My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Another disappointing installment in Anna Cambell’s Sons of Sin series, A Scoundrel by Moonlight started out rather well. I was rooting for the Marquess of Leath even after his disastrous intro in the previous installments and wanted to know more about him. Unfortunately, Nell Trim, the h, was the one who ruined it for me pretty much.
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. We’ve read their stories in the previous installments where each of them found love in the women they came to adore.
In Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed, dark and scarred Jonas Merrick used to hide away in his gothic castle and had a scandalous reputation as a prolific gambler and a lady’s man. When Sidonie comes to his doorstep in hopes to help her flighty sister off a gambling debt held by Jonas, 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. In the end, that bargain was all they needed as Jonas found love with Sidonie.
In book 2, A Rake’s Midnight Kiss, a connoisseur of latest fashion and the darling of the Ton, the charming rake Richard Harmsworth finds himself in a dilemma. He was tired of all the gossip surrounding his birth, and to save the tattered family reputation, he needed to find the Harmsworth family jewel. It could’ve been also that he was bored with everything, so this crazy scheme takes him to this quaint little village and the doorstep of the vicar; a quest, completed with a masquerade, proved nothing but trouble. Little did he know he was going in for his downfall... by love. Genevieve, the vicar’s brilliant and beautiful daughter steals Richard’s heart right then and there. But they didn’t have it easy by any means when Genevieve’s suitor, an elderly peer named Neville Fairbrother, begins to become the source of all their troubles. When Neville proves to be a worm of the lowest kind and tries to rape Genevieve to force her hand, Richard saves her. All these were taking place near Camden Rothermere, the Duke of Sedgemoor’s country estate so he steps in to help Richard and Genevieve. It’s then Neville knew that his time in this world has come to an end because all his dirty deeds will be made public. He decides to end his life by committing suicide, though his crony, Greengrass escapes.
In What a Duke Dares, book 3, the serious Duke was finally going to meet his match, or so I thought. But he’d known Penelope Thorne for a long time as her eldest brother, Peter, was his close friend. Though he wanted to marry Pen and proposed, she refused because she knew Cam didn’t love her, while she was head-other-heels in love with him. A life of resentment was something Pen didn’t want, and so she left for the. 12 yrs. later, Cam had promised Peter on his deathbed that he’d find Pen and bring her back to England. When they meet again, it was a clash of emotions, a game of highly attuned chemistry between two people who had wanted each-other for a long time. Cam didn’t believe in love due to the mockery of love that he’d witnessed between his parents. But he wanted Pen and when they end up kissing, he proposes her to be his mistress… Er, seriously Duke? She’s your best friend’s sister and that’s the best you got just because you thought she’s not young and virginal enough to marry? *SMH*
Of course, Pen wasn’t young anymore but she was a virgin and was seriously angry at Cam and his blasted arrogance. I mean yah the snotty duke hadn’t seen it coming. But then, their adventure (or misadventure) finally lands on the shores of England, where they’re forced to marry to save Pen’s reputation. Talk about misery for that girl whom I absolutely adored from the beginning. Cam, on the other hand, was making me wanna throw my reader on the wall. It was ruined due to Cam’s presumptuous behavior. And he was ever so suspicious of Pen because of her own family’s not-so-stellar reputation. That suspicion got to a point that I couldn’t take it anymore! There was a secondary romance between Pen’s younger, wastrel of a brother Harry and Leath’s sister, Sophie. That was another mess waiting to happen. Though the young couple was crazy in love, Leath didn’t care neither for Harry nor his family. And though Pen wanted to help his brother, she also knew Cam and Leath were at the odds of the worst kind. They were enemies and any help would only serve to ruin his trust. Even then, Pen helps the lovelorn couple. When, seeing the opportunity the young lovers elope, Leath shows up at Cam’s doorstep, strongly accusing him.
Unsurprisingly, when Pen confesses, Cam hurts her with his cold and cutting remarks once again... It takes one of Leath’s punch meant for Harry accidentally landing on Pen, and to witness her unconscious form on the floor for Cam to believe that he actually loves his wife! Don’t believe it? Believe it! So yah, I was absolutely not impressed by his words of love and devotion. Leath, on the other hand, was horrified by what he’d done! It served him right to be so temperamental, acting out rashly. But gradually, this incident, and Sophie-Harry’s marriage, help them somehow overcome their differences and to try and start a new chapter.
I wanted to recount a bit of the story since all the books were interconnected thru the characters. You now know why Leath or James Fairbrothers’ character didn’t start out all so well. When I read him to be a seducer in the blurb of his book, I just about died laughing. Leath, a seducer? Couldn’t have been far from the truth. He always seemed, whatever we’ve seen of him throughout the series, like a wounded bear who need relaxation and affection. He was too much of a perfectionist in everything; be it living his own life or his high aspiration in politics and drove himself hard. He also loved being in control and plan things his way to get his desired result. Then he also seemed to have a temper... No wonder I was intrigued!
When I wrote in my pre-review comment of A Scoundrel by Moonlight that Nell Trim needs to thrash James with love, I meant it. He needed love to feel what Harry and Sophie was feeling. Well, thrash him she did, but not with love but rejection, over and over and over and over again. This is definitely was not what I wanted for James! Not at all.
