My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I have been meaning to read Emily Bascom’s The Rogue’s Kiss, book 1 of the Westhavens series, for quite a while now. And now that I’ve read it, have to say I’m quite disappointed. If it wasn’t the writing style, it was the lead characters that drove me bonkers. I never quite connected with Christopher or Kit and Roisin, neither did I feel their attraction to one another.
The setting is in the early 1740s. Roisin, who recently lost her Earl of a father, is in London for a season that basically her mother wants much more than her. Roisin is not really Irish, though they’ve made a home there. Ireland is more her home than England. She loved spending time gallivanting around their big estate with her older brothers. And this, her mother can’t stand. She wants her daughter to have a season, grab a husband and become a true lady, once and for all. But Roisin... well, she’s headstrong and right now, sitting in this shabby old inn, she feels bored and miserable, while her ancient chaperone doses in the other room. So she makes a plan to escape and return to Ireland. Silly I’d say, but that’s how she meets this highwayman, Ewan MacHamilton, who accosts her hired carriage bounding through the lonely road in the middle of the night.
Roisin is scared but she doesn’t sit there and cower. While the drives runs away leaving her alone, she confronts the highwayman. Ewan MacHamilton is pretty famous in these parts. The authorities are even now searching for him, coveting the big price on his head. But all Roisin can see is the bright red hair and a bit of his face, as he’s wearing a half-mask. As she and the mysterious highwayman keep exchanging words, he makes a move to kidnap her and Roisin ends up shooting him on one arm. But she’s also fooled by the clever man the next moment and is taken nonetheless, to his rickety cottage in the woods, where she’s forced to tend to his injuries. Though Roisin is angry at this, and her own foolishness, she’s still attracted to the man. He hasn’t tried to harm her any way that she can blame on him. He seems kind enough, and when she demands after tending to his wounds, that he let her go, the man escorts her to the edge of the wood. Before saying goodbye, he kisses her passionately and then disappears into the night.
After that, Roisin finds help in a nearby inn and back to the care of her guardian, her mother’s brother. She finds a welcoming place at her Uncle’s and a friend in her cousin, Cathy, who is a blonde, bubbly and quite chatty. Roisin herself is pretty with reddish-brown hair and hazel eyes, though she thinks Cathy is more beautiful than her. As she starts attending season, albeit reluctantly, she meets this brooding stranger in a ball, whom Cathy introduced to her as Christopher or Kit, Lord Westhaven. It was pretty apparent that Cathy was enamored of this tall and dark handsome lord but he’s... not so much. Roisin finds him attractive in a distant sort of way but that’s all, though for an instant he seemed disturbingly familiar. But he doesn’t have bright red hair. Why would a peer of the realm become a thug, a highwayman for that matter? So Roisin lets it go.
Then we find Kit contemplating Roisin, when the news reaches to them that Ewan MacHamilton has been captured by the authorities. Kit runs out as fast as he could to visit... James, his younger brother, who is now awaiting his fate at Newgate. When two brothers finally met, it’s revealed that James is, indeed, the famed highwayman with red hair. And he’s destined to die by hanging. It’s also revealed that when their father left them in a huge debt, it was the risk-taker James’ idea to become a highwayman to solve their financial problems. Kit didn’t like this, but he couldn’t stop him either. And now it seems, James is going to sow what he reaped. And even though he didn’t really harm, maim or killed anyone, he’s still pretty famous for his exploits. It was also apparent that he’s eager to die, rather than help Kit do something. I didn’t know what to think, and why James was SO EAGER for Kit to carry along with Westhaven line, while he perishes. And he specifically asks Kit to bring Roisin so that he can see her. Kit though, wants to help out. He tries to talking to the people related to this case, but it turns out Roisin’s uncle has friends everywhere. And because Roisin’s kidnapping is a much talked about event, the judge, who was once Kit’s father’s friend, refuses to help. Kit couldn’t exactly divulge why he wanted to help this thug, and he leaves with a heavy heart, knowing he can’t do anything to save his brother. Personally, I thought Kit didn’t do enough to save James. He just gave up.
