My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
Moss Rose would be my 4th Scottie Barrett book in a row and I have to admit, I’m absolutely enjoying this ride. Or I was, until I realized that ends my foray into her backlist. :( At least her historical romance backlist. *sigh* I remember, years ago I read 2 of her books that I didn’t like, which put me off her books but boy oh boy, I had missed out on some good stuff!
Moss Rose is based in Virginia, where our H Levi North owns a tobacco plantation. I’m a little confused over the timeframe of this story but Levi was a soldier who fought against French so I’m assuming it maybe around the revolutionary era? I maybe wrong so please don’t fry me over it. LOL I don’t like having the timeframe wrong but at this point, I’m gonna let it go and start writing my review........ After Levi returned from war, he took the responsibility of the tobacco plantation cause his younger brother, Matthias is anything but responsible. His looks and temperament was exact opposite to Levi. Though both brothers were tall and good looking, Matthias was blonde and rather a jolly fellow, while Levi dark with an intense stare. But Levi proved to be a very worthy plantation owner, freeing his slaves then hiring them back again. He was trying hard to make the plantation thrive. He also took care of his workers well. When he suddenly found himself in urgent need of a good stable master, he put an ad on the newspaper, which is how our h, Jensen found herself applying for it, though I have no idea how she found that ad sitting in London.
Ever since Jensen’s parents passed away, she and her younger brother Cyril were put under their mean and greed uncle’s guardianship. That man hated Jensen just for being a woman and wanted to get rid of her ASAP by selling her to the highest bidder. Brant Mansfield proved to be that man and Jensen had been engaged to him for a while. She never liked him much, and didn’t envision a life where she’d be a chattel to Brant and never be able to run free and take care of her beloved horses. But things escalated when Brant shot Jensen’s favorite horse in a rage, to ‘tame’ her, as a threat so she becomes the biddable wife he wanted her to be. After that Jensen had to run as far away, and as soon as possible, because she knew she’d be handing herself over to another dictator.
So Jensen replied to that ad as a man called Duff Hawthorne who can take care of plantation owner Levi North’s horses. ‘Duff’ can join ASA his ship reaches the shores of America. Jensen, masquerading as a man, sails in the ship, spending a couple of weeks before reaching America looking like a filthy, ragged street urchin. I have no idea how she survived 40 days cramped with men but she did! Now where is Levi North to claim his stable master?
When Levi finally reaches the scene where Jensen was about to be shipped off again because no one would’ve hired someone so short and thin, she heaves a sigh of relief, looking forward to a life free of dictatorship. But it doesn’t last long. She soon finds she’s attracted to the big man with silvery grey eyes and biting but good-natured comments. And he may also be a very demanding, stubborn man, a trait Jensen isn’t fond of. Though Jensen keeps contemplating how she’s gonna go about this whole charade, Levi, on the other hand, is very disappointed. Because shortly after they begin their journey to his plantation, he finds that Honorable Duff Hawthorne is no man. I did heave a sigh of relief myself cause I wasn’t looking forward to Jensen acting as a boy for a period of time, living with stable hands, which wouldn’t have been convincing to me. But, boy oh boy, what the hell Levi is gonna do now? He needs an able stable master pronto cause one of his prized horses is about to give birth any day! He paid for this girl’s journey for crying out loud!! Worse is, Levi is somewhat curious about this weird girl with husky voice. He just couldn’t dump her there knowing that may befall her if her true sex is found out. Either way, Levi was having way too much fun poking at her with comments to rile her. Maybe she can be hired as a maid. His housekeeper is always in need of a maid.
That begins Jensen’s time as a maid in Levi’s plantation. She hid her blonde hair under mob cap and for a long time colored it to the dull black she had to devise this masquerade. I always wondered when did she had the time to make that black walnut coloring, where did she put it on without anyone noticing, and how long her hair was that short for the plan to work because she was working there for quite a while when things begin to unravel. How come no one noticed her guinea gold blonde hair until Levi much later? And it wasn’t on her head where he noticed it! :o
Anyhoo, I myself was having too much fun to bother with any of that......... Now, after a few weeks of initial adjustment to a new place and the hot weather, Jensen gradually begins enjoying her time in the plantation. She meets Matthias the same day she arrived, who’d immediately showed a keen interest in her. He’s of course known as the amorous North brother, the ‘goodlooking one’ (claimed jokingly by him). Housemaids weren’t any different. And because he was so goodlooking and easy to mingle with, and treated his, uh, paramours well, Matty didn’t have any shortage of women in his life. The only woman he couldn’t stand though, was Regina, his betrothed. To whom he was betrothed as MOC, much as, we find later, Levi is to another girl from the rich Trent family. I can’t blame Matthias cause Regina was rather crazy. She knew of Matthias’s conquests and was jealous all the time. She came off as a typical jealous rich girl with a shallow mentality, selfish and a mean streak in her who gave Jensen a really difficult time after knowing both North brothers are panting after her. Same goes for Lavi’s betrothed, Andrea. Whereas Matthias never bothered to make Regina his lover, Levi had no such qualms. Andrea was already his on and off lover since they were betrothed from childhood. And I DID NOT like that. Even though Jensen was a new addition to Levi’s life, parading the H’s lover is not the way to win me over. Or Jensen over in this case. Especially if she’s also a mean, shallow creature who wouldn’t mind trying to ‘get rid’ of the competition any way she can.