James Fairbrother had been groomed to become the ‘perfect’ marquess to carry on the Fairbrother family name. He’s probably the most unlikely Sons of Sin because there’s nothing scandalous or shameful either about or surrounding his birth. He’s very much legitimate. James’ father was a brilliant man. The family have always been politically ambitious but his father couldn’t make it to the highly sought after rank of the Prime Minister before his death. His mother was also the same, so after her husband’s passing, James was brought up with his goals for life; the perfect personality, education, poise and reputation of a future Prime Minister. It’s her dream and James would have to make it come true.
James has always maintained his spotless reputation. Even his liaisons with OWs were few and far between, with complete discretion and with women who knew not to expect more because the Marquess of Leath can’t just up and marry anyone. His every move for his future had been thoughtfully planned. Or so it had been before the bane of his existence, the one shame of their family, his ne’er-do-well uncle Neville had committed suicide. Not only that, with his death, all his misdeeds came into light and put Fairbrother name to shame, their pristine reputation to shambles. To make matters worse, Sophie went and eloped with another good-for-nothing wastrel when he’d planned her marriage to a very close political ally, Lord Desborough, who was probably old enough to be Sophie’s uncle, if not father. But James only saw how the match will further his own political career. Sophie wasn’t at all happy, though she would’ve done her duty hadn’t she met Harry. All these and James’ very sarcastic and cruel treatment of Harry made me doubtful about him.
Surprisingly enough, in his book, I saw a very different ma; a James that the world rarely sees because he always maintains that cold and distant façade. People are more or less scared of his temper; no one wants to deal with that. But James in private isn’t like that. When the story opens up, James just arrived at his country estate, Alloway Chase, to stay a while, until all that recent scandals die down. He isn’t happy because he loves the power he has when he’s at the House of Lords, parrying with a fellow politician. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much to be done in that regard.
We then found a James who absolutely adores his ailing mother and worries over her ill health. This is also where he meets Nell Trim, her mother’s companion. Nell is beautiful, soft spoken and kind hearted. James could see it all. He also finds himself attracted to her, though James lives by the rule to never to associate with ones’ servants, ever! He’s simply not that type. Yet, why does Nell Trim makes him think things that he shouldn’t be thinking about a servant?
Nell, on the other hand, had an ulterior motive in seeking out work at Alloway Chase; a vengeful one at that. Her younger half-sister, Dorothy, died a couple of months ago in childbirth, the child also dying with her. She was seduced by someone as Dorothy called ‘The Marquess of Leath’ with sweet words and promises, who later simply laughed at her face when she informed that she was pregnant. The man in question also showed a diary detailing all his debaucheries which spoke volume of his revolting character. It seemed seducing unsuspecting, innocent country maids is his hobby. In her deathbed, Dorothy urged Nell to avenge her death. Nell is an orphan; her father was in the army who died in service. Her mother married this elderly scholar whom she has come to know as a replacement father. After her passing, Nell brought up Dorothy. Both sisters were beautiful if I remember correctly but Nell never married, for what I assumed, was due to her lack of dowry? That part about why she remained unmarried was a little vague. In fact, Nell’s life before her presence at Alloway Chase was very vague. Even her step-father was only mentioned a few times in the story but was never seen or heard, neither did we know his reaction to Dorothy’s death and beyond. Nell never revisited her home.
Anyhoo, moving on... So Nell had been angry. Even if Dorothy was young and flightly, she didn’t deserve such a death at only 18. As a part of her plan, Nell sought work here. Luckily enough, she got an entrance as a maid. But Nell is no housemaid. She was given an education and her speech was nothing like that of a servant. James’ mother noticed it too. She also found her very intelligent and pleasant, so, very soon, Nell was promoted as her companion. Nell likes the Dowager Countess a lot so she’s a bit worried over this charade she’s playing at; something that’ll unravel sooner or later and hurt her. But she can’t veer away from her true goal, no matter how darkly good-looking the rogue in question is. Besides Nell knew she had to wait for James to visit this house if she had to get a hold of that blasted diary. Surely no seducer would leave that type of ‘trophy’ just anywhere. Nell would retrieve it, then take it to Leath’s known enemy, The Duke of Sedgemoor and destroy him!
What happens next, when James comes to ‘rusticate’ for a couple of months, is pretty predictable. He falls head over heels for his mother’s beautiful companion, whom he’d caught snooping about his bedchamber (you can guess why, though Poor James had no idea). He’s that type of man, honorable and true and when he falls, he just does. There’s no rhythm or rhyme to it. A few stolen kisses and fondling only whet the man’s appetite, though the companion in question is reluctant. In Nell’s mind, she thinks she should be disgusted, yet James’ kisses and caresses only fuels her long buried passion. She tries to reason a lot with herself but ultimately, after spending more time with him, seeing him taking care of his mother and being gracious to the servants and his tenants, Nell’s hatred begins to transform into at first, liking and respect... then, into something much deeper. She couldn’t even believe that this is the same man who’d treated Dorothy, and if the diary’s contents were correct, many other innocent girls so cruelly! She begins to become attached to James, knowing this might end in heartbreak anyway, even if he’s not the same person Dorothy had accused.
