My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Sabrina Jeffries’ How the Scoundrel Seduces, book 3 of the Duke’s Men series, tells us the story of the Scoundrel of the Bonnaud/Manton Family, Tristan. I’ve been eagerly awaiting his book ever since I finished book 2. I loved most aspects of this story, unless I count in some things that also left me a little exasperated.
As for those who don’t know, you should probably start with the Hellions of Hallstead Hall, IF you want to be introduced to the protagonists of this series, who were secondary characters. It’s not strictly necessary but fun nonetheless. ‘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, George, 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.
The Duke of Lyons, Max, was one of the characters from the Hellions series. He’s also the H of book 1 of this series, What the Duke Desires. Thankfully, he’s now happily married to Lisette.
Max’s long lost cousin, Victor, was rescued in book 1. At that time, Max thought himself alone in this world. With the rumors of a so-called curse hanging above his head, he was only too happy to have someone to call ‘brother’ again, even if he was unable to find his own brother, the original heir, who passed away long ago. Victor’s story can be found in When the Rogue Returns.
Victor was treated by Dr. Worth, and you can read his story in a novella called Dorinda and the Doctor.
Max hired Manton’s Investigation to find his brother. Even though the result wasn’t what he was looking for, this case received much popularity in the media nonetheless. Thus, Manton’s Investigation got its fancy name ‘The Duke’s Men’. Dom is not amused by all the unwanted attentions but Tristan, the mischief-maker, obviously loves it. Dom, though, appreciates that this helped boosting his business. Then Lisette went and fell in love with Max. As Victor gradually got hale and hearty, he became restless. He was then given an assignment by Dom which also corresponded with his own mission in life; to find his erstwhile wife and teach her a lesson for betraying him. I would say, I loved these installments much, except for Dr. Worth’s novella.
At the end of book 2, Dom and Tristan are caught up in Victor’s case, most especially, to save the life of his wife and daughter. To help him out, Tristan had to go under a disguise. Lady Zoe, who was attending the house-party where it all took place, saw something she shouldn’t have. Upon hearing they’re the Duke’s Men, she asked for a favor to keep their secret safe. Dom and Tristan had to accede to her wishes. It was apparent that though she doesn’t look spoiled, Lady Zoe loves getting her way, much to Tristan’s irritation.
How the Scoundrel Seduces essentially starts from there and is based on this ‘favor’ that Zoe asked for. Even though she’s been a loving daughter, Zoe has always known there’s something not right with her dark hair and darker skin. She’s an heiress on her own right so she’s the only heir to Viscount Olivier’s legacy. Zoe is an accomplished Lady as well. When she hears from her aunt, Lord Olivier’s sister, that she has Romany blood in her, she becomes worried. Lord Olivier, formerly a Major who inherited the title after his elder brother died, is a white man. So was his wife, whom Zoe has known as her only mother. What is this now?
This puts Zoe in a dilemma. Very soon, one of her American’s cousins, an accomplished artist, Jeremy Keane will arrive. It’s Lord Olivier’s wish that they marry to keep the family legacy into the family. Zoe is not averse to it. She’s been bread to abide by her responsibilities as an heir and will do whatever is asked of her like the dutiful girl. She loves her estate, which she has, so far, been managing successfully, all thanks to her father who trained her early on. But if what her aunt told her is true and the words get out, not only she’ll be disinherited of everything but also, her family’s good name will be in shambles. Lord Olivier refuses to even acknowledge any truth in that. But Zoe needs to know it, to confirm that maybe her aunt is wrong. Who best can help her but the famous Manton’s Investigation?
As gypsies, Romany people were considered lowest of the low by the white people. They were associated with all sorts of crime and in no way accepted in and around the larger society. There might’ve been a part of them who were criminals, just as any white man around them but they were still stigmatized and ostracized. Anyone having any link to them was also treated the same. But that’s not all the Roms were. They had their own culture, beliefs and lifestyle that didn’t go with the people around them. They don’t have material ties to the world, hence they’d move as a clan from one place to another, making a living from selling this and that along the way. And it certainly didn’t mean they were not rich in their own heritage, to something they held on even today. In here, this social inequality plays a dominant role.
