My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Okay, is it only me? I’m increasingly having this feeling that the Maiden Lane books are becoming shorter by installment. Yes, I’m a little bit unhappy about it, only because I’m such a fan of the series that I end up feeling there could’ve been more. Lady Phoebe and Capt. Trevillion’s book, Dearest Rogue, was one of the most anticipated books in the series, both characters being secondary ones for a long time.
Now, this being #8 in the series, it’s going to be difficult to do my usual recap of the series. I know it’s crazy but I think the stories are intertwined, at this point by characters, so if you don’t know about them, the review might feel confusing...
Maiden Lane originally was based in St. Giles and revolved around a shadowy character with Harlequin costume and a mask to protect his identity; who went by the name of The Ghost of St. Giles. He was a legend among the locals; some thought him a friend, while others thought him the bad guy. But no one really knew who he was and what the hell he was doing, running in the dark alleyways of St. Giles every night, evading the law enforcement send out to catch him. The series also started with 4 Makepeace siblings (out of 6, their eldest brother and sister were never really part of this series in anyway but by mention) Temperance, Asa, Silence and Winter. Even Asa was a pretty vague character who also made a few appearances in different installments, alluding to the fact that he lives a secret life but his siblings are unaware of anything about his life.
The siblings used to run an orphanage badly in need of financial help, passed down to them by their deceased sire. That was about to change soon, one night, in book 1 Wicked Intentions, when Temperance met Lazarus, Lord Caire, who was on the trail of The Ghost, wanting revenge for a wrongdoing. As they both found each-other, Lazarus’ mother, the dowager, helped them finding patronage for the Orphanage from the peers who wished to help. That’s how we come to know about Lady Hero, the sister of the Duke of Wakefield, Maximus. Hero gets her HEA in book 2, Notorious Pleasures. with Lord Griffin Reading. Lady Phoebe was introduced as Hero and Maximus’ youngest, gradually going blind, sister.
On the course of the series, we’re introduced to some more great characters such as Charming Mickey, the river pirate, who falls hard for Silence in book 3, Scandalous Desires. We’re also introduced to widowed Lady Isabelle in book 4, Thief of Shadows who becomes the unexpected pair to Winter. He was then, after both his sister’s wedding, running the orphanage all by himself. At that point, we also get to the bottom of this Ghost phenomena as Winter’s secret identity is revealed (imagine my surprise!). When he and Lady Isabelle marry, he gives up the dangerous activities, sort of ending the plot vein for the Makepeace siblings. At least for then. But Godric, Lazarus’s good friend, who was also introduced before, surprises us again in book 5, Lord of Darkness.
Gordic St. John was a reclusive scholar who was still mourning the passing of his wife, seemingly his one true love. He was in such a state that Lazurus worried for him. What Lazarus didn’t know that Godric has his secrets too and someday that’ll lead Lord Griffin to sort of blackmail him. Griffin had a proposal for him; Godric must marry Lady Margaret, Griffin’s sister and save her from certain ruin or else his secret identity as the Ghost would be revealed........ Er, wait a min., Godric is also one of the Ghosts? How many Ghosts do we have exactly?, was my question! :/
While Godric and Margaret deal with the differences in their seemingly forced and unwanted marriage, we move onto Maximus’ story (in book 6, Duke of Midnight) that has also been building since he so vehemently opposed to Hero’s relationship with Griffin. After he slapped her so unexpectedly, everyone thought him to be some slimebag. I just thought, well, that guy needs some thrashing with love, he’s wounded too tight. I need some backstory, and the ‘weapon’ who’ll thrash him into submission. Thankfully, the airheaded Lady Penelope, a patron of the Orphanage, had a poor relation. She was also the Lady’s companion and her name was Artemis Greaves. Maximus, ever the snob, even made a derogatory she-being-so-plain-that-she-fades-into-the-wallpaper-type comment. Obviously, our uppity Duke hadn’t seen it coming for sure. He fell so hard for her that he didn’t even know where to look! Artemis became the center of Maximus’ life, while she finally found someone she can rely on and love.
Artemis’ twin brother Apollo, Viscount Blackthorne, was in a mental asylum for a long time. A horrible place where he was put after he was charged for a triple murder that he’d never committed. When it was either hang or mental asylum, Penelope’s father, the Earl, who was their sole influential relative at the moment, thought he’s doing them a favor by arranging the later. But both Apollo, and Artemis, knew it wasn’t the case. Yes, he was alive but barely conscious, everyday life slipping away from him. He also became mute after he was badly beaten by a sleazebag guard. Artemis was desperate to save him, but she had no one to turn to... until Maximus decides to step in. Did I mention that he’s also a Ghost? Guess I didn’t, but there it was! The last Ghost of St. Giles as Godric also retired after his marriage to Margaret. Maximus had his own reasons that have nothing and everything to do with him being a Duke. And his getup and training as the Ghost came handy while rescuing Apollo, making him a hero in Artemis’ eyes.
