Scoundrel's Kiss gives us Ada's story, and our villain from book one is certainly reaping what she has sown. She left England, feeling betrayed by her sister, for Spain. Emotional pain, and physically injuries she sustained in the first book, cause her to turn to a cruel mistress - opium. We meet Ada in the throes her addiction, where she's literally at the point where she'll do anything for a fix. That's how she ends up in a brothel, and where our hero, Gavriel de Marqueda finds her.
Gavriel is inches away from becoming a monk and must complete one final test to prove his worthiness. His test? Ada. Clean her up, get her off opium, and put her on a path to a better life. The problem is that Gavriel is no saintly monk. He's a warrior, running from his past, his basest desires, and the evil he has committed. He wants to become a monk to atone, and now, standing in his way, is Ada. A woman so tempting, so challenging and so alluring, that no man is nearly saintly enough. Certainly not Gavriel.
My one requirement in romance novels is that the characters have free will. Good, bad, indifferent, I want them to have a choice (all "bad" choices are still choices nonetheless). Ada has made disastrous choices. One after another. This story details the consequences of those actions. Certainly nobody deserves to be an addict. But Ada made her choices, hurt people she loved, manipulated situations and people to suit her purposes. This is not a "nice girl" at the start of this story. She's not the type of heroine who goes skipping through the forest singing to woodland creatures. She's a hard woman.
The difference between this story and What A Scoundrel Wants rests solely on the hero's shoulders. Lofty has given us a classic wounded hero. Gavriel's childhood was beyond wretched. He's haunted by his past, desperate to atone, and willing to do just about anything to leave his old life behind. This is a hero, I think, most romance readers will be willing to get behind. He's determined to save the heroine from herself, live by the vows he has made, renounce his old life, and naturally along the way it all goes horribly awry. For that reason alone, I suspect this book will work better for readers who weren't enthralled by WaSW.
"Most men only take vows when they feel strongly," she said. "They believe. They feel connected to a higher ideal. They feel compelled - obliged even - to make a promise to God. They do not use them as a prison or a punishment. You've hidden from the world and put a cage around yourself."Lofty continues to write different, challenging historical romances using unique settings (medieval Spain!) and characters. It's a shame her contract with Zebra has been fulfilled, and not renewed, because her rich tapestry of secondary characters are practically begging for future adventures (OMG - Jacob!). Whether or not you can roll with these types of characters and stories is incidental. Historical romance needs more risk-takers like Lofty, and sure as shootin' it needs more publishers willing to wander out on a limb. Not all different is "good" - but in this instance, I think it is. What a great way to start off 2010.
Final Grade = B+