Pub date: April 25, 2016 (ARC review)
H/h - Damen Ravenhill/Lady Sarah Strathford
Setting: England, 1855.
Read in April-May, 2016.
We were gifted, yet again, by Victoria Hanlen with another marvelous read, The Trouble With Seduction, which is another fun addition to her already growing backlist. I became a fan of her writing the moment I started The Trouble With Misbehaving, an amazing story with plenty of actions and adventures, 2 beautifully connected people who come together through it all.
Now TTWS is loosely connected to TTWM. The Trouble With Misbehaving actually takes place a couple of years after The Trouble With Seduction. TTWM is the story of an American-born, now-exiled, heiress, Callista Collins and her journey to reach a Civil-war torn America to rescue her mother who was largely the reason why she was in exile to begin with. Beau has been a blockade runner and a few other shady things in his life even though he was born to nobility. But being the third son of an Earl, one then known as the “blacksheep” of the family, leaves you very little choices in life. At least for the era we’re talking about. He’d just been back to England after long years on the sea, experiencing many adventures, and some tragedies, when he meets Callista and is swept off his feet by her. Yes, by HER. Quite literally.
It’s because Callista was like that. A larger than life presence. A heiress on her own who managed her own empire even though harsh gossip about her “past”, the reason why she was exiled to England, could still hurt her. It’d already ruined whatever reputation she might’ve had. But Callista learned a lot through her experiences in life. She’s a woman with an independent streak that ran a mile, also someone who knew her mind all too well. She knew what she wanted, and this time it was Beau, the best captain out there who could take her to America by charting dangerous territories. Or so legends go about his various escapades. But was he up to the task now that he’s decided to resort to a quiet and peaceful... a more respectable life? A story that began with the promise of the highest rewards and benefits suited both Beau and Callista just fine, as they begin uncovering more than their share of new adventures, life and love, not to mention some villains as well!
On the course of the story, we meet a few interesting secondary characters. One was only by mention, the other, who was linked to the previous character. The former was Sarah, Viscountess Falgate, the later her husband, Viscount Falgate, who went by as Lord Falgate, or simply Falgate. It was mentioned from the very beginning that Sarah was missing, and Callista, her best friend, deemed Falgate to be the criminal behind it all. Sarah was missing for so long that they deemed her dead already, a fact that Callista couldn’t take in easily. Throughout the story she had harassed Falgate one way or the other, who, though a handsome man, always seemed to be in a dark mood... and either perpetually drunk or in a drunken stupor. I won’t go into the details of Sarah’s fate as its still unknown, but I knew this— Falgate didn’t seem like a legitimate villain even though he’d also been mean to Callista a few times and answered to her pokes and jibes with his own. He didn’t seem like someone who was happy to have lost his wife, though Callista would beg to differ and say all were a ruse. Even so, I was intrigued by him and wanted know his backstory with Sarah.
Then Lo and Behold! Ms. Hanlen granted my wish sooner than I had hoped she would. As I mentioned earlier, TTWS takes quite a few years before TTWM, which means no resolution is found in here. We’re rather treated with her introduction to Mr. Damen Ravenhill and some more adventures of their own which brought them together. Their match was unexpected, as Damen was largely a recluse, plus had a vague past compared to his brother Cornelius, the original source of Sarah attraction. But Cornelius is a known womanizer, and was previously been rude to Sarah, which dumped a bucket-load of cold water in her expectations. However, things weren’t quite the same when they met again some months later.......
Sarah had already been married twice when we meet her, both with men much, much older than her. It wasn’t anything abnormal at that time; both her marriages were arranged by her father. Even though the first husband died shortly after her marriage, the second one, Lord Strathford, was a bit closer to her age. The age difference was still there but Sarah wasn’t a green girl anymore. Her relationship with Strathford, who was also a brilliant inventor, was a good one. Just how brilliant, we find, as we learn of some sex toys à la Victorian-era that were presented to Sarah by Strathford to allay her “need” when he’s not around or too busy with one of his inventions. Sarah had a healthy appetite for sex, and though Strathford’s absence was a thorn, she enjoyed herself alone. ;) It later became a habit, and helped her through even after Strathford’s rather sudden demise some years ago in a laboratory explosion. Sarah never loved either of her husbands, but Strathford’s absence still hurts her. She hoped she knew what had happened to him that fateful day, which was ruled as an accident by the law enforcement.