After Apollo was rescued, he was secretly being taken care of since the murder charge was still hanging on his head. He needed to find his own place in the world, even if under a false name and avenge the man who put him in this miserable existence. That’s what we find him doing in his book, #7 Darling Beast. Harte’s Folly, a pleasure garden owned by the famous Mr. Harte, was burned down a year ago. Harte being Asa—Er, huh? WOW! Now we’re talking!—and him knowing Apollo for a long time (really?! I didn’t know that!), decides to give Apollo a chance in restoring the burned-to-the-ground gardens of the place. Under a false identity of course. There, Apollo meets the once superbly famous comic actress, Lily and finds that fate has a completely different plan for him than what he’d originally anticipated.
I wouldn’t have thought that the Dragoon Captain, who was introduced in a much earlier installment, who also used to haunt the St. Giles with his troops in search of the elusive Ghost, would actually be an important part of the series. But Capt. James Trevillion gradually became just that by the end of book 6 when he injured himself badly while helping said Ghost. Trevillion had no idea about the multiple ex-Ghosts (LOL) but as the fate would have it, he struck an unexpected camaraderie with the currently active Ghost (Maximus, not Godric or Winter) he’d been ordered to find and arrest for all his supposed crimes. Later, Trevillion would know everything. After that fateful incident that rendered him lame, he’d have another job after finding himself forced to resign his post. A lame officer had no place in the Army, Trevillion knew it well. But Maximus was thankful for all his help in his quest for vengeance of another enemy, the murderer of his parents. Hence Trevillion was appointed as the bodyguard of Lady Phoebe. Be with her, protect her, take care of her... almost 24/7.
At first, Phoebe wasn’t amused about the constant specter, as Trevillion seemed to her with his surly-self, hovering over and around her all the freakin’ time. Watching her since book 2 has been like watching a younger sister growing up. She, I initially thought, would always be the secondary character who’s seen a bit here and there but never really having a voice or a story of her own. But of course I should’ve known that the author being so awesome wouldn’t let it happen to her. Phoebe seemed weak in the strong presence of her overprotective elder brother and shadowed by her sensitive and beautiful elder sister. But she grew up and we found ourselves with this jolly young girl who’s not only smart but has a wonderful sense of humor. Who wouldn’t let the one serious obstacle that life has saddled her with wear her down. I’ve always been affectionate towards her, hoping that someday, much like her siblings, she’d find her true love.
Now, Trevillion? Did it ever cross my mind that he’d be Phoebe’s match? Ummm, nope. I initially thought it’d be someone else... but that doesn’t matter anymore. Trevillion wasn’t anywhere near Phoebe or would’ve been unless fate played its cards so harshly. They were so worlds apart that I wouldn’t have thought about their paths crossing, let alone falling in love!
Trevillion, the cynical grumpy old curmudgeon, knew that Phoebe finds him annoying. Seriously annoying. But tell that to his poor heart that has had itself set on her since the day he’d taken over this job. He knows very well nothing would come of it, that he’s not worthy of her in anyway. He’s too jaded, too old, too lame, too... everything that Phoebe’s not. Yet he’d do anything to protect her from harm and throughout the story, Trevillion, or James, proves this to us over and over again.
Phoebe, on the other hand, began to turn around after a while when she actually started communicating with him, and finding that he’s not as dry as the Sahara as she initially thought him to be. Trevillion can actually play the flirt, if and/or when his mood strikes him. What Phoebe didn’t know that by that time James had been the victim of his unruly heart, couldn’t stop bantering with her even if his life depended on it! :p I always thought James to be much, much older, like in his mid to late 40s. Phoebe would’ve seemed too young but thankfully that didn’t turn out to be true. It was James’ experiences of life that turned him so cynical, which in turn made him sound like an world-weary man. But he was all but 33 to Phoebe’s 21, not a big difference considering the era.
When threats suddenly start coming Phoebe’s way, with a kidnapping attempt or two, is when things begin to grow interesting. Maximus, at first, thought it must be some lord who wanted a piece of his land and so, concocted a plan to kidnap Phoebe to marry off to his son. When that individual suddenly dies, our Duke thought the danger has passed. But James wasn’t so convinced. There was no greater pain or fear in him than the fact that he’s incapable of protecting her completely; that his lameness would always be a hindrance no matter what.
