My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Anna Campbell’s Sons of Sin book 3, What a Duke Dares, was one of my anticipated releases of this year. I’m really hooked in this series, so definitely wanted to read Cam’s book as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed. The storyline was going SO WELL for the first 150 pages that I thought finally a 5 star read! The rest, sadly, didn’t even begin to compare.
The Sons of Sin series basically tells the story of 3 friends who are burdened by the truth of their illegitimate birth, the one thing they have in common and made them stick together since they met as children, to fight the judgmental society. In their adulthood, Jonas, Richard and Cam are still together in their struggle, even though they are privileged people of the society. Jonas is rich but he’s scarred both inside out, needing a soft touch in his life. Richard is a baronet and a charming rake. Widows certainly don’t bother about his illegitimacy when they fall into his bed! Cam is the Duke, who is very serious about upholding the moral codes and pristine reputation as his status befits.
The series starts with Jonas’s story, book 1, Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed. Burdened with a facial scar marring his face, Jonas has lived alone for the most part of this life. Oh he has had women, and he’s good too, but they don’t want the lights on! When he’s resorted to spending his life this way, Sidonie enters in it. She finds herself on his doorstep due to a gambling debt from her flighty, selfish elder sister. One look at her, and Jonas knew he doesn’t want to let her go, though he knows, eventually she’ll leave him. So the rogue in question drives a hard bargain. She has to spend seven nights in his bed, all his to do whatever he wants to and he’ll do whatever possible to help her. I found it superb that Sidonie was neither appalled by his looks, nor revolted by his demands. The chemistry was sizzling from the very first moment. Loved how they came to know each-other, through sex and then conversations, trust and finally, love. Seven nights are not enough to fall in love, yet that’s what happened. Later on, trouble and a rather silly misunderstanding threaten to tear them apart but they overcome it together.
The novella in the middle, Days of Rakes and Roses, is the story of Cam’s sister. It was rather forgettable IMO so I won’t be talking about it.
Richard, the jovial rake of the bunch, has his story told in book 2, A Rake’s Midnight Kiss. He wanted to find a family heirloom in hopes of restoring the tattered family reputation, for which he’d always blamed his promiscuous mother. Richard isn’t the son of the late Lord Harmsworth and everyone knows it, though the man had acknowledged him as such, making him the heir to the Harmsworth legacy. He has always battled the rumors and gossips in his own way, being the rake, being fastidious about his clothing and avoiding his mother as much as possible. Then a crazy scheme takes him to this quaint little village, close to Cam’s estate, where he knew the lost Harmsworth jewel is located. He thought that upon acquiring it, he can show it off and his peers would shut their mouths. What he didn’t anticipate was he’d be bested by the most unexpected rival he’d ever encountered, in mind, body and soul; the vicar’s scholarly, spinster daughter, Genevieve. It was a journey for Richard that transforms him completely. He didn’t believe in love or emotions that went beyond lust, boredom or hatred. But after knowing Genevieve, also the humbly living people around the village, Richard yearned to be a better man. Yes, he was masquerading to get inside the vicarage because she held the jewel. I didn’t like this masquerade for a long time, mostly because it was apparent that both Genevieve and Richard was falling for each-other, yet she had no idea who he was, most especially the ‘reason’ for his appearance as an apprentice to her father. But the last chapters of the book gave me hope because those were beautiful, showing just how very much Richard has transformed from a shallow, happy-go-lucky rake to a man who valued the treasure he’d found in a woman, hoping that she feels the same about him, that she’d give him a chance. Genevieve, after the inevitable misunderstanding over his true identity, forgives him after Richard comes clean about his childhood burden. I absolutely loved it when Richard finds out about his real father, resolving the differences he had with his mother over this issue. The villain in the story, one Lord Neville, is ‘taken care of’ by Cam, but his ‘ghost’, in parts, returns to haunt Cam’s story.
