Shameless (The House of Rohan #4)

ShamelessBy Anne Stuart

Publisher: Mira
Publication Date: June 28, 2011
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Netgalley

A long string of tragic loves haunts Viscount Benedick Francis Alistair Rohan. Cool and cynical, he’s weary of life’s fickle games and wants a prim and proper wife he can ignore while indulging his sensual appetites.

Lady Melisande Carstairs is nothing less than a tornado storming into Benedick’s measured life. Possessed of boundless energy and the soul of a reformer, Melisande always conquers, whether it’s saving the souls of soiled doves or seducing the man she’s inconveniently fallen for. When she informs Benedick that his brother’s newly revived Heavenly Host has graduated from simple carnal debauchery to sadistic violence, he’s compelled to investigate, undercover. Under those covers, however, is Melisande herself, playing a dangerous game in the name of justice.

And the Heavenly Host has just seen her hand, and more…

Goodreads Summary

Both Lady Melisande Carstairs and Lord Benedick Rohan are on missions.  Melisande is on a crusade to rescue and reform prostitutes and has turned her late husband’s giant townhouse into a group home for her soiled doves.  Benedick has decided it’s time to find his third – hopefully last – wife, a plump mousy sort who’ll give him an heir and a spare and then fade into the wallpaper while he continues his lifestyle of debauchery.  Their missions collide when Benedick sends for one of his past favorites for a brief encounter – she’s living with Melisande now but she hasn’t quite lost her enthusiasm for her previous profession.  Benedick hasn’t even had a chance to undo his buttons before Melisande bursts in to drag her charge away, and mistaking her for Violet’s madame, he makes an outrageous proposal before she storms out with his entertainment in tow.

Sooner than either would like, Benedick and Melisande end up together again when she comes to him for help.  Girls have come to her house beaten and raped, telling her the presumed defunct Heavenly Host – a secretive club where the very rich engage in all sorts of sexual practices – has been reassembled.  The girls have told Melisande that acts with children at the club are no longer consensual and it’s turned dark and violent and now a girl is missing.  Benedick’s ancestors were the founders of the club and Melisande goes to him for help in finding the girl.  He’s not particularly willing – not only does he not believe her, he’s not all that eager to spend any time with the tart-tongued, disagreeable Melisande – but she makes enough of a nuisance of herself that he’s forced to.

Despite being unable to shake her off during the investigation, Benedick is forced to admit that even if Melisande is maddening, he’s attracted to her and she’s begun to realize that maybe there’s a reason women enjoy sex with the right partner and Benedick might be just the right partner for her.

I love, love this series.  I feel like I’ve been waiting ages for this book, although it’s only been eight months since Breathless, the last book in the series, had been released.  For just a small bit of background on the way the series has worked up until this point: the first book in the series is Ruthless, Francis (Rohan) and Elinor’s story.  The second is Reckless, which is Francis and Elinor’s son Adrian (Rohan) and Charlotte’s story.  The third is Breathless, which is Adrian and Charlotte’s daughter Miranda (Rohan) and Lucien’s story.  Normally, this would have been Miranda and Lucian’s child’s story, but then it would have lost the Rohan line I suppose, since the child would have Lucian’s last name.  The end of that long, convoluted paragraph is to explain that Shameless is the story of Miranda’s older brother Benedick Rohan, who appeared briefly in Breathless which took place about ten years earlier than this story.

This is probably the most classically “historical romance” of all four Rohan books.  There’s a dashing rakish hero who’s been unlucky in love and now is looking only to marry someone he won’t care about, an older spunky widow who’s devoted herself to some controversial charity and there’s a dangerous mystery that’s uniting them long enough that they’ll realize they’re a good match.  Of course the others had the same bare bones classic plots too, but Stuart took them to another level by making her heroes completely dastardly and putting her heroines in truly awful conditions.  To varying degrees of success, she also had secondary romances.  Neither of those are present here and it made for a little blander reading than I was expecting.

When Benedick first appeared in Breathless, he was married to Annis, his first wife whom he loved very much.  She died in childbirth, as did his second wife, which had contributed to his reasons for wanting nothing more than a sturdy broodmare of a wife to drop a couple of babies and then just leave him alone.  Unlike Francis and Adrian, he was never written with any sexual darkness and he wasn’t forceful about anything.  Unlike Lucien, he wasn’t particularly evil although he said cruel things when he wanted to make Melisande leave him alone.  He was very sexy and smooth and he had a very well-developed conscience.

Melisande – who was nicknamed “Charity” in a not-altogether friendly way – was a bit of a combination of the heroines of the previous Rohan books.  She was a little “off the shelf” because of her age (30) but still mostly sexually innocent.  She was a champion of the less-fortunate, smart and a little dowdy – a fixer-upper for a Rohan.  What set Melisande apart was her tendency to argue about everything, although Benedick contributed his fair amount.  They didn’t banter much, they out and out argued.  I liked her more toward the end of the book and when she was with her “gaggle” and best friend Emma.  She was softer and her gentle, sometimes insecure side came out.

While there wasn’t a secondary romance developed in Shameless, there were some other important things happening.  Benedick’s brother Brandon who’d last been seen as a happy carefree man is now a scarred and disfigured wreck, thanks to the Afghan War.  He’s been staggering around Benedick’s townhouse for two months drunk, likely drugged and certainly up to something very bad.  He has a connection to Emma from when he was immediately brought in injured from the war.

There’s also a really wonderful, funny little storyline with Benedick’s sister Miranda and her husband Lucien.  She’s as delightful as ever and I love how her relationship Lucien turned out – and Benedick hates him just as much as he always did, which is equally hilarious.  When Breathless ended, I was disappointed.  He was so incredibly evil for nearly the entire book that his redemption felt as brief as a blink.  This little look at their marriage completely satisfied me.  I’m also happy that at the end of Shameless there’s a tiny epilogue – it’s completely appropriate given the storyline and after I read it I realized if it had been left off, the book would have felt incomplete.

My Summary: It’s difficult to rate this book without comparing it to the others in the series because while it wasn’t the worst, it wasn’t close to the best either and there’s not a lot of wiggle room in between.  Technically compared to other historicals, this is a fine book – Stuart is a great author who can make dialogue snap and write steamy sex scenes without ever being graphic and she’s done that here.  I wasn’t always in love with Melisande and Benedick, but I could see why they’d fall in love with each other.  My problem with the story was that I was comparing it to the other House of Rohan books and I found it a little lukewarm – whether it’s good or bad, Stuart is famous for her dark, seemingly irredeemable heroes and Benedick never was that for me.  I wasn’t really that surprised when he and Melisande fell in love and I never even needed a grovel scene – sacrilege in a Stuart romance.

My Rating: C+

Barbara

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