But what I was most enjoying was Levi and Jensen’s banters, and every type of reaction to one another. The story has its twists and turns, some are good, some caught me by surprise but those two were like children bickering, then either Levi would stomp away or Jensen would run away. I know it sounds kinda bad, but it wasn’t, trust me because no matter what, none of them actually wanted to be rid of the other. :P If Levi stomped away, he hoped and prayed Jensen would do something to show him she cared for him even a little bit, while if Jensen ran away, she hoped and prayed Levi would come and take her home. LOOOOL I never thought I’d say it but it was fun. I knew they couldn’t live without each-other, it was just there. Levi was an a$$ for the first half of the book because he was still trying to sort out this feelings he had for his housemaid come stable master (Jensen finally had the opportunity to show off her skills and grab the post for herself ;), hence her promotion).
Levi never bothered his workers like Matthias. Plus he was engaged into a family where marriage would bring him more lands and everything else that he can ever dream of to expand his farming. More profit! Then why the hell does he not feel the need to cheer Andrea on? With Jensen it wasn’t just physical, it came from somewhere inside him that scared the sh!t outta him, hence his crabby attitude. Oh but Jensen’s rejections stung. She already knew he was engaged and wasn’t about to get in trouble with the master of the plantation seeing she’s got no future with him even if she was insanely attracted to him. Even if he was doing many crazy things out of his character just to bind her to the plantation (and himself), like officially registering her as his ‘slave’. Something that’s never heard of Levi North doing, ever, in his life. ;) Even the man who registered Jensen had a chuckle over it cause he saw what Levi was doing, even if Levi himself tried to remain blind to his feelings. :P
The villains of the story were rather predictable but they weren’t that prevalent since the worst enemy of Levi-Jensen’s relationship were the persons involved in that relationship. There were some misunderstandings that could’ve been avoided. Levi wasn’t always easy to handle, so his biting remarks stung Jensen, and she’d do something to rile him up and it went on from there. This crazy ‘thing’ they called love... or attraction... or whatever you wanna call it went on until the end. :D Jensen was a smart girl who just didn’t fall for Levi’s ‘charms’ right in the beginning. And I liked her for it. Their chemistry was so explosive that it wasn’t really easy to push Levi away, when he was the most stubborn man alive and when he wanted the same thing. But for all the chemistry they shared, sex scenes were pretty sparse. Worse is, they were so good, I wanted more. :(
I’ve been rather intrigued by Matty as well even though he didn’t start out as a stellar character. I don’t find womanizing an appealing trait, especially when they dally with the servants but still....... I found Matty and Regina’s relationship a little weird. Regina was super possessive of him (duh!) and Matty seemed to tolerate her at best. And even with all her mean streak, Matty could handle her with a word and a stare. It seemed like there was something rather twisted going on in there but it was never explored. What we found was all on the surface. Actually, though I said Regina wasn’t Matty’s lover in a previous paragraph, I can’t really confirm it. It was never hinted that way but then, who knows? Was there anything besides the obvious between them? Matty seemed very enamored of Jensen, until he figured out his brother staked his claim on her. After that he became brotherly and respectful. His regards seemed very genuine. So I don’t think he was entirely a callous womanizer. Even though he hated it, Matty did his share of work on the plantation to keep it going at times when Levi was either away on business, or plain trying stay away from Jensen. Or trying to find her. LOL Long story short, there should’ve been a story about Matty, maybe even with Regina, who wouldn’t be my favorite heroine but there maybe something salvageable her yet. It would’ve been a challenge I’d would’ve liked to see happening.
There were several scenes in Moss Rose I loved; most of them had Levi and Jensen in it. I wish I could mention them all. But one particularly was in almost at the end where Levi comes home after a long time and the first time the get together, they… well, they were going at it, a ‘welcome home’ lovin’. ;) It was short but oh-so-fun, their banters still funny and hot! I was like OMG, I LOVE IT! These two will never have a boring life. They’ll fight then make up like this. As long as there’s no genuine ill will, I’m good with that. :D
Because there were times the story seemed uneven, and jumped from one scene to another with several months gap in between, I can’t give it a full 5 stars. But it could’ve been much like Branded, a book I LOVED! This author’s heroes are SO HOT, she needs to write more historical romances!!! 4.25 solid stars.