Cam, the serious Duke, has his own troubles. But What a Duke Dares with a flashback. Cam in his late-twenties proposing to a girl named Penelope Thorne, who was 19 or so at that time. Cam believed that the match was very suitable, hence he wanted it. What he didn’t know that Penelope, or Pen as she goes by, is in love. With him. She knew Cam doesn’t believe in that particular emotion, so even though it broke her heart, Pen believed she can’t settle for less, most especially to the man she has loved ever since she met him. She rejects his proposal on-spot, never revealing her true emotion. But Cam took it personally, interpreting that she didn’t want him. He was confused as he’d assumed that she did. His ego gets a bashing over it. Cam leaves, knowing Pen Thorne will never be his Duchess, not really sure if he’s supposed to be relieved or hurt.
Much like Jonas and Richard, Cam’s family has been the target of scandal and gossip over his paternity. Cam’s mother... well, she just seemed to love the Rothermere males. Of course, her husband didn’t know at first that his wife is sleeping with his own younger brother. But it didn’t stay a secret for long. So when Cam finally came into this world, no one knew who his real father was. But he had the Rothermere blood in him which made him the heir nonetheless. Moreover, his uncle died young, a result of his wild living, without anymore heir, so in due time Cam becomes the Duke. Though, as a Duke, he can ignore anyone he likes and shake off the gossips that has been swirling since his birth, Cam is still very determined about holding up the moral codes that wouldn’t ruin his pristine reputation. It seems to be his motto, to never to get entangled in a scandal, ever, in his life. So it was a surprise, even for him, when he sought for the hand of Pen Throne, who comes from a family that has been mired in all sorts of scandal.
It’s not like Pen didn’t know about the scandals that dogged the Thorne family since the days of her ancestors, mostly related to loose women or some kinds of financial debts. Pen is very sensitive, observant and undoubtedly smart. But she also knew any kind of relationship with the Rothermere heir would bring her absolute misery, because unfortunately for the Thrones, when they fall in love, they love unconditionally, irrevocably. And for better or for worse, Pen has been in love with Cam. He was Peter’s close friend, which is how he came to visit the Throne family in the first place. When Cam proposed to her in such a callous, authoritative way, as if she should be ecstatic just because a Duke asked for her hand, Pen couldn’t take it. She knew from an earlier conversation of Cam, that she’d eavesdropped on accidentally, that he never wants to fall in love, never wants to get his brain scrambled over this silly emotion. Since then, all of Pen’s dreams about being the Duchess were shattered. She couldn’t live without his love, and due to the scandals still now dogging her family that includes her womanizer father and his own gambling debts, Pen knew it wouldn’t take much long for Cam to begin resenting her. And she couldn’t live with it either.
So after she rejected Cam, Pen had to leave the country for the Continent, thanks to a relative because her b!tchy mother was absolutely horrified by this. She even asked her father to beat Pen so that she relents. Pen has not returned ever since. Cam has gone his own way, living the life of a Duke. And though he’d deny it, Pen’s rejection hurt him. He has never been able to drive that gangly teenage girl out from his mind even after all these years. Not only that, the tales in the gossip sheets of her being a scholar of sorts, and the ‘many men’ she’d enthralled over the years, drenched Cam in utter jealousy. Oh he’d deny that too, but he wasn’t happy about her supposed lifestyle. Not at all.
Then one day, a missive from Peter arrives, who has been languishing somewhere in France. Cam goes to help his buddy, only to find him on his deathbed. Peter, though not a successful man in his life, genuinely loved all his younger siblings; Pen, Harry and Charles. Even now, while he lay dying, Peter is concerned about Pen. And he knows Cam is the only person who can handle his headstrong sister. Their parents have passed on a long time ago, so before he took his last breath, Peter requests Cam to find Pen and bring her back to England, safe and sound. This was something someone like Cam could never ignore. And that is how he finds himself in search of the illusive Pen Thorne, the perpetual thorn at his side, whom he hadn’t seen in the past 9 years, all his Duke-ly responsibilities can go take a hike for a while.
