My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I simply love it when I discover a debut author gifted with enough wit and charm to make me fall in love with everything in a novel, be it the storyline or the characters. Victoria Hanlen’s The Trouble with Misbehaving falls right into that category. I’ll admit that I wanted to read this book for that gorgeous purple gown on the cover (LOL), however so glad I did since now I know the significance of that color in the story.
The Trouble with Misbehaving was everything I love in a romance novel; A strong, intelligent and independent minded h and a sexy, charming rogue of a H. An intriguing storyline with action and adventures alongside great chemistry between the H and the h, who were as wonderful together as they were on their own. Victoria Hanlen is not only an excellent storyteller, I also loved her writing style.
Honorable Captain Beauford Tollier, the third son of the Earl of Grancliffe and the lauded “blacksheep” of the family, has just returned to England to… let’s just say to settle down and seek a more respectable lifestyle. Why I said lauded is that, though Beauford, or Beau as he goes by, was a blacksheep to his deceased father, it was apparent from his reunion with his brother the Earl and his family, that they held him in fondest regard. Beau has been a lot of things, has operated under various disguises. He’s been a in the Queen’s navy. He’s captained many ships, then became a blockade runner in the intervening years. He’s shipped questionable shipments up and down the ocean between America and the various ports surrounding it, his main stop being Nassau where he’s still revered and respected.
Beau had also had a family there, with a girl he’s saved from a brothel, had a child… but then tragedy struck. Beau has been pursued by this English Commander named Captain Rives. A man bend on seeing him hang at all cost. It’s as if some unholy influence was driving this man, and every time Beau escaped his clutches, it only worsened his wrath. At one point, luck ran out on Beau when he was captured. He would’ve been hanged, but escaped the noose just in time. Help came his way from some unknown sources, which would be revealed at the very end of the story. But nothing held Beau’s interest any longer. He wouldn’t have returned to Nassau as news of his little family perishing in yellow fever has already reached him. There was no other option but to return to England after 12 long years, hoping for a change, and if possible, some solace.
Yet again, as luck would have it, Beau’s hope for a quiet, peaceful life would be dashed in the most pleasurable way possible. The letter he received promising “highest rewards and benefits”, would indeed, turn out to be the most glorious events of his life as one Calista Collins aka C.C. happens to him.
C.C. would probably beg to differ since her reputation was ruined quite a few years ago, thanks to an unfortunate event back at her former home in America. She was the most beautiful debutante, with the most graceful poise and charm. Born as an only child to a wealthy family, C.C. was supposed to be the toast of the society. Yet, at 18, her hopes of nabbing any suitor, let alone marriage, shattered completely. The story is later revealed slowly but C.C.’s parents couldn’t wait to dump her to this side of the ocean to save face. After reading it all, I could see that her mother was extremely ambitious, on the verge of being blind to her daughter’s safety, if not her wishes. She refused to communicate with C.C. all these years after her father’s death. But now that she needed help as America is torn apart by civil war, she send summons to save her and her only living family, C.C.’s uncle and cousins. Ever hungering for her mother’s approval, C.C. would now move heaven and hell to trek the treacherous oceans to go to America. And for that, she needed the best man out there. The name that kept reverberating everywhere she inquired was the one and only, Captain Beauford Tollier. But darn if the Captain isn’t a tough nut to crack!
Surprisingly enough, the truth was that all these years, C.C. had harbored a secret crush on the so-called blacksheep of the family, whose life has always been shrouded in mystery. Living with Amelia, who is her cousin and the current Countess (Beau’s SIL), C.C. had ample opportunity to study the family portrait that is so different than the generations of Tollier men who are bestowed with dark good looks. Among them, Beau’s lifesize portrait with his blonde goodlooks and sea-green eyes had always been a beacon to her. It was rumored that he was the result of the late Countess’s indiscretion. But no one really knows the truth, and all I could see that his brothers didn’t care. Well, we meet only Thomas, Amelia’s husband. The other, Wills, was absent due to a family emergency. Thomas loved his youngest brother and was extremely happy to have him back home.
On their “first” meeting, Beau had no idea who C.C. was due to her plain dress-up. But he did notice the beauty all that dowdy clothing hid. Their attraction was instant, so much so, the first kiss happens when they’re on the run from some men who were apparently after C.C. The adventure had already begun for them both whether Beau wanted it or not. He was simply dragged into this whole thing even when he didn’t know what this “thing” he was getting involved into. Then C.C. and he got separated and Beau heaved a sigh of relief, or so he thought. But the curiosity about that mysterious beautiful woman kept niggling at the back of his mind.