As stated above, James was simply mad about Nell. No questions asked. At that point, he knew he can’t marry her due to his status and political aspirations. So the only path open was to make her his mistress. At one point, Nell also consents to that proposal. She also knew that marriage is out of question, and he has promised to take care of her always (in Nell’s mind, as long as their liaison lasts), so she’d take whatever she can of him. Can’t say I was happy about this virgin-in-heat decision of Nell since she had no idea what she’s consenting into by wanting to become the mistress of a peer. But at that time, nothing could’ve stopped them, so she leaves the Dowager’s employ with an excuse and James sets her up in a faraway cottage with all the provisions and luxury they might need for their tryst.
In the middle of the story, what that sleazy Greengrass had been doing is revealed; also the fact that he had the elusive diary in his possession. It was also clear as the daylight by then as to who was the real seducer and why he’d taken James’ name when he did his dirty deed. Neville Fairbrother was a vile man and would’ve done anything to ruin James’ reputation out of spite. After his death, when the letters from unknown women started coming in, James knew he’s in a big trouble. To cover up his uncle’s sordid affairs, he had been paying off these women. He felt sorrow as most of these women had illegitimate children from that association and had no one else to turn to. They were simply desperate and James had a plan to help them as long as he could, without divulging the fact that he’s not the man who’d ruined them. Now Greengrass was mad about Neville’s demise but he wasn’t far above using this whole situation to his own gain; blackmail James for a hefty some in exchange of the diary.
Back to James and Nell’s tryst. I’ve nothing to comment on their first time together but things started going downhill the very next day. I have NO IDEA why would James bring those freakin’ letters when he was coming to visit Nell! It was way too convenient IMO to create a stupid misunderstanding, seeing he never explained to her about his uncle’s misdeeds. Talking would’ve solved things but Nell, on seventh haven from a night full of sex, was already addle-brained. She finds his bag, which I might add was conveniently open so that she couldn’t resist a pick inside. She sees the letters and et voila, comes to the conclusion that James had all along been the vile seducer she’d been looking for! Next she goes on auto-pilot, grabs the letters and runs towards Sedgemoor’s place to see her original plan thru. Nothing that they shared previously, not the tenderness and consideration that James had shown so far mattered. All simply went out of her mind.
*someone shoot me now*
If you think that was bad, you still don’t know it all. At Cam’s, Nell is welcomed but by then he and James had come to an unexpected but strong understanding, so Cam holds back taking any action. Instead, he informs James of the latest development. James, on the other hand, was going nuts. He knew about Dorothy and when he couldn’t find the letters, instantly understood what had happened. When, at Cam’s, he tries to explain to Nell, first she wouldn’t listen, then they had this awkward sex in the library *headdesk*, then James, out of despair proposes to her and Nell rejects him up front. And that was only the beginning... What.a.mess!
After seeing Cam’s trust in James, Nell gradually begins to believe that James wasn’t the culprit. Even then, their relationship remains on the rocks. When Greengrass’s latest letter comes in, Cam, Richard and Jonas band together to help James, welcoming him into their fold or so to speak. But when they ride out next day to act on their plan, Nell follows them. She didn’t want to be left behind, even when James requested her to stay back at Cam’s. She puts her foot down and demands to be taken with them so that she can also ‘witness’ it all. *eyeroll* Thankfully, when they go out to confront Greengrass, Nell remains at the inn this time. But Greengrass escapes their clutches, injuring James in the process.
At night, James, again, proposes Nell but she wasn’t listening. Now she was more scared of the social stigma and James’ subsequent ‘fall from grace’ if he marries his housemaid. I would’ve agreed with her but the man was so in love, that he even acknowledged his feelings, I simply don’t know where Nell found the courage to deny him again! I was wondering, does she even love him if society is what she can think of when he’s on his knees, begging her to marry him? I could plainly see that James has had a change of perspective where his life was concerned. He now knew that so far, he’d lived the life that was planned for him, not how he wanted to live it. Nell was the stream to quench his thirst for living a full life; a life that’s not wound tightly by the rigid rules and expectations. He needed that so badly that he tried to make Nell understand it. He simply wanted a chance. But she was adamant that one day he’d have a change of heart and he’d resent her. End of story. *SMH*
When they can come to no conclusion and Nell rejects James for the umpteenth time, I was about to shoot something myself. It was horrible! Then, again, very conveniently, when she should’ve gone to her room with Greengrass on the loose, she goes into the garden for a ‘breath of fresh air’ in the middle of the night... and willingly steps into Greengrass’s trap. Don’t even ask!
It takes a bullet grazing her head for our Nell Trim to come to her senses. That life’s too short to let love slip by when you’ve found it.
By the time the story ended, I was glad that it did. I couldn’t take any more of Nell’s confusing ‘yes-no-maybe-no-maybe-yes’. 3.5 stars, only because Nell Trim admitted to all suffering poor James at the end of the story that she’d, indeed, been a PITA... not in the same vein but close enough.