My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Now here is the thing. Apart from Karen Marie Moning’s Highlanders series, I don’t remember reading and reviewing a series that crossed its 8th book mark. Elizabeth Hoyt’s epic series, Maiden Lane, has done that with more installments on the way (YAY Me!). Sweetest Scoundrel was as long time coming! The ones who have read the books as they published since 2011 would know what I mean. We wanted Asa’s book in... like what? Forever? Finally, it was time for his story to be told, and to find some answers of those questions surrounding his mysterious appearance and disappearances throughout.
For us, the Maiden Lane addicts, Asa has been the stuff of... er, mystery, if not legend. He’s the only Makepeace sibling whose story was left to be told. Sweetest Scoundrel not only answered my questions but also, for the first time, we were introduced to Verity and Concord, the two eldest Makepeace siblings who were always there by mention but never by presence. All I can say is do not read this series out of order!
Of course, I have no idea how to do my usual recap with so many installments passed, but I’ll try nonetheless. 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 originally started with 3 Makepeace siblings—Temperance, Asa, Silence and Winter, with Concord and Verity already married and moving on with their familes. 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.
Gradually, we’re also introduced to some 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 marriage, running the orphanage all by himself. At that point, we also get to the bottom of this “Ghost” phenomenon as Winter’s secret identity is revealed. When he and Lady Isabelle marry, he gives up the dangerous activities, sort of ending the original plotline for the Makepeace siblings. But Godric, Lazarus’s good friend, 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. He was in such a state that Lazurus worried for him. What Lazarus didn’t know that Godric had his secrets too and someday that’ll lead Lord Griffin to 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........
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 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. 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. Oh it was so much fun to watch! 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 hanging or mental asylum, Penelope’s father, the Earl, who was their sole influential relative at that moment, thought he was doing them a favor by arranging the later. Apollo was alive but barely conscious, everyday life slipping away from him. He also became mute after he was badly beaten. 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. :/ 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. His getup and training as the Ghost came handy while rescuing Apollo, making him a hero in Artemis’ eyes.
It was also on book 6 where we get to know that Asa is Mr. Harte, the owner of the famous pleasure garden called Harte’s Folly. Because of a crazy dodo villain, the whole pleasure garden burns down to the ground. Poor Asa, he was devastated! We also met another cray character (as if we had any lack of those); the Duke of Montgomery, Valentine Napier. I think his name speaks for himself (if you’ve read the installments, you’ll know what I mean).
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. He was working with Asa to rebuild Harte’s Folly, to return it to its former glory. Who knew he knew Apollo for a long time? Not me! Either way, Asa lends a hand by giving Apollo a chance in restoring the gardens there. 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.
Now, in those numerous chases after the Ghost, we met someone, unfailingly, on each installment back then; the Dragoon Captain James Trevillion. He was one of those characters who needed his HEA so bad. I mean real bad, especially when, in book 6, he got caught in an accident on his last Ghost chase. As a result, he became crippled as one of his legs got caught into it. After that, his military career was over. He had no job, nothing to do. I was going to beg EH had she not decided that yah, James had garnered a grudging respect from him, which is why he ends up giving him the most important job that he could think of; guarding the now blinded Phoebe. Even though Maximus was working out of brotherly concern, Phoebe was not impressed. She was quite irritated in the beginning, having a ‘shadow’ hover on her, around her all day long. Every day. 7 days a week. 30 days a month. I mean who can stand it, when Phoebe could maneuver herself without help?
