My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
After reading the backlist of Sabrina Jeffries I can honestly say that majority of her stories have a feel good quality that makes me return to her books again and again. The newest installment in The Duke’s Men series, When the Rogue Returns was no exception. The story got me hooked right from the start and I enjoyed every moment of it. It’s a sweet story of a couple having their second chance at happiness.
If you haven’t read the Duke’s Men yet, you might wanna start with Hellions of Hallstead Hall as this series is somewhat linked to the Hellions. Most of the lead male characters here were introduced as secondary characters in the Hellions series.
‘Duke’s Men’ is a fancy name for Manton’s Investigation, run by Dominic Manton. Dominic or Dom’s younger half-siblings (his deceased father, the viscount’s mistress’s children) also help him running this company. Though Dom’s elder brother can’t stand the sight of either Tristan or Lisette, Dom is fond of both and appreciates having them close. Thus he has been banished and disinherited. But Dom doesn’t care a whit, he has studied and happy doing what he loves best.
We meet Dom at the end of the Hellions series. He helped in an investigation, which is how he met the Duke of Lyons, Max, another also a secondary character of the Hellions series. Now, the H of book 1, What the Duke Desires, Max asks for Dom’s help in solving a family mystery. Max’s uncle abducted his older brother, the original heir to the Dukedom a long time ago. There’s a complicated and sad family history too, in which I won’t delve into to save my time and space but the story was very heart-tugging. Anyway, Max wanted Dom to investigate the rumors surrounding his older brother. Is he alive or dead? Has his uncle died too as the rumor goes? The result of the investigation is not positive because Max finds that he’s, indeed, now the Duke of Lyons. But I won’t say that the whole outcome was negative because in searching for his brother, Max, who has missed having a real family because his parents neglected him while mourning for his elder brother, gains a cousin; his uncle’s only son, Victor.
Because this was such a big news and the way Max has been involved with Dom’s company, the media dubbed Manton’s Investigation as the ‘Duke’s Men’, to Dom’s chagrin (and Tristan’s amusement).
Needless to say, his rogue of an uncle never informed about his whereabouts after that ‘incident’, and so, Max had no idea that his uncle had a family, let alone a son. Likewise, Victor had no idea about his father’s legacy, or treachery for that matter. It was Tristan, who met Victor first, makes the connection through a distinctly designed handkerchief that is unique to the Dukes of Lyons. It was in possession of Victor ever since he could remember.
Victor hadn’t had a nobleman’s upbringing as his mother was a barmaid. Thankfully, his father, who was gradually going insane (story in book 1), married his mother. But he never treated her well. Now he finds that not only the slightly older boy he thought his elder brother in reality is not his own brother but also that he himself is related to a Duke! He also learns of the abduction and is not happy about it. But Max doesn’t blame Victor at all. He welcomes his only cousin with open arms... but unfortunately, Victor wasn’t doing well.
When Victor was brought to London, he was languishing, sick and dying. There was no clarification to what had happened to him, but that Tristan found him in Europe before he fell sick. Though he gradually gained his life and health back, Victor got bored with the banal, inactive life of a nobleman pretty soon. He is an ex-soldier, ‘action’ is all he knows. He tells Max that he wants to help out in the Manton Investigation, but there was a ‘business’ that he also needs to attend to. I didn’t think we’d read his story so soon because when book 1 ended, I remember reading something about Dom and him having some kinda history with a girl............. Anyhoo, I’m not complaining.
The story starts out 10 years earlier, when we find a young Victor recently gotten married to his shy, young wife, Isabella or Isa, as they call her. Isa is a jeweler’s daughter and has worked with her father before he passed on. She’s a very talented chemist, as well as expert in making replica jewelry. Since her father died, Isa’s shop has been looked after by her BIL, Gerhart. But today, Isa is trying to avoid something both her sister Jacoba and Gerhart have planned and forcing her to take part in.
