as a result.
Given the current deplorable state of the historical romance sub-genre, it was a pleasure to read a novel featuring well-developed characters and an intriguing plot by an author capable of penning focused, satisfying prose. I enjoyed A Rogue in the Night and liked it considerably more than the previous book (Last Night With the Earl), but the under-developed romance was a disappointment.