March 2006, Historical Romance (1810s Canada and England)
Signet, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451217888 Part of a series
The newest entry in Jo Beverley's Company of Rogues series features The Missing Rogue, Simon St. Bride who, when mentioned at all in previous books, has simply been "in Canada." In The Rogue's Return we finally learn what Simon has been doing all this time.
While Simon's family are traditional homebodies, he always wanted adventure, and so went to Canada. As a result of investigating the misappropriation of funds from the Indian Affairs department, he is challenged to a duel by the embezzler over the accusations. The duel is stopped with the news that Isaiah Otterburn is dying of an accidental gunshot wound. Simon lives with Isaiah in the older man's house, along with Isaiah's niece Jane, who, after the death of her mother, came to Canada to live with the uncle she'd not seen since she was a child. Fearing for Jane's future and reputation, which has been whispered about since her arrival a year ago, Isaiah's dying wish is that Simon marry her. Neither are able to deny Isaiah and so are quickly married, right there, over Isaiah's prone and bleeding body, on page 27.
Both Simon and Jane have looked at each other with interest and appreciation this past year, but are concerned about holding the other to such a hasty ceremony, and wish to discuss whether they have any options, but they independently decide to postpone such a discussion until they return to England. In addition, Simon knows that Jane is keeping some secret, that she has closed off and hidden a part of herself. We learn early on that she is not Jane, but Nan, Jane's illegitimate half-sister. Very alike in looks and age, they were raised together and were very close, but Jane died on the ocean voyage to Canada and Nan (nicknamed "Jancy"), fearful of the reception she would get from the unknown Isaiah, who is, after all, no blood relation to her, took Jane's place. Jancy knows she has to tell Simon who she really is; she is mortified about her past, fearful of Simon's disdain when he learns that she is really the English version of "poor white trash"...but she keeps putting it off.
And truly, events move so fast after Isaiah's death that neither of them have the leisure to pursue a decision about the marriage. They must quickly settle Isaiah's affairs and make ready to return to England. The duel is resumed and, while the challenger dies, Simon is gravely injured and nearly dies. Then there are further attempts made on their lives, followed by the rush to Montreal and a subsequent perilous sea voyage. Events move very quickly apace and as Simon and Jancy share their mutual grief, crises and the enforced closeness of their journey, they quickly fall in love, making any doubts about the marriage seem unimportant.
Simon is great beta hero. He's a nice guy, but not a pushover. He loves his family and home and, now that he's had a taste of adventure - sometimes more than he wished for - he is ready to go home. He falls so hard and so quickly for Jancy, and is so tender with her that he might as well have "Great Husband Material" stamped on his forehead. In fact, he may be too perfect, but I found that I didn't mind too much.
Jancy is a more flawed character and has the greatest growth. She was just seventeen when, with the death of her sister, she'd lost the last person who loved her. I found it believable that, ill, alone, and afraid, she'd take her sister's identity. She grew to love Isaiah, and tried so hard to fit in and not bring attention to herself, that she buried her own personality. She fears that her coarse Haskett blood will repulse Simon, but he actually releases her to be herself. He encourages those glimpses of wildness and boldness he sees in her, allowing her to be who she really is for the first time in years.
Yes, this is a Big Secret book, but I completely bought into it. After all they went through together, I came to believe that their love was strong enough to handle whatever came their way, that their love would render the secret unimportant. That is not to say that there is no tension or trouble along the way to their HEA, but they dealt with them in an adult and loving manner.
Fans of the series will appreciate the glimpses of a couple of other Rogues along the way. Hal Beaumont is dispatched to Canada to fetch Simon home due to a family crisis, and his love story with the beautiful actress Blanche, the White Dove of Drury Lane, is finally resolved. Simon is also the particular friend of Dare who was believed killed at Waterloo, but has recently reappeared and we get to spend some time with him and see how he is faring. Beverley's next book is Dare's long-awaited story, and I look forward to seeing how he recovers from all he's been through.
The Rogue's Return has many of my favorite romance novel elements: it is both a cabin and a road romance, it has a yummy beta hero in a love story that manages to be both sweet and hot. If I had to find a flaw, it would be that, after the leisurely ocean voyage, things move too quickly once they arrive in England with the result that the ending is a bit rushed and too neatly wrapped up. But over all, this is a terrific read and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
-- Cheryl Sneed
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