Gerhard has not been much of a ‘guardian’ to her and his gambling has amassed to a big debt. He wants out and has forced Isa to create a replica of the Royal jewelry that has been under Victor’s watch. Incidentally, before they met, Isa met Victor when he was made the guard of the jewelry store. It was not a permanent job but that didn’t deter the two young lovers to fall in love and marry after a whirlwind courtship. Isa has always been a little in awe of Victor’s manly good-looks. But she has always been reminded by her BIL and sister that she’s nothing but a mousy little thing. And in doing so, they methodically crushed Isa’s self-confidence. This came to play a big, yet sadly negative part in Isa and Victor’s separation. She’s not only manipulated by Gerhart to create the replica but also to replace thoses with the original Royal jewels, something she never meant to do in the first place. Isa had no intention to be a party of that betrayal, neither did she want any trouble for her and Victor. Yet, her evil relatives did everything to influence the incident in a way that Isa could barely control. The jewels are replaced by the two crooks even before Isa could do or say anything.
Jacoba, who was a very loving sister before marrying her a-hole of a husband, convinces Isa that Victor helped them in it, something Isa couldn’t entirely believe. But money is needed and Victor didn’t have much. Did he really succumb to the greed? Jacoba and Gerhart leave Belgium right that day for Paris, taking Isa with them. They tell Isa that Victor will meet up with them later…. But he never arrives. Isa grows depressed, more so when she figures out she’s pregnant with Victor’s baby. By then, her sister and BIL have already been forcing her to make more replicas and Isa knew exactly why. They’ve been living off the money that came from selling of the Royal jewels in a lavish manner. Isa doesn’t like anything about it, and she’s not going to give into her manipulative relatives anymore. Since it’s also apparent that Victor is not coming for her (as Jacoba has already emphasized that he never really was into ‘someone’ like her), Isa decides to run. She could hide somewhere, have a decent but honest job because now she has a baby to think of...
Too sad, Isa never knew that Victor was never a party to anything. He was tricked, then caught, but he never confessed to anything, even when he finally figured out what might’ve happened. He was tortured for information but out of his love for Isa, he kept quiet. But no matter, by the time he was released, Victor was convinced that Isa has helped her sister and BIL, the superbly made replica proved it to him, as Victor already had some idea of Isa’s talent. This horrid misunderstanding takes away 10 years of their life. Right now, this is THE business he wants to take care of. Victor wants to catch Isa and bring her to justice for what she’d done.
At the Manton’s, as per his request, Victor is given an assignment. But when Dom and Tristan begin giving him an account of the small investigation he has to perform in Edinburgh on a woman, Victor becomes excited. A wealthy dowager wants this mysterious European widow investigated because she thinks that woman has designs on her son, the only heir to the Lochlaw earldom. She has been living in Edinburgh for the last 10 or so years. And the description of everything about her sounds more and more like Victor’s errant wife, down to the fact that this widow shares his mother’s surname! Could it be that he has finally found her?
But of course, that was Isa, living under a fake name, on the outskirts of the city to hide herself from the society. Isa is a partner to a jewelry shop where she makes replica jewelries which sell very well. Her work is quite popular and Isa doesn’t have any financial problem anymore, thanks to the proprietor of the shop, Mr. Gordon, who listened to her plea for help and gave her a chance all those years ago. Isa is forever grateful to him but she loves to protect her privacy more than anything. Isa doesn’t need to mingle with the society but she also doesn’t want gossip; a big reason is to keep her daughter Amalia’s identity a secret. Of late, Rupert, the young earl of Lochlaw has taken an infatuation towards her. Yes, she considers him a friend but not the type people might think. There is nothing going on between them. Rupert is a shy, bookish young man whom no one really understands. Having a harpy for a mother hasn’t helped him either. Rupert is a little scared of her cause the woman doesn’t give him a moment of peace, trying to dictate his life even now. Poor guy loves his mother but it’s only Isa that he can talk to about his interest in science and chemistry. But the rumors have spread, making people think there’s something between them. This is the reason why Victor has been summoned to investigate Isa, whom the dowager countess deems as someone very outlandish (due to the fact that she came from elsewhere) and so not of their rank. She wouldn’t stand it that her only son and heir would marry someone like Isa!
Victor and Isa’s first meeting in 10 years was less than cheerful as both are angry and instantly suspicious. Isa immediately begins thinking Victor came to turn her life upside down, messing with her peaceful existence. Worst still, what if he’s learned of Amalia and came to take her away? She can’t even begin to imagine living without her little girl. Leaving her in a faraway school is tough enough but this, she can’t take. So Isa immediately decides to dodge Victor at all cost. Amalia at that time was visiting her. Isa journeys towards Amalia’s school in secret. For Victor, it was a bittersweet moment too as seeing Isa after such a long time, the only thing he can think of is to... well, how good she looks and how much he still wants her. At least, his body gives him signs that it does. But he won’t let his body rule his mind. Victor is more than determined to see that justice is served.