I absolutely loved Pen and Cam’s journey through the continent; every scene containing their banters, the awkwardness and the attraction that never died down. The chemistry was Ah-Meh-Zing, it was THAT good! Pen’s long buried heart started pounding the moment she saw Cam had found her. He also becomes her hero, again, as he had been numerous times when she was a child, by saving her from these goons at the very right moment. For Cam, he was at first annoyed, then angry, all because he thought she’s being the typical Thorne; still bold and headstrong, doing anything that’d cause a scandal. His one task seemed to be keeping Pen Thorne out of trouble, though it didn’t seem like she appreciated his efforts all that much. Of course, Pen was still in love, Cam still thought Pen didn’t care about him, which still hurt his fragile manly ego because, yes, he still cared, even if he won’t acknowledge it to anyone. But boy, she has grown from that gangly teen to this beautiful, statuesque woman, and damn if Cam couldn’t help but notice it!
Trouble for them seemed to start from there because obviously, there came a time when they couldn’t keep their hands off each-other; Cam not thinking beyond the moment, whereas Pen has been a lost cause where he was concerned. It happened when they were ship-bound, almost close to the end of their journey back to England. Cam blunders at the moment of this really hot interlude. He assumed that Pen is not a virgin anymore, so why not ask her to be his... mistress? *tire screeching, car crashing* I actually heard these sounds, trust me for that was NOT what I was expecting from the apparent upholder of all things moral and true! After all, Pen was his best friend’s sister, someone who died requesting him that he take care of her. WTF? Pen, who was grieving Peter’s death, the news brought to her by Cam, becomes instantly angry, and I couldn’t blame her one bit.
But then, the very next disaster in their very colorful journey happens; a shipwreck where Pen is thrown at the ocean. It is then that I think Cam reached the realization just how much Pen means to him. His slow brain grabs the fact that he’s probably going to lose her, and without thinking, he jumps in search of her. He rescues her, barely alive but breathing. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. Though Cam was still reeling from this recent incident, they have already reached somewhere on England’s shore. And because the Great Duke that he is, someone even in that ramshackle inn recognized the mighty Duke of Sedgemoor... with a woman in his arms. Oh boy, talk about fodder for gossip... and scandal! The bane of Cam’s existence, the stuff he avoids at all cost! He knows the news will travel to London and soon. So what the upholder of all things Moral does? He proposes to the Lady because that’s the right thing to do.
Pen is plain horrified by this proposal. It’s like her nightmare coming true. She’s oh-so-tempted, yet she knows this is going to be a disaster. Hell, the marriage is based on a scandal in the making! When his callous proposal doesn’t work, Cam finally tries to have this serious talk that inexorably brings in that long ago rejection. This time, Pen had to come clean about her feelings. She expresses her feelings for him, the pain of unrequited love and why she didn’t think it was a good idea. Why she still doesn’t think she’d make the perfect Duchess for Cam, even though with all her being, she wants to be with him. Cam is a bit stupefied because he genuinely never thought Pen had any feelings for him. I’d say he was blind, but there it was. Cam promises to be a good husband, and asks her to give this a chance, which is how they come to be married ASAP, before they even return to London.
In between, there was this secondary romance blossoming between Pen’s younger brother Harry and the Marquess of Leath’s sister, Sophie. Now, when I said that Lord Neville comes to ‘haunt’ this story, I meant that he was Leath’s uncle. After his ‘death’, Cam and Leath harbor nothing but hostility for each-other due to the scandal it brought on Leath’s family. He’s trying to squelch every bit of it by staying on the straight and narrow, also by arranging a marriage between Sophie and this elderly political peer who still favors him. Leath thinks he’s doing his best for the family, and Sophie, not caring (or noticing?) that she has no intentions of marrying a man old enough to be her father, or at the least, an uncle. Leath wants this match so that his political ambitions are realized, as well as the family name reinstated. And for that, he would do anything. The likes of Harry Thorne has no place in any of Leath’s plans for Sophie’s future.