I could understand Zoe’s problem and her subsequent (and secret, her father’s can’t know about this) arrival to the Manton’s. There she meets up with Dom. Soon Tristan joins in too. Now here is the thing, they got off on wrong foot the last time, especially because Tristan has a decided dislike of the Tonnish people, apart from the few that are in his immediate family, like Max. They have treated his family, including her mother, so poorly, that he’d rather not mix with them. So it was no surprise that he begins being rude to Zoe on spot. Dom becomes a little exasperated by Tristan’s behavior but Zoey can hold on her own. She doesn’t care to be cowed by a rude man, even if he’s handsome as the devil. Though I got a little annoyed by Tristan’s presumptions and behavior, I can confirm that he had a hard on ever since he met her, so you do the math. I’m sure that was one of the reasons why he was so grouchy to her. Want but can’t have. Ooh the misery! :p
The case ultimately goes to Tristan, to Zoe’s frustration, for he knows the Romany camps in and around the city like the back of his hands. It’s also because he had a ‘history’ with them, as you’ll know in the beginning as a flashback. There are different sides of that flashback present in the other installments too, as an opening scene, that tells us how trouble found the Bonnauds and things came to be this way today. Above all, it’s a fact that Tristan can speak splendid Romany, so to Dom, he seemed to be the best choice. But then he has a ‘history’ with beautiful but loose women too. And Zoe is rather an unconventional beauty with her beautiful skin, dark hair and curvy body. Dom had to give Tristan that look that says ‘no game with this one’. As if Tristan would! She’s a ‘Lady’ for crying out loud, even if at the moment that status seems questionable. And Tristan always preferred honest women, like opera dancers and actresses. Lady Zoe possesses no threat to his sanity or his well-being... even if he questions these things by the reaction of his body whenever she’s around.
Tristan is frustrated by his body’s demand and he and Zoe are bound to meet, secretly, because of the case. He, at one point, decides to work on the case so that he can also start looking for a Rom named Milosh to whom he ‘sold’ a horse many moons ago. The horse his father willed him before his death. But the codicil was burned by George, his stepbrother, right afterwards. Later George did everything to catch Tristan so that he’s tried and hanged for ‘horse thieving’. But Tristan escaped to France with his family. They didn’t fare well and their mother died without any treatment because of their poverty stricken state. It was quite recently that Tristan returned after working with the Sûreté Nationale, trained as a bona fide investigator. His primary object was to stay close to Dom and Lisette, also try everything to exact revenge on George. Now it seems that he can work on both cases side by side.
In between, Zoe’s cousin Jeremy arrives. He turns out to be one handsome man. Though Zoe likes him, she’s not sure of his habit of frequenting brothels. And who else but Tristan to show him all the ‘fun’ places around London when they met at a ball later! But what disturbs Zoe is rather Tristan’s womanizing ways, that he may have been with someone else on their outing. But Tristan later denies this. Right now, there’s only one woman in his mind. And so we find them dancing around this attraction but rather unsure of what to do considering the circumstances.
After some investigation, Tristan comes up with some information. Lord Olivier did bring Zoe as an infant, and his wife was with him when this happened. Zoe gave him the name of her possible biological mother, Drina. She then insists that Tristan take her with him on his investigations. The trips to the Romany camps don’t bring much result. They can’t trace Drina, for now, but they sure do kiss each-other’s face off whenever they get the opportunity. Then there was a very pregnant Lisette’s equally unsubtle attempt at matchmaking for her older brother. She’d love to see everyone around her happily settle down it seems, just the way she was lucky enough to have. She likes Zoe, who seemed to her like the perfect candidate for Tristan. She even decides to tell Zoe of their sordid past and the things they’d suffered. It does help Zoe to soften up towards Tristan even more.
At one point, Tristan is finally able to track down Milosh. He needs to see him and discuss their ‘past’. He can also inquire about Drina here Milosh is at that moment. Zoe, as usual, tags along, though Tristan is not happy about this. He’s worried about her safety but when Zoe is determined, even he can’t stop her! This trip (finally) proves to be fruitful. When Milosh takes one look at Zoe, he exclaims ‘Drina’ in such a way that both Tristan and she are surprised. From there we get the whole heartbreaking story of love, a pregnancy and apparent betrayal. Zoe learns that she’s probably not her father’s mistress’s child, as she was vaguely hoping for. Drina is, or was, Milosh’s older sister who got entangled with George’s man-of-all-trade, Hucker. The same Hucker who would do anything George asks of him, including all the dirty work.
Tristan hated Hucker with a passion, almost as much as he did George. Hucker, who once was a nice enough guy, changed with years, becoming a puppet for George’s whims. He made a lot of trouble for Tristan’s family on George’s behalf. Tristan’s not sure how he’d react, if Zoe indeed is his daughter. At one time, Milosh’s people were allowed to be on Tristan’s father’s land, who didn’t mind about it all that much like his peers. This is how Drina and Hucker met. In Rom culture, you don’t mix up with a gadjo or risk banishment. Poor Drina got caught and was banished by her people. After she got pregnant, she began living with Hucker permanently. Milosh, for one, didn’t want his sister to suffer but he couldn’t do anything at that time. But he had hoped that someday she’ll return to them.