But it was really fun to watch Isa and Victor re-discovering themselves as a couple in this process of hide and seek. Isa trying to dodge him, yet realizing pretty fast that she doesn’t hate him after all these years. Though her only concern is that he’d take Amalia away, Isa finds that she wants him and it’s been so long she’s been with anyone. Not since Victor of course. So the attraction is there, shimmering; sometimes scorching too. I must admit that the ‘Big Mis’ with which this story started got me a little apprehensive as I don’t like such situation all that much. But I knew SJ to handle the whole thing like the pro she is. So it happens, I loved watching Victor getting super jealous whenever Rupert came near Isa or she getting jealous whenever the talks of any other women came into the conversation. It was pretty much apparent that these two never really gotten over each-other. Now, this closeness is threatening their sanity.
Isa and Victor give into the kisses and fondlings, both loving each-other’s touches that they missed for all those years. The scene where the truth is finally revealed was very satisfying. Isa just wanted to make sure Victor stays away from her home and Amalia so she goes to meet him in Max’s mansion, where he was staying. Isa already figured out that Victor has no idea about Amalia. He’s here on his own ‘business’, and it has everything to do with what happened 10 yrs. ago. Isa decides not to tell him about their daughter... at the least not until she’s sure of his stance in this whole matter. But when their stories were revealed and Isa and Victor start comparing what they were told by Jacoba and Gerhart, they knew instantly just how they were tricked, manipulated. It was, again, bittersweet cause though the matter is kind of solved, it also reminded Isa and Victor what they’ve lost in these 10 yrs. Just then, that night, consummating their marriage once more seemed like the thing to do. I loved it honestly. It wasn’t easy, and there were still some trust issues but Isa and Victor decide to work through it rather than throwing accusations and playing the blame-game. He also opens up to her about his own miserable existence since he thought she had left him. He was lonely; I could literally feel the bleakness pouring out of Victor. Isa’s heart is broken over and over again to hear what he’d suffered and it was all thanks to her own sister and BIL.
When Isa thought she had it all covered, suddenly, her life is upside-down, again, as Gerhart and Jacoba return. When Jacoba threatens to do something bad, Isa, for the first time, stands up to her and kicks her out. It was such a scene and I was cheering her along all the way! Since Victor was also present, he learns of their daughter from Jacoba. He’s shocked, hurt, amazed altogether but not angry when Isa tries to explain why she hid Amalia from him... it seemed logical at first but ever since they came together, she had already decided to tell him. Victor decides that it’s time to let others know that they’re, indeed, married, to avoid any gossip. Rupert is somewhat deflated by this news but his attention is soon diverted by the young, shy and pretty Mary Grace, Mr. Gordon’s niece. His mother seems happy that Isa is now out of question, until she hears of Mary Grace of course.
Then, at the house-party where Rupert invited them both, Gerhart finally makes his vile appearance to threat Isa; bring the Lochlaw jewels to him or else they’d take Amalia away. Apparently, they’ve already managed to fool staff of the school and had taken her out. Isa is completely scared out of her wits. She tells Victor everything. He summons Dom and Tristan from London to get some much needed help. Things pick up from there pretty fast and I found myself glued to the story. I enjoyed everything that happens from here but my most favorite scene has to be the moment Victor meets his little girl. Oh, that brought tears in my eyes; Victor’s desperation to save her, Amalia’s confusion about suddenly having the father she was told died long ago... and then, the first time calling Victor ‘daddy’. Ah, it was all good!
I believe in this book we’ve met Tristan’s match in an inquisitive young Miss. If I read their brief interaction correctly, she’s probably going to keep Tristan on his toes. There’s an instant love-hate attraction between them that already got me intrigued. I’m not sure who is getting the next installment but I damn sure is going to wait eagerly for that one. 4.25 lovely stars for When the Rogue Returns.
I was auto-approved for this ARC by Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster via edelweiss which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.