But she needed help, as we find out in #8, Dearest Rogue. Just how much Phoebe needed James, and James needed her in return was quite the revelation IMO! I hadn’t known how much fun and sweet their relationship was going to be. Feisty Phoebe, grumpy James. Ooh!! It was quite dreamy. *sighs*
But this book also brings forth some problems that includes one Valentine Napier, the above mentioned cray Duke of I-Make-People-Do-Whatever-I-Like (or better known as The Duke of I’m-As-Bad-As-The-Color-of-My-Breeches :p). Poor Eve Dinwoody, whom we met in book 8, was trying her best not to blow up the fact that she’s the illegitimate sister of such a cray character. Oh she loves Val, quite dedicated to him actually. However, you have to be quite a special person too to, er, deal with our dear ol’ Val. Not only Val runs to the Continent when a badly done scheme of his involving Phoebe comes to light, he dumps all the responsibility of Harte’s Folly on Eve. Val is one of the “partners” with Asa (more of a manipulator, rather than financier... never a boring moment with our Val ;)). Now not only Eve has to deal with Harte’s Folly, but also the famous Mr. Harte. TBH, Eve would rather stay home and paint portraits than invade the apartments of too manly looking pleasure garden owner. :P
This, brings Eve to Asa’s door one fine morning, at the beginning of Sweetest Scoundrel. Eve was a totally new character, and I barely knew Asa from previous books so I went in rather blind. I didn’t know what to expect from either of them, though I knew I’m bound of have some fun. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as enthralled with this book as I hoped I would be. :(
Eve wanted to take stock of the financial side of Harte’s Folly’s restoration work, but Asa is used to working alone, and to get his way. The only person that beaten him down with manipulation had to be the damned Duke of I-Make-People-Do-Whatever-I-Like. But Asa bowed down since Val invested a huge amount of money; money that was needed quite badly. Now what is this? He’d always thought E. Dinwoody, Val’s man of affair, was... er, a man. Who knew ‘he’ was a she?! Needless to say, Asa wasn’t happy about it at all. He grumbled, he growled, he cursed and stomped away but Eve Dinwoody, whom he’d called “ugly” (there’s no nice way to put his insinuations) on their first meeting, wouldn’t budge. She’s quite nonchalant about the whole thing... or so she looked like in the beginning.
Yet Eve was anything but nonchalant. First of all, she got dumbstruck meeting Asa, and it’s just not because of his insulting comments. He’s not tall, but so muscular with such a w-i-d-e chest that she felt overwhelmed by his presence. Asa Makepeace is not a traditionally handsome man (color me surprised because from his earlier descriptions, I thought otherwise) but he’s very masculine with tawny hair and that body. And Eve has a problem with that much masculinity. Well, any man for that matter except for Val and Jean-Marie, her footman, who is more of a close friend and protector than that. Nope, Eve doesn’t even swing the other way, just that she has a secret— a nightmare — that has haunted her from her childhood. She can’t remember what happened to make her so but Eve can’t abide by men and their touch. And she hates dogs. It had gotten so bad in the past years that Val recruited Jean Marie from some Caribbean country just to look after Eve. Protect her from any manly presence. And dogs.
Asa didn’t know any of it of course, but he knew that since the moment he laid his eyes on Eve, something about her struck him hard. Even when he was being an a$$ of the prime order. Then she moves her office, or so to speak, into his own to assess Harte’s Folly’s financial situation. Yep, Asa was irritated at first. But as the days passed, and he begins to see glimpses of the woman inside, the vulnerability that she so meticulously hid behind her prim and proper façade... it begins working on him. Asa begins to feel this need to unravel the woman inside, whom he knew would be passionate. Only he had no idea that Eve can’t stand any male touch.
One day, Asa finds out, rendering Eve speechless with a kiss. And it wasn’t because she was overcome by lusty emotions. Eve was scared witless, so much so that she becomes completely mute for a while! And that, in turn, scares the sh!t outta Asa. He begins feeling horrible, not because he was regretting that kiss but he couldn’t imagine the kind of trauma, whatever it was, that led her to react the way she did! Asa was determined to find out. He takes it as a challenge because he couldn’t stand knowing Eve would never know the emotions and feelings that the intimacy between a man and woman can evoke. And when Asa makes up his mind nothing can stop him.
Eve has never been sure of the feelings Asa’s presence wrought in her. All she knew she was attracted to him, which she shouldn’t be if her “malady” is something to go by. But she was helpless, not knowing how to handle it all.
Quite soon, Asa figured out that Eve wanted to be intimate. She was easily aroused by his looks and innuendoes, which aroused him too. A LOT actually. At first, though Asa found his attraction to Eve odd (he’s used to with beautiful actresses and opera singers, duh!). Soon he knew Eve is so much more than her prim and plain demeanor. There was nothing prim about the Eve who encouraged him to, er, pleasure himself in front of her. Asa wanted her to get used to with his body because like it or not, she was getting under his skin. He wanted her big time. So yah, he wanted Eve to know him in every way possible, to accept so that they can take the next step when she’s ready. There were some hot scenes in between where Asa was trying his best to show Eve what a man, he, can offer her. And Eve was tempted beyond anything. Oh hell, yes! But... but, how can she overcome her infernal PTSD?! Most importantly, what was its root cause? Eve’s memory was vague as best, and Val wasn’t there so she had no help at that point.