Now, their “second” meeting was more... entertaining. Back at Grancliffe Hall, as Beau was submerging himself in all sorts of nostalgia, a woman’s voice broke his trance. The woman had a caustic reply to everything, with a voice as high as a fishwife. Or so they said. When Beau looked closer, he was struck dumb. It’s the same woman that had haunted his dreams for the past couple of days! Miss C.C., whom he’d thought was a simple governess or something, was now in front of her in all her glorious purple-clad beauty! Her dress, her poise, everything screamed money and high society. And she LOVED everything purple. :p Beau also noticed that men were mostly giving her a wide berth, well, except for those that were either fortune hunters or lechers looking for a sport. After all, C.C. is gorgeous with that porcelain skin, dark eyes and the abundance of dark hair. A man worth his salt can never deny her beauty. Though Beau tries his best to avoid her too, and getting entangled in whatever her proposition was, a chat with Thomas shed some light. Beau also learned of the gossips about her, where the cherry on top was the rumor that she’s quite unhinged… because she speaks her mind and doesn’t shy away from calling a spade a spade. So Beau decides it’s for his own good he needs to stay away from his batsh!t crazy woman, even though his body tells him otherwise every time she’s near. Oh it was just fun... mmm. :p
Unfortunately for him, when C.C. is determined to have what she wants, you can do nothing to stop her. Literally not, as Beau would learn in the next few months. ;) He’d learn that looks can be deceiving and there is a formidable yet highly intelligent woman hiding behind those seemingly vapid eyes. He’d come to love and respect her in a way no women had ever made him feel. However, their journey to fulfillment wouldn’t be so easy either.
Within days, with some right incentive, not to mention the insane amount that C.C. offered, Beau is blithely manipulated into the new adventure of his life; to chart the treacherous seas one last time. He’d take her to the America, put her on a homeward bound train and return with the new ship Redemption to collect what’s his. Sounds so easy, right?
Alas, it was not so.
After outmaneuvering yellow fever at Nassau that almost killed C.C. (who was then bring back to the living thanks to Beau’s careful vigil at her side), they finally embark on their journey quite late than expected. By that time, Beau was hopelessly in love with this enigmatic woman. You would be too. C.C. was just... unique. He had also gleaned some information from her fever-laden gibberish that he knew she would’ve never confide in him otherwise—like what happened to her in America that she had to be banished so completely. How she was a pawn to both her overambitious mother and a rival’s demeaning plans to bring her wealthy father down. How the gossipmongers and the newspapers simply killed her reputation with lies and how her parents just dumped her like she was some shameful secret to be swept under the rug. Beau was sad, angry and equally concerned. He wanted to know everything from her, wanted to help her... but most of all, he wanted to know how intimate C.C. was with Rives, his archenemy.
After reading C.C.’s story, what made me so sad was the fact that she had NO champion at that young age. Virtually no one to turn to. And her parents certainly didn’t believe her, instead chose to believe all those lies. Though she was alone, even afraid at one point, C.C. turned around and made things happen. After inheriting her father’s vast empire, she took the responsibility as any male heir would (a lack her parents always lamented), and I’d go as far as to say, did a splendid job; way better than any male heir could’ve accomplished. She tripled her father’s fortune with smart and crafty investments. She made sure to recruit intelligent people to work for her. She was well learned and well spoken... well, except that she was also straightforward which earned her the reputation of being crazy. C.C. knew how to make the most of this little ‘situation’ in her favor. She did her best to trump all those idiots who thought they can manipulate her into marrying them, would hand over her fortune to them.
Yet C.C. was still alone; a loneliness which now had a different undertone. She craved for someone of her own. Secretly, she still wanted to be married, have a family. And it was no-brainer that she wanted Beau, certainly so after meeting him in person. Their chemistry was so palpable, there shouldn’t be any doubt. Yet C.C. was scared that his regards for her would diminish the moment he’d hear those vicious lies once they’re in America. But would he believe those or her? Can she rely on him the way she had since she met him? C.C. was a beguiling mixture of strength and vulnerability which was made very appealing with the fact that she was extremely intelligent. It only proved that she wasn’t a cold, calculating woman only bend on fulfilling her own goal. She defied convention more often than not, yet never once felt like someone rash and TSTL. She knew her mind and what she wanted.
