Falling for the Highland Rogue by Ann Lethbridge (published by that old gray lady Harlequin no less!) to really hammer the point home for me. If this book had existed 15 years ago a lot (yes, I'm tarring and feathering, but y'all know I'm right!) of readers on various listservs and message boards would have likely been clasping their hands to their chests and demanding smelling salts.
Charity West used to be a lady, but now she's a fallen woman. Seen as nothing more than a common whore. In reality she was a terrible whore, a cold fish with "clients," so when Jack purchases her contract, the madam is more than happy to oblige. Jack is a gambler with his sticky fingers in a lot of pies. Essentially he uses Charity like a gangster moll. She's there to aid him in his criminal enterprises. They're now in Scotland, looking to secure whiskey for Jack's club back in London. Everybody knows the Gilvry's have the best whiskey in all of Scotland, even if they are running it illegally to stay one step ahead of the English taxmen.
Logan Gilvry is the youngest brother (yes, this is book three in a series), with the face of an angel that often lead people to underestimating him. He spies Charity across the room and whamo! She's the most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on, but one look into her eyes and he knows this is a woman who will tell you down is up and like a fool you'll believe her right up until the moment she drives a knife in your back. Plus, Jack is no fool. He's playing at some sort of game, and Logan needs to figure out what it is. In the meantime, to gain a advantage Jack starts arranging for Charity and Logan to spend a lot of quality alone time together.
This is a romance of two people who aren't terribly nice. Logan and his brothers are criminals. Oh sure, you can dress it up as romantic as you'd like - the Scottish working class sticking it to the evil, evil English - but they're breaking the law. Period. Charity is about as far from a nice girl as you can get. Sure, it's out of necessity. Jack is not a nice guy and if Charity has any hope of getting away from him she needs to get her hands on plenty of cash. That means she'll lie, cheat, bat her eyes, seduce, and flaunt the assets that God gave her. But you know what?
I adored both of them. Hook, line, sinker, loved them both.
I tend to get frustrated when the message is, often, in the genre that the boys can be as bad as they want to be and we're expected to love them - but the girl? She better be home skipping through the forest, singing to various woodland creatures, and baking cookies for poor orphan children, or else she's a no good skank who doesn't deserve him. I love it (love it!), when the heroine's morals are just as dubious as the hero's, and better yet? She doesn't apologize for them. This is the way she is. This is the hand that life has dealt her. She made some mistakes, trusted the wrong man, but she's not about to roll over and die. She's got to find a way and this is it - so deal with it boyo.
That doesn't mean she doesn't have a fit of conscience once she becomes emotionally involved with Logan. But true to form, she goes about trying to save his ass by falling back on what she knows best, striking deals with less than dubious characters, batting her eyes, and lying through her pretty little teeth. And Logan? In typical hero fashion wants to save her. The problem is saving her could very well mean bad things for his family.
As much as I enjoyed it all, the story did begin to lose steam for me in the final chapters. The conflict of this story is very much like a continuity series - which is to say that the immediate villain is dealt with, but there's a puppet-master behind the scenes that is still at large. I also wanted more of Charity's past. The author tap-dances around it mostly, dropping us hints, and giving us a few crumbs for us to string to the whole thing together. I found her character so interesting that I think I just wanted a lot more of this spelled-out for me so I could wallow in every glorious angsty minute of it.
The greatest compliment I can give this story is that it's different, in a good way. It utilizes a familiar setting for readers featuring a historical back-drop that isn't anything new - but fills it with the type of characters that we hardly ever see. Get your hands on it and save it for that case of Romance Genre Ennui that inevitably befalls every genre reader now and then. In case of emergency: read this book.
Final Grade = B+