In the meantime, sabotage attempts are made on the almost done Harte’s Folly to ruin its grand opening which was, at that point, just a few weeks away. Attempts are made to harm Asa and his crew. One of those attempts went wrong, hurting Eve in the process and killing one of their dancers. They begin worrying over this new development. Someone is definitely determined to ruin Asa once again. Eve was worried too, and it’s not because of Val’s investment. By then, she was smitten with Asa in a way she never thought she’d be with any man. She seeks out the help of Alf (a recurring character of the series; lives in St. Giles, a great detective if you ask me, who masquerades as a boy but in reality, is a girl) to keep an eye in and around Harte’s Folly. That does bring in some good results as we find later in the story.
Alf was also working as the correspondent between Val and the rest of them. For some reason, the Duke of I’m-So-Hot-You-Can’t-Resist-Me wouldn’t use the usual mailing system. Hmm, who knows what’s going on that cray cray head 0f his? Ask Bridget Crumb, the housekeeper extraordinaire, who has been trying so hard to find out <i>something</i> around Val’s bedroom every night when no one was about. And being harassed in return by his semi-nude portrait, every time. :P She’s got an agenda alright, and it smells like trouble. Trouble for Val no doubt. Bwahahaha!
Back to Asa and Eve. I liked the story so far, but wasn’t as involved in it as I would’ve liked. I liked Asa and Eve but I didn’t think their interactions were as intense. It took me a while to get used with Asa’s a$$hatty attitude. Then Eve’s PTSD sort of drew a negative curve on overall storytelling. She was just not the Eve I thought she’d be (if it even means anything at all). Overall, I kept feeling that they were a mismatched pair. Eve needed to be a bit more stern, there should’ve been more funny and hot banters. Yet due to her problem and the sudden change in Asa where she was concerned, they get involved way too soon. Not sex, no, but everything else. It felt unbelievable, especially in the light of their first meeting.
Which brings me to the next thing that bugged me all through the story. Asa’s paramour, the Opera singer. That woman was there in the first scene when Eve goes to meet Asa. Let me just tell you that that scene irritated me to no end. It colored my view of Asa. And even though he and the Opera singer breaks up soon thereafter, she was still there, everywhere and Asa was way too chummy with her. She was the jewel of his Opera, the main vocalist, so I guess it couldn’t have been avoided but my point is, there shouldn’t have been any involvement to begin with. Illogical as it sounds seeing Asa’s own profession, it didn’t seat well with me. I didn’t like that Eve took it so... nonchalantly. Then again, she had her own problems to deal with and Asa was there for her, but didn’t it bug her a little that Asa’s ex was there, flaunting herself? God knows I’d be very disturbed! :/
But, I loved the whole setting as usual. And I loved the meeting of the whole Makepeace family. I mean c’mon, I’ve been a part of this series for a long time now. They’re like family to me. Seeing the whole extended family on Concord’s daughter’s christening was such a treat! It was wonderful even if Concord and Asa bash each-other up quite literally. Brothers and all that. *SMH*
Seriously, I can make the review lengthier but the fact remains, I was never quite sure that Asa and Eve was a pair. Like I never felt they belonged together. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for them. I thought Eve deserved to know a man who’d love her to bits; she did indeed. And I know Asa means to be that man for her, still... 3.5 stars but rounding up on 4 because I love this series no matter what.
I always knew there was something fishy about the Duke of I’m-So-Hot-I-Make-The-Sun-Look-Like-A-Jello’s supposed “travel to the Continent” or wherever the hell he’s gotten to. And I was right, as I found in the preview of Duke of Sin. Right now, I can barely wait to find out what Bridget Crumb is up to and how Val is related to all that. He has hope yet, if the way he takes care of Eve is anything to go by. Val has a heart somewhere in that selfish, fastidious and overly perfumed body of his, waiting to be unraveled. But would Bridget Crumb be up to the task? We shall see.