Harry is the ‘blacksheep’ of the family, a womanizer who seems to be following his father’s footstep with much enthusiasm. But lately, nothing seems to be the same for him after Peter’s death. Sophie happens to Harry, alone, on a chance meeting and his world tilts upside-down. It was love at first sight, for the blonde and petite Sophie won his heart. Harry is a big man, and handsome with the typical Thorne good looks. What I loved about their connection is that it never felt flighty or wrong to me. Harry, from the first moment, knew he wanted Sophie as his wife, not a mistress or a fling. He didn’t even know at that time who she was, and how difficult it’d be for him to gain Leath’s blessing. The fear is realized soon enough. After a few stolen moments, on impulse, Harry decides to face Leath about it, even though Sophie asked him not to. If she knew her brother well, they’d never get a chance. True to this, Leath just laughs at Harry, who had nothing to bring into this marriage but bad reputation. He even sends Sophie away for a while to keep them apart. But the young lovers were holding strong, hoping that a break comes soon enough and they can grab the opportunity.
Sophie and Harry had their own little story within Cam and Pen’s but I wasn’t really bothered by the dual narratives. I really loved reading about those secret meetings, the yearning to be together was so plain that it melt my heart. Then, at this point, Pen returns to London with Cam, as his Duchess. She also meets up with her estranged family. Her own marriage started out less than perfect. Cam still thought she wasn’t a virgin on their wedding night, which caused another small rift between them. Its then I felt Cam’s righteous behavior beginning to grate on my nerves. He’d assume things, not even bothering to use his brain, then act on it, only to realize later that he’d been an a$$. It has happened more than once and I got superbly annoyed at Cam’s activities.
While Sophie was ‘locked away’, Harry was brooding, something that caught Pen’s attentions. Then Harry confesses about his ladylove, and Pen knew trouble is ahead. For one, she knew about Leath and Cam’s enmity. When Harry asks her to use her status to help meet Sophie when she returns in a few days, Pen also knew she had to tread lightly. She knew this was going to be a disaster if Cam ever found out, which he probably will at length, yet she helps the pining lovers to a secret meeting just because she herself knew how it felt to be on the outside. On this meeting though, Harry and Sophie plans on something that does become the ‘big disaster’ of the story, one that rattles Cam and Pen’s already shaky relationship. Leath also becomes involved, wanting to kill Harry because he was sure his innocent sister didn’t know any better; another idiotic assumption IMO as Sophie knew what she wanted and went after it. She seemed matured for her age and helped Harry change his ways in a matter of days. And eloping was, to them, the only option to get away from their condescending families and start over somewhere far away.
Cam is furious when Leath comes knocking at the door, blaming him for everything and his instant suspect is… yup, Pen. She, though afraid, confesses what she’d done. What pissed of me off was the fact that it wasn’t even the elopement that bothered Cam. He was mad that Pen went behind his back, and did something which is now becoming a big scandal that involves Leath no less! The word ‘scandal’ seems to blow anything they have shared in the past few months as a couple out the window. Pen was so scared, she was anticipating Cam leaving her once this disaster is sorted out. But she had to step in since she blamed herself for everything that happened. I couldn’t stand this strong, marvelous woman being so vulnerable, all because she was in love with this presumptuous a$$. Needless to say, even though I knew things would get sorted out in the end, after observing Cam’s instant aloofness that hurts Pen to no end... it just didn’t sit well with me. I was NOT impressed Cam!
I’m not going to comment on the rest. Sophie and Harry do get their HEA. Leath comes out looking like a douche due to an incident. He’s got real bad temper, reminding me of a wounded, grumpy bear. But I still want to read his story, that’s going to be the next in the series, A Scoundrel by Moonlight. 3.5 stars but this has nothing to do with Anna’s writing. I blame Cam for my discontent. *sigh*