My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Anna Campbell’s A Rake's Midnight Kiss was a rather pleasant surprise. I generally love Anna’s writing but sometimes the stories don’t seem to live up to my expectations.
The Sons of Sin series tells the story of 3 friends who are burdened by the truth of their illegitimate birth, the one thing they have in common. The one thing that made them stick together since they met as children, to fight the judgmental society. Some of them are noblemen, some are not. In their adulthood, Jonas, Richard and Cam are still together in their struggle, even though they are privileged people of the society. Jonas is rich but he’s scarred both inside out, needing a soft touch in his life. Richard is a baronet and a charming rake. Widows certainly don’t bother about his illegitimacy when they fall into his bed! Cam is the Duke, a bit more broody and serious than Richard.
The series starts with Jonas’s story, book 1, Seven Nights in a Rogue's Bed. Jonas has lived alone almost all his life. Though he has not lived like a monk, his facial scars repulse most people. He’s good in bed and women would sleep with him given the incentive but in one condition. They want the lights turned off. It was because of a gambling debt is why Sidonie finds herself in his doorstep. She wanted him to forgive her flighty and rather selfish sister’s debt. One look at her, and Jonas knew he doesn’t want to let her go, though he knows, eventually she’ll leave him. So 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. I found it superb that Sidonie was neither appalled by his looks, nor revolted by his demands. The chemistry was sizzling from the very first moment. Loved how they came to know each-other, through sex and then conversations, trust and finally, love. Seven nights are not enough to fall in love, yet that’s what happened. Later on, trouble and a rather silly misunderstanding threaten to tear them apart but they overcome it together.
The novella in the middle, Days of Rakes and Roses, is the story of Cam’s sister. It was rather forgettable IMO so I won’t be talking about it.
Now I was a little apprehensive going into this one because of my bad experience with the novella. But I had to read Richard’s story as the excerpt in book 1 was very interesting. Richard has been living a lie all his life. He’s the heir to the Harmsworth legacy being the only son of the previous baronet. Yet, everybody in the whole wide world knows that he’s a bastard. When his mother, Augusta, conceived him, his ‘father’ was not anywhere near her, let alone taking part in the process. It’s rumored some groom of the Harmsworths’ did the deed. For some reason, Harmsworth accepted Richard, making him his heir. Richard looks nothing like his dark haired mother, or his ‘father’, as he’s as golden as they come. He’s also very fastidious when it comes to fashion. No one would find Richard’s wardrobe out of season or a hair out of place. He has also perfected that suave exterior to keep the world and its hurtful barbs at bay, because when he’s attending a ball and heaven forbid, his mother is also present, they always look for a scene; something to gossip about and viciously tear their family apart. Over and over again.
Not that Richard has a family to call his own. He hates his mother for bringing such shame on the family and avoids her as much as possible. Still a beauty at her advanced age, Augusta is apparently very promiscuous, having beaus, both old and new, surrounding her always. The story, actually, starts with such a scene, giving us a glimpse of the cold bitterness that resides between the mother and the son. And from there arose the sneer of bastardy that, still, never fails to rile Richard up. One would’ve thought he would’ve been used to it by now. Apparently not.
From this rage formed a plan. Richard wants to regain the Harmsworth jewel. It was stolen a long time ago and never recovered. To Richard, gaining the jewel would make him the true heir to the Harmsworth legacy. When he shows off the ancient artifact to the Ton, no one would dare to trounce him for being a bastard! His search leads him to the quaint little village of Little Derrick... and to the window to the library of the vicar. Richard has been staying at Cam’s, whose estate, Leighton Court, is in this area. He thought it’d be a piece of cake; disguising himself as a thief to search the library where the jewel is supposed to be. He does see the jewel on the desk but unfortunately, the vicar’s scholarly daughter, Genevieve, also sees him. There ensues a little scuffle where Richard, of course, tackles her easily. Richard had to leave because it was apparent he can’t do anything about it now. He didn’t even think that the daughter never accompanied the vicar in Cam’s house where they’re all at now.
It was time for plan b, and Richard needs Cam’s help. He would be masquerading as a student of ancient history, a Christopher Evans, who wants to be an apprentice of sort to the vicar. Cam introduced him to the vicar as such, and the plan was settled. Richard knew it was Genevieve he needs to charm, because it was she who refused to sell it to the man of Richard Harmsworth. No amount of money could sway her mind. A lovely challenge it would be as the tall and beautiful girl has been on his mind from the moment he saw her pouring over the scripts and tomes on her desk. And for Richard, the lure of a beautiful woman is always enough to anticipate something far more pleasurable.
