Publisher: Ballantine Books
Length: 363 pages
The second installment in the Stud Club trilogy by Tessa Dare takes place far from glitz and glamor of London. Twice Tempted by a Rogue opens with Rhys St. Maur (the hulking Lord Ashworth from the previous novel, One Dance with a Duke) journeying home to visit his ancestral estate--now in ruins.
Tessa Dare's writing is so expressive and rich. So many romances, both historical and contemporary, seem to take setting for granted. Tessa Dare doesn't use shortcuts. She uses language to totally immerse the reader in the world and the characters. It's so vivid, sometimes I feel as if I'm watching a movie rather than reading.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...
He’d been walking through this valley for a long, long time. Trod so far into death’s shadow he’d felt his feet turning to dust in his boots, the breath in his lungs burning acrid as sulfur. A living ghost, that’s what he was. He’d returned from war to a newly inherited barony, and his sole duty now was to haunt the English aristocracy.”There's no question that Rhys has struggled with a death wish, tied to childhood trauma and abuse. And his journey home to visit the ruins of his ancestral estate is both an attempt to gain some form of closure with his past and an acknowledgment that no matter how much he would like to die, fate has other plans for him.
Upon returning, he discovers a childhood acquaintance, Meredith, running the local inn. The daughter of his family's old stable master, she is now a widow. And has shown she is more than willing to become Rhys's lover. But he decides that a way to atone for the harm inflicted upon the village by his family and himself is to rebuild his life. And the first step in that plan involves marrying Meredith.
Rhys is a definitely a tortured hero. Scarred, battered in both body and soul, and rough around the edges. But contrary to type, he's not depressing. His sometimes frustrating acceptance of the bad things that have happened in his past weigh him down, but instead of paralyzing him, they spur him on. Make him even more determined to follow the path he's chosen.
I loved Rhys. He's arrogant, but not to the point of obnoxiousness. And Meredith is a perfect partner for him. She doesn't need him. At all. In his long absence, she's been in charge of running the inn and caring for the village. Virtually without aid. And is used to making her own decisions about pretty much everything. She is practical, but with a wide romantic streak. Which makes her perfect for dealing with a bossy lord who no longer fits well in polite society.
The dialogue between the two is snappy and often playful. It's clear there's no imbalance of power or life experience. And the conversations and situations Rhys and Meredith find themselves in provide some much needed humor to what could easily be a darker novel.
‘“Women find men’s scars irresistible,” she said softly. “We’re drawn to them, to the mystery.” Her fingers found the neat, round entry wound where the ball had passed through is shoulder at Vitoria. She traced the puckered scar, pressed a thumb against it. A hint of humor lightened her voice. “Think of...think of nipples.”
“Ni--” Holy God. “Did you just say...”
“Nipples. Aren’t men hopelessly fascinated with a woman’s nipples?”
He could not have spoken for other men, but suddenly Rhys could think of little else.’
The only thing I found a bit puzzling was the way the Stud Club element was used. Given that membership in the club is the tying element for the trilogy, I expected to see it pop up in the narrative both earlier and with more frequency. The quest for Leo's murderer does continue, but on the very edges of the story and only in the second half of the novel.
Overall, this might be my favorite of the series. There were little pockets of prose that stood out for me as just...gorgeous. There's a clear love of language here that seems lacking in the romances I've read lately. The characters, dialogue, and plot were all excellent, too, but it is the writing itself that makes me stop and sigh with contentment.
My Grade: A-