On top of that, Malcolm McLeish begins paying court to Phoebe, which puts James in a grumpier mood. Poor guy. *sigh* Malcolm is one of the architects of Harte’s Folly, was introduced in book 7. He seemed quite besotted with Phoebe, something I had no idea about. But the woman is question had no interest in Mr. McLeish no matter how charming or young he might’ve been. By that time, she had made a startling discovery of her own, which includes her very unexpected companionship with her bodyguard. It’s that not only she likes to banter with him but also, she actually likes it so much that she wants him to be with her always. It seems that she simply wants him in a way that no man has ever made her feel. How ironic! Phoebe then becomes a little desperate to let James know how she feels, even going as far as to give him the chance to demonstrate his own when they’re lonely. Phoebe also convinces the grouch to wear a scent she had made only for him so that she can recognize his presence when he’s anywhere near her. It was such a wonderful scene the day she realized James, who never wore scent of any kind in his life, started wearing the same just for her. Phoebe can’t be happier as the scent of sandalwood and bergamot gradually becomes her sanctuary, reminding her that she’d be safe there come what may.
In the meantime, we meet a new character (because I couldn’t remember her from any other installment); one Miss Eve Dinwoody with a bit of a mysterious past. Someone who lives alone, only with a black French-Creole servant for a butler and his wife for her cook. Not only that, as she befriends Phoebe, garnering much scrutiny from James in the process. It’s also revealed that both McLeish and the Duke of Montgomery, Valentine Napier, pay her call often. Phoebe met Eve on a meeting of the Orphanage and was invited to a tea party. She knew Maximus wouldn’t let her go, so she manages to convince her bodyguard (oh, she had him wrapped around her little fingers) and attends said party. James begin to suspect that Eve has an ulterior motive to make Phoebe’s acquaintance, which we find later to be true, and something she’s not proud of. Maybe she was even forced to do it on someone’s behalf. What and who that might be?
Then there’s another kidnapping attempt at the Harte’s Folly, where Phoebe goes at the invitation of McLeish. This time, James comes face to face with his ultimate fear; of not being able to protect Phoebe due to his own shortcomings. It shakes him so much that he instantly resigns from his post. But Phoebe won’t have any of it. She tries to convince James in her own innocent ways why she needs him to be near, and though after those kisses, James would’ve given in, he resists and leaves anyway... only to find a few days later that this time, Phoebe has been kidnapped for real!
From there, the story takes a different turn for the both of them; only this time it’s about self-discovery as well as discovering each-other. James tracks down the kidnappers pretty soon with the help of Maximus’ men. But he also decides that he doesn’t trust anyone but himself to take care of Phoebe. So, once she’s rescued, James promptly journeys to Cornwall, to his own home. A home he was force to leave some 10yrs. ago after an incident and hadn’t been back ever since. But now is not the time to dwell on that. He needs to keep Phoebe safe at any cost, and no one in London knew from where Capt. James Trevillion originally hailed. That should buy them some time, and for Maximus to dig deeper into this whole business.
At Cornwall, we meet James’ family. This sojourn turns out to be a wonderful thing for them both. Phoebe quickly becomes a popular with James’ niece and her mother, his slow-witted elder sister Dolly. After a while, she even somewhat wins out the grumpy Mr. Trevellion, James’ father. It also quickly becomes obvious exactly why James had to leave. But Phoebe didn’t care. She was coming to love this place and the people she’d just met. But most of all, she and James had gotten so close in this journey that there was no hiding their feelings for each-other. James discovered that he doesn’t have to live a cold, lonely life devoid of light, while Phoebe becomes breathless knowing her grumpy old bodyguard can not only laugh and crack jokes, but also can make love like a pro. Oooh! ;) She never would’ve thought something so wonderful like love would happen to her, let alone knowing her man so intimately! By then, James had already decided he’s going to make her his wife if she’ll have him, The Duke of Wakefield can go take a hike.
James... yes I love calling him James though I don’t know why he more often than not was called Trevillion throughout the story. It kinda annoyed me since James (though not Jamie :/) is such a hot, able name that befits the man himself.
And so it happens, in the end we find some shocking revelations, though I’m not sure what was more shocking— Eve turning out to be Montgomery’s sister rather than his lover, or that McLeish is a closeted gay. What didn’t surprise me at all was The Duke of Montgomery himself. That guy is never up to any good. And if you know him from the previous installments, you’ll know that he looks like an angel with blonde locks and blue eyes to die for. He has a boyish face and charming smile but inside, everything indicates that he’s a very different man. There’s a darkness there that few people has seen, and wouldn’t want a repeat. That what people see is more of a façade than anything else. Eve had certainly given me plenty to think of! Montgomery is very volatile, whimsical and can go to extreme lengths when he’s thwarted from something he’d set his mind on; be it the conquest of the world or just plain ol’ England. God knows what’s going to happen in his book!
For James and Phoebe, the story was pretty straightforward without any frustrating moments. My only complaint was the fact that it seemed to end too soon. I would’ve loved to see more of them together TBH. James turned out to the kind of hero one can admire and have hots for (bonus ;)). Phoebe on the other hand was a joy to read. I couldn’t have been happier for these two when the story finished. 4 stars.
PS: I generally never read the excerpt of the next book but this time, I just couldn’t help the temptation. Eve and Asa... Let me tell you that I wish November would come sooner!