When the thief ran out of her house, Genevieve didn’t know that her life was about to change forever. She has endured the pestering of Harmsworth’s men, but the recent attempt of the thief assures her that it was about the jewel. Genevieve can’t help but wonder, was that an attempt from Harmsworth, or something else entirely? A brilliant scholar of ancient history, Genevieve has already lived her life as an ‘assistant’ to her father. Meaning, she has written all his papers and the vicar, a very self-absorbed whiny man, had reaped the result of it; namely all the good names and accolades. He thinks this is the right way to go about it, since Genevieve is a girl and his daughter. Those are reasons enough for him to think he’s entitled to her ‘services’. The man doesn’t even want to acknowledge her contribution to anyone! Genevieve has resigned to becoming a spinster because she has harbored resentment over the entire male population, no need to look further but her own home for why.
After her mother passed away, Genevieve’s widowed aunt has been living with them. She has tried to make a genteel lady out of Genevieve, but she has no interest in those types of activities. Nowadays, she spends her time writing for her father. And, she has a secret plan of her own, for which she’s using the Harmsworth jewel which was a gift from a female, now deceased, patron; someone who believed in her intelligence. Incidentally, that old woman was Richard’s elderly aunt, who has never approved of him due to his illegitimacy. Like it’s his fault in some way! Genevieve is preparing to publish her own journal very soon. She’s sure that the revelations in it would be the talk of London, if not the whole England. You see, Genevieve is rather impatient to break her father’s hold on her with every intentions of living her own life after that. And if she can help it, marriage and men wouldn’t be a part of that, ever.
Since no one but an elderly nobleman of the area, her father’s only patron, Lord Neville visits their humble little abode on a regular basis, when a Christopher Evans comes to call, and dazzles his way through her house, Genevieve is utterly speechless. She’s instantly suspicious too. What is a man so smart and impossibly handsome doing here? Even though his interest in her is rather out of place (I mean, who cares about spinsterish bluestockings, right?) Genevieve can’t help the attraction. It’s apparent that he’s more interested in her than his original venture. She tries her best to fend him off, but all in vain. The male beauty and rough-ish charm of the man can’t be denied. More so for a rather inexperienced country girl like herself. With this realization, Genevieve knows she’s in big trouble.
As he begins living with the Barrett’s, and being in close proximity to Genevieve, Richard starts feeling something that he shouldn’t have been feeling for a woman. Not only he wants to kiss and fondle her, but also he begins feeling rather protective of her. Genevieve was no good. She’d act that she doesn’t care about him, yet inside, she’d be a puddle of longing every time he flashed her one of his ‘charming smiles’. TBH, because of Richard’s ruse and his initial plans and rakish reputation, I wasn’t really enjoying it. The story felt same ol’ spinster-gone-loco-for-the-rake type. Read no real fun banter between them.
After a while though, I begin seeing things from Richard’s POV, when things started to change. With a life mired in scandal, a ruse of a country gentleman was beginning to feel like just the thing. He was enjoying it way too much because at last, for once, people didn’t start whispering about his illegitimacy on sight. He also was enjoying the village and its people, experiencing the love, respect and generosity that reside there. It made him long for a life like this, preferably with the grumpy spinster that he now follows around like a puppy... er, almost.
When Genevieve was at a loss about how to fight her growing attraction to ‘Christopher’, Lord Neville, who is as mean and greedy as they come, suddenly proposes her. He has already voiced his displeasure at Richard’s presence in the house, but the vicar was adamant to keep him. This time, he sees an opportunity to grab the most precious thing the vicar can offer him, his brilliant daughter. That’s just how he rolls, grabbing whatever catches his eyes by any means he can. So far it was the ancient artifacts. But now he wants Genevieve. Unfortunately, one day, he also sees the Harmsworth jewel in the library. Naturally, he wants that too and offers her a huge amount of money. As Genevieve declines to sell him no matter what, Neville threatens her with the exposure of her true identity to the literary world. Genevieve can’t let that happen because it’ll ruin her plans. So it’s either she marries him or sells him the jewel. Preferably both.
In the meantime, it so happens that Richard and she exchange barbs, jibes and some kisses too. After seeing her bathing nude in at night in a nearby pond, he couldn’t think of anything else but having her. After those kisses, something tickles Genevieve’s memory... the smell of Richard... He smells exactly like the thief that broke into her house! Though her instant assumptions felt farfetched, what I found increasingly annoying was Genevieve’s dual attitude towards Richard. She’d be angry and rude to him on more than one occasion because she thought him a liar, a spy of Harmsworth, all the while wanting him badly. I never knew why she didn’t confront him when she was SO sure of his crimes! And because I already started seeing Richard’s side of the whole thing and began feeling somewhat sympathetic, I wanted to slap her more than once because it was apparent he didn’t want any harm coming her way. I’d go as far as to say that his initial reason for coming here was kinda forgotten in the entire hullabaloo and his own confusing emotions towards her. Emotions that Richard can’t name or express. At least not yet, without confessing, and not hurting someone in the process.
Richard also hated Neville anywhere near her, understanding his intentions. After Neville left with the threat, there is another attempt of thievery at the vicarage when no one was there. This leads Genevieve to believe that Richard/Christopher is behind it all. OMG, I was like this mean old man just left threatening you and you’re suspicious of ‘Christopher’? REALLY?? I’d think of Neville first before anyone else! Richard though, knew this must be Neville’s doing. But this man’s nephew is an Earl, hence calling him out on apparent wild accusations would never lead to anything. They have to tread lightly on this matter.
