Dearest Rogue is book 8 in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. While I've read all her "Prince" series books I have only read one other Maiden Lane book, "Darling Beast", book 7, which I will be jointly reviewing next month with Elisabeth Lane.
Dearest Rogue is the story of Lady Phoebe Batten, the youngest sister of the Duke of Wakefield. Lady Phoebe has been sheltered all her life by her protective older brother even before her vision started failing. For years the Duke sent for doctors and healers of all kind to save her sight but now at 21 it is entirely gone. Lady Phoebe has long accepted the inevitability of total vision loss and has made all efforts to maintain her independence, and dignity. She resists her brother's well meaning efforts to protect her as they might deprive her of living a full life. However when the Duke starts receiving letters threatening her with kidnapping he hires Captain Trevillon to serve as Lady Phoebe escort and guard. Phoebe resents his presence as her shadow and her ever increasing confinement.
Captain James Trevillon, formerly of the Dragoons, almost lost his leg while patrolling St.Giles. Lame, and needing a cane, instead of commanding dozens of men, he has been reduced to now commanding a pair of strong footmen and spending his days watchfully waiting Lady Phoebe pick out lace or take tea with friends. Although becoming a bodyguard is huge comedown in life, Trevillion takes his job of protecting Lady Phoebe with the utmost seriousness. When Phoebe is twice attacked and nearly kidnapped in a short period of time Trevillon considers it a personal failure and blames himself. Trevillon fears his hidden and growing affection for Lady Phoebe has compromised his judgment and objectivity putting her at risk. But when he gives up his post and she is kidnapped in his absence, Trevillon acts. He rescues her and seeks to ensure that she is safe till all the threats against her are eliminated.
I really loved about 90% of this book. I really liked the dynamic between Phoebe and Trevillion. I love brusque reserved heroes, who strive to hide their feelings out of sense of honor and propriety. Trevillon is older (by a dozen years), cynical and weary. He knows she is incredibly out his league as the daughter and sister of a duke while he is only the son of Cornish horse breeder. He wants her to have the life she wants, one with a loving husband and many children but cannot see himself in that role. He only sees all the obstacles and his lacks. Meanwhile Phoebe is discovering his value, his honor and comparing all the other men in her life against him.
They have wonderful playful relationship, as Phoebe's growing awareness of Trevillion as man, inspires her to flirt, tease and incite. I particularly loved the scene where Phoebe "scent-marks" Trevillion with a perfume of she special ordered for him. Her innocent but improper exploration of his face and neck are driven by curiosity and highlights some the socially transgressive elements of their relationship. He remains passive in the scene, allowing her to touch, even when knows he shouldn't, savoring the closeness but not taking her unspoken invitation to kiss her. He then refuses to chastise her when she catches herself, only gently reinstating the boundaries by escorting them out her garden and back to house where they will not be alone together any longer.
I really enjoyed the fun Hoyt had with the "pretending to be married while on the road" trope in this book. Lady Phoebe and Trevillion have lots of fun banter as they play act being a married couple, but they also have deep important conversations. The forced intimacy of being on the run together helps them breach the social barriers, weakening Trevillion's resolve and letting them get to know each other better. Hoyt exploits the erotic potential sharing a bedroom holds for both of them. I loved how the sounds of Trevillion undressing for bed aroused Phoebe almost as much as it had to imagine him walking in on her as she prepped herself for bed. Phoebe might be virginal and young but she is not lacking in interest, desire or an active imagination.
However much I liked their falling in love, the growth of their romance, I didn't like the ending. There was a build up to believable and satisfactory HEA, where both Phoebe and Trevillion stand up and admit their love for each other against those who would oppose them. They acknowledge the social and familial costs of their determination to be together and are prepared to pay them. But that potential ending is interrupted by another set of action scenes, that leads to the unveiling of the true villain behind the kidnappings. Although it was meant to be resolution to the threats against Phoebe, it felt more like set up for the next book and it removed the tension and focus away from the more significant social obstacles that remained in place against a HEA for Phoebe and Trevillion, but that the story sweeps aside in it rush to the end. After spending so much time worrying about the differences in their social class and the geographical distance between their loved ones those concerns are barely acknowledged and I felt any resolution to them was simply implied. I feel cynical and wrong in feeling so disappointed in too happy or pat of a Happily Ever after after having loved the struggle of their romance as much as I did, but I can't deny it.
I received a review copy of Dearest Rogue (Maiden Lane #8) from Forever (Grand Central Publishing.