After the fever, then the pirates and Beau’s old rival Rives’s attacks, when they finally arrive in America, no good news was waiting for C.C. Beau couldn’t simply leave her there because he was still confused and didn’t know how to go about expressing his feelings. He cared, and so, even after her slight objections, he accompanies C.C. to her old home; a sprawling mansion with acres of land around. Or whatever was left of it. As anywhere during Civil War, the house was attacked, burned to the ground… and there was no trace of C.C.’s mother Delia and her uncle or her cousins. At last, when they manage to find them, John was missing (thought to be dead) and Delia was on death’s door with consumption. C.C. couldn’t believe this defeated shell of a woman was her once beautiful mother, whose dark looks she’d inherited herself! Delia and C.C.’s two remaining cousins, little boys really, were living in abject poverty, a stark contrast to C.C.’s own life. They’d lost everything here and yet, Delia never once replied to C.C.’s mails. Then again, Delia’s pardon had a condition, that C.C. must marry a peer and reclaim her ‘good name’, otherwise there’d be no reconciliation. All her life, all C.C. ever wanted was her mother’s love and acceptance. Even at death’s door, it was apparent that Delia wasn’t keen on forgiveness. It saddened Beau, just as much as it did me. Ever ambitious, Delia made remarks on Beau’s unacceptable past, undependability and a lack of title at the first chance she’d gotten, citing he’s totally unsuitable for C.C., who was born and bred for something much more grandiose. Delia did love C.C. but it wasn’t the type of motherly affection. Some women are simply incapable of being a “mother”. Even before her death, all Delia cared for was her nephews’ future. She made C.C. promise to take care of the two orphaned boys; a promise C.C. held within her heart even when her mother was buried and gone.
After this journey, there was no doubt in Beau’s mind. He knew he’d fallen in love with C.C., but Delia’s words hit home, so he decides to stay rather aloof surprising her quite a bit. When C.C. requests that Beau help them cross the ocean one last time, Beau could only say ‘yes’. He knew the dangers, but he also knew he was too involved to refuse her anything at this point. He can never put her or her loved ones in danger. It was more than clear to me that Beau wouldn’t be able to stay away from her long, no matter what Delia thought about their match, and I was quite correct on that regard. Beau was type of man who, when he falls, falls utterly in love. He was besotted with C.C. He would do anything for her.
It was on that voyage, after they made a successful crossing and landed on Nassau once more, that C.C. decided that she must act on her feelings. She loathed the thought of letting him go after the end of this journey. C.C. simply didn’t know how she’d survive without him. It was no longer some silly emotions after all they’ve been through. Beau had saved her life more than once, held her when she needed to be held and cried her heart out. He was the balm to her soul. He’d been there, proving more than once that he’s an amazing man, a good man despite his shadowy past. A man C.C. would dearly love to have with her for the rest of her life. But she wasn’t quite sure he felt the same. To her, all they now had was one night to act on their mutual attraction. One night that she can hold onto, to know what it feels like to be with the man she’d fallen in love with.
Well, for Beau one night would have never been enough. He didn’t even think he’d ever get to hold C.C. more than a few heated kisses. But after that night on the ship, he knew he had to act on his feelings. He had to try and convince her that he’s good enough for her. That despite his lack of a title, he can keep her happy or he’d die trying. C.C. was stubborn but Beau was determined... and together they fit so well. Together, they were a force to reckon with. And while they were at this push and pull, some new twists and information are revealed and once more, they find themselves dealing with villains who had plagued their journey since the beginning.
TBH, I can go on and on, write an ode to C.C.’s many talents (because I’m such a fan of hers!) and a poem on Beau’s roguish charm (ooh lala). Even then I won’t be able to adequately express how lovely this story and its central characters were. All I can say is that give A Trouble with Misbehaving a try. You won’t regret it! 4.5 excellent stars.
PS: the next installment, The Trouble With Seduction, is about a character who was C.C.’s close friend and deemed deceased throughout the story. I don’t know if it’s a story is taking place some years earlier or later because that part was left rather vague... But... but, I can’t wait to find out and I only have to wait till next month. Woohooo! :D
<b>This ARC was set as "read-now" on <u>netgalley </u>, thanks to Carina UK, which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.</b> <img src="http://i1202.photobucket.com/albums/bb363/phrashid/93027523.gif" alt="thankyou"/>