Even though her brother, Niles, was trying to marry Sarah off—quite unsubtly— to a buddy of his, Sarah had no interest in a marriage any longer. But Cornelius was the only person who has interested her in years. Actually, as far as men went, she has never been attracted to anyone like she had been to Cornelius’s tall, dark good looks. But his attitude cut her, so she decided to stay away. But then, one day Ravenhill suddenly shows a awfully lot of interest in her. This time he looked a little worse for wear, no thanks to the beating he took somewhere, or so the gossip went. Sarah has heard of it like many others, yet his unexpected attentions intrigues her rather than making her suspicious. He doesn’t seem rude or arrogant, somehow more charming and entertaining than before. Can Sarah’s secret wish, for once, come true? Really?
Fortunately, or unfortunately (however one decides to look at it), it wasn’t Cornelius but Damen. Cornelius, at that time, was recuperating... or should I say, in a coma, from the beating he took in the rookery of St. Giles. Damen being a recluse, and living in his country estate, many in London had no idea of him. He resembles his younger brother very closely, so much so, when he hears of this he decides to pose as Cornelius and find out what’s going on. His father’s old and worn face, now lined with worries and pain, hurts the always responsible, the good boy of the family Damen. Whatever it took, he wanted to find out the attackers and punish them.
As mentioned earlier, Damen’s past is a bit vague. It seemed their mother was a tavern owner (?) and died young suffering. Damen was the one who was with her on that fateful day and that pain still haunts him. He’d also grown up learning the alleys and rookeries of St. Giles, learning fisticuffs, which later turned into full blown brawling matches. All because he knew, in that God-forsaken place, only the fittest would survive. Damen had also been very protective of Cory (as he and everyone close to Cornelius call him). I don’t know how come a tavern owner got to marry a Viscount and had 2 sons but after their mother’s death, the Viscount took his sons in. That’s when Damen was given a full education and everything else that comes with being the son of nobility. Damen though, still considers himself a boor, someone still possessing a rough edge. Certainly not someone who should handle a delicately beautiful lady like Sarah Strathford! Yet, the moment he made himself known as his much colorful younger brother, women of all shapes and size came pouring in. One, an always black-clad widow called Mrs. Ivanova, claiming to be his mistress, yet somehow a part of a bigger conspiracy/plan. Then, his fiancée, a thin and rather severe looking spinster called Miss Lambert. She looks so cold and pinched, Damen knew this match was largely a MOC, for money no doubt rather than anything else. Miss Lambert’s father is filthy rich. This was something his brother could’ve definitely pulled off, but not Damen. He wasn’t that type and was rather unhappy with what he saw. Then he got to meet some unexpected...uh, past amours of Cory’s, who also took him for Cory. Those scenes were quite hilarious with Damen trying to fend off those women and cursing his brother and all his misdeeds. LOL And last but not the least was Lady Sarah Strathford, somehow not in the circle of his brother’s amours, yet someone a part of his secret scheme.
Mrs. Ivanova has already asked Damen to seduce Lady Strathford in order to find a plan of sort that originally belonged to Lord Strathford. This is what made Damen approach Sarah at first. He was adamant of not taking advantage of the lady but finish his assignment as well as possible. However, after meeting Sarah, his plans go out the window. Damen falls head over heels for her, maybe not on the first sight but gradually, as they keep meeting in the later parts of the story. He, still masquerading as Cory, convinces Sarah that if they work together, they can find out who may have killed Strathford, for very recently Sarah has unearthed something that led her to believe that Strathford’s death may not have been an accident.
For Sarah, it was a pleasant surprise, but not as pleasant as the fact that that suave, charming and extraordinarily handsome Mr. Ravenhill is so attracted to her. She was walking in clouds, happy as one could be. Their meetings to “investigate” turned more and more into learning endeavors, of each-other. And the more they did, they knew they’d fit perfectly with one another. Even though Sarah was willing to become Mrs. Ravenhill, if not, at the least his lover, Damen was in a bigger dilemma. Though the investigation of his brother’s attack wasn’t going so well, with more villains and muck dredging up everywhere he looked, he was more concerned of Sarah’s reaction once she knew he’s not who he had claimed to be. He’d deceived her on the get go, Damen knew it well and it ate him alive every time they had a wonderful moment, or a hot, delicious kiss. He’d push her away for a time because he didn’t want to hurt her. He even knew they may not have a future once everything was said and done. However, Sarah was not about to give up. She’d have Mr. Ravenhill in her life, or die trying to convince him that what they’d found is more precious than anything else in the world. They found love. And that led to the seduction, and consummation of Damen and Sarah’s feelings though Damen was yet to tell her the truth about his identity.