It is then that I was also thinking that if James is Ewan, then he must be the one who kissed Roisin. And now he’s going to be hanged? WTF? Roisin, who has been daydreaming about the mysterious highwayman, is unhappy about the outcome. She didn’t want him to hang, but what can she do to prevent it? (Maybe talk to the uncle?) Anyway, it was sure that James was going to hang nonetheless, which happens at Tyburn, while Kit, Roisin and Cathy looked on with thousand other spectators. I was basically in shock and thinking, if the author wanted James to kiss Roisin, who still has a tendre for him, then why kill him? I even hoped that maybe, just maybe we’ll find that James has escaped somehow. Unfortunately, when I find Kit and his manservant, John, standing at James’ grave, my hopes were crushed.
James is buried at Oakridge, their family estate. Kit drowns himself in liquor and his mistress, a maidservant of the house, who was also John’s younger sister, in sorrow. But we don’t get to know about all these until much later, when he has decided to honor her brother’s wishes; by marrying for money to save Oakridge, his primary choice being Lady Roisin whom he found attractive enough. She had money, so why not? Then he stops by at Roisin’s uncle’s and invites her to Oakridge to have a little chat. Cathy is very happy, thinking Kit needs this intervention. It was rumored that James Westhaven has very recently passed away in an accident, so naturally Kit needed some diversions from his grief. And no, no one but Kit and John knew of James’ nightly activities at that point.
When he returns, we find said maid, Annette, making a move towards him, though Kit rebuffs her advances. She’s surprised. You see, John and she used to be from a good family with money. But when they fell on hard times, with their father leaving them destitute and fleeing the country, John was forced to work. Same happened to Anne. But apparently she was still unused to this lifestyle when once, she had the best of everything. Kit let most of their servants go due to financial problems. It was only John, Annette and the cook maintaining the house. Nevertheless, I despise any hero who sleeps with the maids of their home. It says something about their characters. After that, naturally, I couldn’t quite bring myself to like Kit. He was also very callous about breaking it off with Annette, now that he has a bigger fish to fry, with the universal ‘I never promised you anything more’ crap. He needs virginity and money in his wife, and Annette had none of those so she’s out of the question. This angers Annette, and I couldn’t really blame her. Very predictably, she becomes the proverbial evil mistress who was going to wreck havoc on Kit and Roisin’s life.
I was still not sure where things were going, and didn’t like the fact that the author would make the heroine fall for one guy, then make another the hero of the story. Also, as mentioned earlier, I never quite saw the attraction between Roisin and Kit. They have this awkward conversation, which didn’t surprise me, when Roisin reaches Oakridge. Kit proposes to her, being bluntly honest about needing her money. I found it to be one of the most callous proposals out there. And I didn’t like how Kit insults Cathy as Roisin’s ‘twittering cousin’, when he KNEW that the girl had feelings for him. He plainly didn’t care which was very insensitive. He makes it very clear that he wants Roisin, not Cathy. Though Roisin felt no big urgency, she still gives her consent. As promised by Kit, she can live her life as she wishes. Besides, Oakridge is very beautiful and reminds her of her home in Ireland.
When she returns, Cathy is hurt and enraged, which was justifiable, though Roisin’s aunt and uncle are happy for her. Oddly enough, neither Roisin’s mother nor her brothers, attend the wedding. I found it weird that the mother completes her ‘duty’ by sending her blessings through a letter! :/ In that regard, we never met Roisin’s family in the story. After the wedding, Roisin retires to Oakridge, her new ‘home’ with a husband who seems not to know what to do with her. This moment, he’s kissing her like his life depends on it, the next he’s cold and aloof as if he can’t stand the sight of her. Needless to say, it leaves her exasperated and hurt because she was beginning to find Kit’s kisses drugging. And though she still mourned the mysterious highwayman’s untimely demise, Roisin knew she had to move on with her life. But still, at times, she couldn’t help but be confused about her reaction to Kit’s kisses and touches...