As they keep dancing around their attraction, Neville doesn’t stay inactive. That day Genevieve and her family were invited to Cam’s for dinner. There she also meets Sidonie and Jonas who were visiting Cam. When she wanted to return home before the others, Neville rather forces her to accompany her, thanks to her stupid father who never bothered about her discomfort around the guy. The lunatic attempts to rape her on the way to his estate. To him, she’s already his, so she’ll learn to ‘obey’ him. This was merely the ‘first step’ into her new life that, he was sure, was soon to happen. Richard chases down the carriage and finds Genevieve, unharmed, yet shaken to the core. Well, it was all ok but I couldn’t believe that she was feeling the need to have sex just after that... huh? And Richard gave in?
To say I didn’t enjoy their first time would be an understatement due to many factors. One was the near-rape, then Richard was still masquerading. I always dislike it when the main characters sleep with each-other under false pretense, unless there is a reason so significant that I have to concede. Richard knew he should come clean, and he was about to... but they end up having sex anyway. The confession comes too late, creating a lame misunderstanding that could’ve been avoided. The rest, we find Genevieve stomping away, while Richard feeling guilty, even though she’s the one who initiated the sex... etc. etc.
This was about the first 200 pages of the book (total 300+ on my nook) and I was getting tired of the roundabout drama because nothing interesting was happening. At all.
It was after Richard’s confession that things turn around rather profoundly, taking a climactic turn. Richard asks for Cam’s help, yet again, to do something about Neville. Although Cam was very suspicious of Richard’s intentions at first and asked him several time to give up this ruse and return to his regular life in London, Richard stayed behind. This time, he also comes clean about his feelings for Genevieve. Yes, he probably is in love for the first time in his life and he’d do anything to protect his woman. Then he leaves the village because he needed to re-group and see what can be done about the whole thing. By this time, Richard didn’t even care for the Harmsworth jewel, even though Genevieve had no idea about any of this.
Now don’t think Genevieve was mad. She wasn’t. She was rather pining away for Richard, even though when he comes to see her a few weeks afterward, she reacts angrily. I was like, here we go again! This time, Richard is the one who humbly tells her what’s on his mind. Genevieve, who never thought such a suave, rich, handsome and titled man like Richard would never want a dowdy spinster like her. When he summarily dismissed her worries, there was nothing for her to do but give into his kisses.
When Neville strikes again, this time he’s vicious and mad for vengeance. He sets a trap for Richard by kidnapping his pet dog. This was probably the most thrilling part of the story, when Richard steps into Neville’s trap. Genevieve follows him and gets herself into trouble too. Neville dumps them in a forgotten crypt near an abandoned cemetery. This was the time to face the truth, to face their true feelings. Richard decides to open up about his ‘real’ life and how his illegitimacy cast a gloomy shadow around him since childhood, and why he’s the way he is today. That he never believed an honest and open girl like Genevieve would ever love someone so shallow like him, yet he longed for her acceptance. So when she returned those words to him, Richard was the happiest man in the world. Even though I didn’t know how they could have sex inside a dirty old crypt (among other things I’d rather not think about), I liked these parts of the story. I loved how my heart was beating fast, feeling the emotions swirling between the two, of fear mingled with hope, that this might be their last chance to be together.
Of course they were saved, thanks to Sirius, who finds a way to get out. After going to Cam’s, Richard begins discussing a way to get rid of Neville, but ultimately, it was Cam, being the Duke he is, takes care of the asshole. I’m still not sure if it was suicide or Cam arranged for something but it was over pretty soon. He, again, proves to be a good friend to Richard, garnering Genevieve’s undying gratitude.
After they’re married, the only thing that remained to be resolved was Richard’s relationship with his estranged mother. Genevieve, especially, wanted him to at least talk to her, and ask her about his real father; something the stubborn woman always kept a secret and he never bothered asking. But as Richard’s wife, she knew he’d never be in peace if this one big question isn’t answered. Will Augusta, who never divulge the secret even when people around her were making disgusting assumptions, tell them anything? Or will she turn her son away? Augusta does, because she’s a mother after all no matter what anyone thought of her. TBH, whatever I thought or felt about her, all washed away when she tells Richard about an unwanted marriage, a lost love and misunderstandings but mostly, the cruelty of fickle fate taking away her happiness forever. I cried when I read that scene. This epilogue was the best scene of the whole book IMO. Beautiful in one word.
Anna has a way with words, sometimes those are a bit too ambiguous for my liking but I admire her vocabulary. I always learn a word or two from her books, which is rather splendid. 4 stars because she managed to turn the story around for me quite well, making it a worthwhile read instead. I’m waiting for Cam’s book now, the next in the series, What a Duke Dares. Hoping for another great read!