Sadly, that never happened. And though, at first, Milosh thought Zoe ‘Drina’, he knew almost instantly that she’s too young to be his sister. But this also made one thing clear. Drina was Zoe’s mother. Now it’s apparent that she has an uncle with a big family as well. After learning Drina has died, Milosh instantly suspects Hucker and becomes enraged. He vows to exact revenge, to kill him on spot. But Tristan can’t have it. If Milosh is to face Hucker, George would inevitably know, and he’d do everything to ruin Zoe’s reputation. After all, they’re trying to be hush-hush about it, not bandy it about the whole country! With George, you can be sure that he’d spread this bit of news with utter relish.
Tristan and Zoe already became a lot closer over their regular meetings and trips together. After this news, she seeks solace in his arms. Though Zoe knows Tristan might not marry her, as he has told her many times that he’s not the marrying kind, she still wants him. As for Tristan, what Zoe doesn’t know is that in the deepest recesses of his jaded heart, he has been hoping that things were different for them. But she’s an heiress and their match can never happen. Either way, she’d be socially unacceptable if she marries the French Whore’s bastard, as Tristan’s mother was known throughout, thanks to George. Ah, the irony!
But then, they are caught together by Lord Olivier. When that happened, both Tristan and Zoe was having conflicting thoughts regarding each other; does he love me? Does she love me? Does she love me for myself? Has he proposed because it’s the ‘right thing to do’? But ultimately, they both express the intention of getting married. That they want to be together, even if it means Zoe’s reputation will be ruined once the words get out on who she’s marrying. Then comes the hardest part; Lord Olivier <i>finally</i> having to come clean about the circumstances of Zoe’s birth. It wasn’t as surprising as much as it was emotional, Zoe and Tristan already having a good idea what went on. It only confirmed everything. Zoe was in emotional distress knowing how Lord Oliver and his wife found a heavily pregnant and badly beaten up Drina on the road, who died in the next hour giving birth to her. The opportunity to know her birth mother lost even before it began.
Lord Olivier demands that Tristan take him to Milosh and they work things out about Zoe’s future. Zoe’s Romany heritage can’t be known if she is to survive the scrutiny and stay an heiress. Jeremy, for all his faults, was the easiest to handle. He never seemed like an evil person to me, and he kinda accepts the fact that Zoe is not marrying him. Oh well, all he wanted was to work on his creative juices, among other things. *eyeroll* Moreover, he has his own load of cash inherited from his family, so why would he really bother? For Zoe, in her heart, she didn’t care what happened as long as she’s with Tristan. If only she had some idea what was on his mind........
Milosh does give Tristan, Lord Olivier and Dom, who join them later, a hard time when he goes to search out Hucker anyway and avenge Drina’s death. This part of the story was quite suspenseful and the truth revealed making the read more even emotional. As they face Milosh and Hucker, news spread through George’s men. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t waste one moment before butting in. I had an inclination that he’d get his comeuppance sooner or later, which he does, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t feel bad for him. Oh, I do NOT condone his spiteful behavior but I could totally see where it came from. Father moving away from mother who loved him, finding a mistress in a few years of marriage, then the infant little bother’s birth killing his mother... it was a seriously sad and messy history, thanks to the old Viscount! Even Tristan and Dom saw why George became so bitter. They never liked the man but I totally appreciated that they accepted the reasons why it might’ve been. Most importantly that it was essentially their father’s fault for breaking up their family, and not George.
Now, the Manton/Bonnaud family is just looking to bond and create, not break things up. I have to say I felt very glad for them. Dom becomes the Viscount after George’s passing. Tristan and Zoe marries, knowing that Hucker didn’t kill her mother. In fact, Hucker loved her and was looking forward to marry her. Sadly, George’s meddling ruined everything for them. Now, Hucker knows he can’t even claim his right, as do Milosh but that doesn’t mean they can’t be close by and be a family in their own way. Hucker is willing to start anew to make his daughter happy. As for Zoe, she certainly doesn’t wanna let go of her own people, found through so much anger, frustration and tears. She’s all ready to settle down with Tristan, having the love of her loved ones surrounding them both.
Before the conclusion, I’d like to mention that Dom was engaged to a girl named Jane, who is also George’s wife’s cousin. For some reasons, their engagement broke. We do see a few scenes with Jane and Dom, both clearly still into each-other yet have not been able to break down the walls that were erected in the intervening years. Even Lisette’s constant match-making has not been able to get these two even to talk. So was it Dom’s fault, for Jane seems to be mad at him for ‘something’ that might’ve made him do it. I guess we just have to wait till Dom’s book, If the Viscount Falls!
4 stars for How the Scoundrel Seduces. If you’re a SJ fan like me, don’t miss out on this installment!
I was auto-approved for this ARC from Pocket Books via edelweiss which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.