Kit was ever the confused guy. He wanted Roisin, but was scared about the ‘family secret’ regarding James. He knew Roisin was enamored of Ewan MacHamilton but I never saw any reaction from him until at the very end of the story. He wanted her alright but he thought it’d be the best for them both to not have the marriage consummated. He made sure Roisin knew of it when he proposed, to which, she, at first, acceded. But now, both are frustrated about this non-consummation pact.
Here, I have to mention that Kit never got rid of Annette and I DID NOT like it. His excuse was he was doing a favor to his close friend, John. If he felt so much for his ‘best friend’ then why make the girl his mistress, even if she was the one initiated it. I mean WTF? Having the ex-mistress under the same roof with the new bride? It just made Kit doubly unlikable to me. I felt he was just... again, callous to the core. I have to clarify also, that though I couldn’t blame Annette for her anger towards Kit, I wasn’t fond of her either. She turns out to be pretty vengeful by keeping on making rash comments with innuendoes to rile Roisin up, who up until now, was oblivious to their past relationship. Then she slips very intentionally and the truth slaps Roisin hard on her face, just.like.that. Roisin is angry at Annette’s sarcastic replies, something a servant aught never even think of while talking to her mistress. When she confronts Kit, he confirms her suspicion without one ounce of remorse that Annette was his mistress up until the day he went to propose to Roisin.
I wish Roisin was as disgusted and frustrated as I was about this whole mess. When she demands Annette to be removed from the house, Kit flatly refuses with the same excuse about doing a favor to John. I mean really? REALLY? Unfortunately for Roisin, she herself seemed confused about what to do in this situation. When Kit refuses to anything, she takes it up on herself to warn Annette which ends up in a cat fight. While I was agape at what was happening, John and Kit reach there to break them off. And you’d think after that Kit would get rid of the girl? But Nooooooooo. He just gives her a few days off and actually scolds Roisin for not ‘acting like a lady’! Huh? So what was she supposed to do, sit there demurely in a ‘lady-like fashion’ while his mistress clawed her bloody? I mean C’MON weakling, grow a pair! Kit was such a weak-willed guy that I was hoping that this farce will end soon for I could care less what happened to them after that.
But after this incident, Annette is more than determined to do something to harm both Kit and Roisin, and it’s not only their marriage. She goes in search of something shady that can do the trick for her easily. She had always heard those rumors about James Westhaven... What is Kit hiding? Why were all of James’ portraits taken down right before his marriage? Why does he not show James’ portrait to Roisin? Most importantly, what is the meaning of all these?
She does make trouble once again by giving Roisin the info on James’ portraits and where they can be found. It was right after when she and Kit finally consummate their marriage after much push and pull. She saw something on Kit’s body that completely threw her off and she needed the answer. Why does he refuse to show her his beloved brother’s pictures? I can only say that, afterwards, it was time for Kit to come clean. Feeling hurt, betrayed, Roisin leaves Kit that day, while Annette pats herself on the back for a work well done. *sigh*
After Roisin leaves, Annette brags about herself to John, not knowing he knew much more about Kit than she ever did. When Kit is informed of her misdeeds, FINALLY he grows a pair and throws Annette out. John, as a brother, was a failure. He shows his loyalty to Kit and relieved that Annette’s finally gone! Even then, I couldn’t bring myself to entirely hate Annette. Yes, she did wrong but it wasn’t entirely her fault. Kit was no saint. Either way, it was already too late as her information to the authorities leads to Kit’s arrest as an accomplice to Ewan MacHamilton. Then it was up to Roisin to save her erstwhile husband from a sure death penalty...
Personally, at that point, I was just finishing up. You could see why I didn’t like this one all that much. I didn’t care for Kit and wished Roisin was stronger. The debut novel vibe showed I guess. The next book, Major Westhaven’s Unwilling Ward, is of Roisin-Kit’s son, Daniel’s. I hope that one’s better though. 3 stars.