Roger Danby served as the villain in one of my memorable reads from 2016, The Blacksmith's Wife by Elisabeth Hobbes. Roger isn't a twirling mustache kind of villain - no, he's somehow worse. He trifles with the heroine, tries to "c'mon baby..." her into bed, discards her for greener pastures, and when she finally settles into marriage with his half-brother he comes slinking back around. I'd say the guy has the morals of an alley cat, but that would be an insult to alley cats everywhere.
So how exactly is the author going to pull this guy off as hero-worthy in her latest, Redeeming the Rogue Knight? Well, it's going to take some doing.
After wearing out his welcome in Yorkshire the last time, Roger left to fight in France, eventually joining a group of mercenaries. He and his squire, Thomas, are back in England to deliver A Very Important Message and recruit men. They're enjoying the hospitality of a Lord when Thomas makes the mistake of getting caught in a compromising position with the man's daughter. As they beat a hasty retreat, Roger takes an arrow in the shoulder when they are, naturally, pursued.
However, as luck would have it, Thomas grew up in the area and his family's inn is close by. Unbeknownst to Thomas, his father is dead and it's only his sister, Lucy, and his nephew, Robbie in residence. Ahem, his bastard nephew Robbie. Lucy, you see, never had the benefit of a husband.
Her brother has been gone for four years. Four. Long. Years. So long that she had given up on his ever returning. And now he's back, bringing trouble she doesn't need to her door. As if this weren't shocking enough, the man who is with her brother is gravely injured, but still manages to accost her with a punishing kiss (that she enjoys) and a grope (which she does not). Needless to say their relationship does not get off to the smoothest of starts.
This is a romance that offers sprinkles of both internal and external conflict. Externally, we've got Roger's injury, the men who are pursuing him, and the message he has for King Edward squirreled away in his saddle bags. Internally, we've got Roger's past (whoa boy...) and Lucy's tattered reputation. She had other employment, but came home to the inn when she got pregnant, refusing to the name the father (although it's not kept a secret from the reader) and the only reason her father didn't disown her was because he was dying. Needless to say, a woman with her reputation, with a bastard child, her inn isn't exactly thriving with business.
This will be a book that will likely divide readers as neither character is what you would call terribly "likable." Anyone who read the first book already knows how problematic Roger is and he takes his sweet time redeeming himself into any semblance of decency for most of this book. But you know what? It works. I would have loved more about his time in France, mostly because it would have sped up the redemption in the reader's eyes, but to have Roger go from smarmy to choir boy by the end of this book would have been too much. Instead the author pairs him with the perfect woman and that's where the redemption comes into play.
To call Lucy prickly would be the understatement of the century and I suspect there will be readers who will tar and feather her for it. Our girl has had to make some questionable decisions and she spars with Roger for most of this book. She doesn't trust him (at all) for at least the first half and after that it's wary at best. I'm sure she'll be accused of being "too mean" to the hero but one, he deserves it, and two, when you factor in Lucy's past you can hardly blame the woman.
What I'll end up remembering most about this story are The Lady Truth Bombs that the author sets off like mini-grenades throughout the story (especially in light of current events). You know why Lucy is so mean to Roger? Well, because he deserves it. Even when he tries to do the right thing he's such a hypocritical ass about it that Lucy finally has to lose her last semblance of tolerance.
"I know you want me and you know I want you too. I've resisted you and tried to ignore the feelings and desires I know will only lead to misery but it hasn't been easy."
"But even if my heart did not race when you look at me in that manner, I won't be one of those women. All men leave eventually. It's just a question of time."There's a certain amount of genius at play here. Lucy, a woman who had sex, got pregnant, had her son, and is now living with the consequences of her tattered reputation is paired with Roger who has dallied, flirted, and bedded half the women in England and likely a quarter of those living in France. Yet he is celebrated while she is the pariah. Ultimately this is the internal conflict at play in the story that I found the most intriguing and made this romantic match-up rather delicious. Through Lucy Roger sees what a monumental jackass he's been.
The pacing felt a little off to me at times, a bit too leisurely in the beginning and too much of a race in the closing chapters, but the romantic match-up is memorable and what the author says, through the character of Lucy, speaks to the female experience since...well, sadly, the dawn of time.
Final Grade = B
Postscript: Sigh, I should probably mention that there aren't any sex scenes in this book since readers seem to get bent out of shape over such things. Honestly? I'm glad there aren't. Given the baggage (Lucy's especially!) these two characters burning up the sheets would have felt jarring and out of place in the story's narrative. Instead readers get some passionate kisses and a rather tender closed door scene that serves to build trust between the couple and bring them emotionally, closer together.