Here is the thing, I dislike theme of mistaken identity as much as when one main character is deceiving the other under a disguise. It tends to become murky at some point of the story, and if the author isn’t good in handling those scenes, the story may become completely ruined for me. But I had every confidence in Ms. Hanlen to handle the situation quite well. And she did, simply yet elegantly, without a blow up drama. All it took was the straightforward truth to test their respect and devotion, but avove all, their trust. When things go rather bad, Damen is forced to become separated from Sarah. Some villains of the rookery, possibly the ones who beat Cory up, were already after them. Then they couldn’t find the infernal plan that they were looking for. Apart from the mess that was Cory’s impending nuptials to Miss Lambert, who demanded that it takes place soon and starts sending out invitations, Mrs. Ivanova drops the bomb about her pregnancy to Sarah. Imagine having both bomb dropped on you on the same day. So yes, Sarah knew “Cory” was a womanizer, but she believed that they had something special. And this sort of broke her into pieces.
They were apart for a while after that. In the beginning of the story, Damen had deliberately bruised his face to pursue his investigation with the help of someone so people wouldn’t look too closely and become suspicious, which is now healed. He was now sporting a beard. Though she thought she’d avoided a greater disaster than her unfulfilled marriages, Sarah wasn’t happy. And when she heard that “Cory” was attacked again in the rookery (this time it was Damen as Cory was still not out of bed), she couldn’t stay away. She had to see him. While in Ravenhill townhouse, instead she meets Damen Ravenhill, his elder brother. It could’ve been another misunderstanding, something to drag this one, but one look and a plea from Damen changes everything. As I said, the trust and devotion, especially after he explains everything to Sarah and things begin to fall into place. They passed with flying color. :)
The last confrontation scene with the villains was taken care of rather easily, with some more pieces of the puzzle, including Strathford’s death, solving in the process. After that, nothing was stopping Sarah and Damen from getting married. Cory, whom everyone thought was on death’s door, was now gradually getting back in the world of the living. When the story ends, he was convalescing at the Ravenhill country estate.
But the ending of TTWS doesn’t answer many of my questions. We don’t really know who is this Mrs. Ivanova and her real connection to Cory. Where was Cory the past few years of his life and how did he got into so much trouble? It seemed like he was some sort of a spy...? Many things are left vague where Cory past was concerned (his story should be titled "The Trouble Itself" *eyeroll*). It also doesn’t explain what happened to Sarah in The Trouble With Misbehaving and why it happened? And I was so disappointed to find that Damen and Sarah had no scene with one of those “contraptions” designed by Strathford... yes I’m talking about those sex toys. Poor Damen had no idea what those were; could’ve been hilarious, as well as hot, scenes between those two.
But fear not, I had a chat with Ms. Hanlen, who tells me she’s currently working on Cory’s story (YAY!!). I’m sure his book will shed plenty of light on those questions left unanswered. I also was able to put some ideas in her head regarding Cory’s heroine. No, not going to say anything until the book is out. I just know it’ll be so much fun if ‘she’ gets her wish fulfilled (mine too, in the process). Oh Cory, you’d be in so much TROUBLE! ;) I hope we see some novellas too. I’d love to see Beau and Callista, who made several appearances in TTWS, once again alongside a definite return of Sarah and Damen. The possibilities are endless!
(this is what happens when you get too involved in the lives of your favorite characters. *sigh*)
Even though for the first 50% of the story was a bit of a drag for me, I was definitely not disappointed me in The Trouble With Seduction. When the story finally started going, I gobble up the rest!! 4 solid stars. I’ll finish my review awaiting some news of Cory’s book with bated breath.
I received this ARC, courtesy of Carina UK, via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.