I have to say that after loving her ‘Ice’ series I wasn’t sure what to expect and in the end, I was surprised by the charm of Ruthless.
Rohan, Comte de Giverney, Viscount Rohan, Baron of Glencoe etc is also known as the King of Hell. Basically he holds parties where everyone can do as they please and he’s even managed to add Latin phrases and dark cloaks to make it all that much more dramatic. Yes, I know. Clubs are so over done in historicals right now but then, it’s hardly about a club. It’s about a man who for twenty years has only lived by one creed. Do as you will. For Rohan, there is no Heaven or Hell, or real reason for life. He’s seen it all, had it all and sees no reason to change. Even when he meets Elinor.
Elinor Harriman is in dire straits with a younger sister, two older servants and a crazed mother to look after. As it is, the family is living on the very edge of destitution due to Lady Caroline’s (Elinor’s mother) frivolous lifestyle. Years of living for pleasure only, has finally caught up with Elinor’s mother and disease is eating at her brain. The book opens with Lydia, Elinor’s younger sister, using her bright beauty to call off the landlord one last time as Elinor discovers that her father’s estates have been left to a distant cousin. Hope is all that is left and as much as Elinor hides things from her sister, Lydia is not nearly as clueless as Elinor hopes. There’s not enough food, no money for rent and in the middle of winter the last few pieces of furniture may have to be used for heat.
How do the King of Hell and a woman on the edge of desperation meet? Not as you might think and as the story unfolds, there is almost a fairytale quality to courtship that starts.
But wait. This is Anne Stuart, so for as many fairytale moments there are darker, twisted moments and that is what brings the story to life.
Elinor has a true past. Not a whitewashed ‘oh no, I was ruined because I was seen alone’ kind of past but a dirty, horrible truth that has etched itself into who she is. She considers herself plain and unattractive and hardly worth noticing so instantly rebuffs any of Rohan’s flirting. After all, he is toying with her as a cat does a mouse. Rohan is gorgeous in a beautiful way that has any person he wants falling at his feet. Working hard for anything is a laugh so discovering a woman who sees him and keeps on walking is a novelty.
I was expecting a dark hero, especially with the title of the King of Hell. Instead Rohan is charming and solicitous to Elinor and really, all those around him that he considers a friend. He likes to play Devil’s advocate so of course, he can come off as a complete ass and yet, if he truly hurts someone he does try to back off. As much as Rohan’s past is filled with pain, his recent past is more about pleasure and fulfilling it without judgment or worry. So there a few scenes that other readers might cringe over. I was shocked at one point but when I thought on it I realized that Rohan truly knows no better so why would he do anything different.
The fairytale part of the story comes from Rohan’s need to save Elinor and her family. Sure, not every member, and in the end he had a plan but knowing that he couldn’t help but send food and wood and clothes to Elinor and her family made me smile. Anne Stuart’s heroes are not normally known for their sweet side so seeing this in Rohan was too cute. But remember, Rohan is not always cute.
Another part of the story I found compelling is the time line. I know we’re all so rushed nowadays and want the hero and heroine to just fall in love already but there is time between Rohan and Elinor’s meeting and I appreciated it. Falling in love over a weekend and wrapping it all up in a HEA with a marriage proposal can be wonderful but it can’t happen every time! I should also mention the secondary romance which is true to Ms. Stuart’s way of complete opposites finding true love with Rohan’s best friend Charles Reading and Elinor’s sister Lydia. And I always appreciate the reality that Ms. Stuart brings to all her stories. If the heroine is in danger, then she is in real danger. The villain is never silly or comical, they might be dumb or misguided or even crazed but their intent is true and they will do everything in their power to reach their desired result.
In the end, this is a lighter book for Ms. Stuart when it comes to the romance between Rohan and Elinor and it was fantastic. The best part, is this love story is set against a back drop of real life and all it’s dangers and quirks. For those readers who have sometimes wished that Ms. Stuart wrote epilogues, you will be quite happy with the end as is and not need anything more to prove Rohan and Elinor’s love.
Few outsiders will ever witness the dark misdeeds of the Heavenly Host. And among this secret society, where exiled Georgian aristocrats gather to indulge their carnal desires, fewer still can match the insatiable appetite of their chief provocateur, the mysterious Viscount Rohan.
Pursuit of physical pleasure is both his preferred pastime and his most pressing urge, until he encounters the fascination of a woman who won’t be swayed. And while his dark seduction appalls the pure and impoverished Elinor Harriman, she finds herself intrigued…and secretly drawn to the man behind the desire.