After growing up in poverty, Gideon Hawthorne turned to knife-fighting in his teens to keep food in his belly. It was during this time that the Duke of Windemere found him and hired him to do all of his dirty work. For ten years, he's done all the deeds Windemere couldn't possibly stoop to, and during that time, he longed for the duke's niece, Messalina. Now, though, the former scrapper is ready to quit the duke's service and strike out on his own. However, Windemere has one final job for him and he offers a bargain that Gideon can't resist: Perform whatever task is asked of him and in exchange he'll have Messalina's hand in marriage. Ambitious and determined, Gideon has already invested much of his earnings into a business, but more funds to expand, along with the introduction to society that Messalina could provide is too good to pass up. But when he discovers exactly what the duke expects of him, he isn't sure if he can go through with it, because he knows it will break Messalina's heart and that he'll lose her forever.
After losing her parents and growing up under the guardianship of her contemptible uncle, Messalina Greycourt has always intended to take her younger sister and run away as soon as she's saved enough money. She's shocked and appalled when her uncle announces that she'll be marrying the wicked Mr. Hawthorne who she's never really liked. Then Gideon offers a tempting deal: In exchange for willingly making their marriage a real one and not just in name only, he'll give her half her dowry money. Messalina agrees, all the while plotting hers and her sister's escape. However, the more time she spends with her new husband and the more she learns about him, the more her affection for him grows, until she scarcely remembers why she was planning to run from him in the first place. But when she discovers exactly what the final task is that her uncle wants Gideon to perform, it could instantly destroy her love for him and ruin any chance they have for future happiness.
It seems like I've been waiting forever for this second installment of Elizabeth Hoyt's new Greycourt series. I read the first one just over two years ago, so it's been a long time between books, making me very eager to dive into When a Rogue Meets His Match. This one features Messalina, the second-oldest (I believe) of the Greycourt siblings. At the end of the previous book, she was spirited away by Gideon Hawthorne, her evil uncle's bully boy, and this one begins with him returning her home, where her uncle essentially forces her to marry Gideon. Messalina doesn't like him much, but she makes a deal with him in order to get part of her dowry, intending to use it to escape. But the more time she spends with Gideon, the more she starts to see unexpected depths in him and begins to fall in love. But when she finally finds out that her uncle offered Gideon her hand in marriage in exchange for killing her oldest brother, all bets may be off.
Messalina's parents died when she was just a girl. She and her sister, Lucretia, were sent to live with a maiden aunt, but when the aunt died, too, they ended up in the custody of their horrible uncle. Tired of being controlled by a man, Messalina is an independent woman with plans to forge her own path in life. If she marries, she wants to choose her husband, but she's equally content with the idea of running away with her younger sister and starting a whole new life. Then Gideon all but kidnaps her from a country house party she was attending, returning her to her uncle's clutches. There she's informed that she'll be marrying Gideon, a prospect that she vehemently refuses, until he strikes a bargain with her. He offers to give her half her dowry money in exchange for willingly consummating their marriage within one month. Deciding that she can bear sleeping with him just once in order to get the funds she and Lucretia will need to run away, Messalina agrees. However, as she lives in the same house with him over the next few weeks, she begins to see a different side of him that makes her decision to leave harder and harder until she discovers the awful truth of why her uncle offered her to Gideon in the first place. Messalina strikes the perfect balance between being confident and independent while also being sweet and kind. Having known Gideon for a number of years and knowing what he does for her uncle, she's never really liked him even though he's quite physically attractive. But as she begins to uncover all the little hidden depths to his character, she can't help falling for him. I also liked that in spite of her growing up as an aristocrat, she isn't a snob. While she hasn't necessarily thought much about what life is like for the lower classes, she's very open-minded when Gideon schools her on these realities and she genuinely wants to do something to help the less fortunate. That extends to generously and patiently teaching Gideon about what will be expected of him if has any hope of fully entering and being accepted by society. Ultimately she also manages to love him in spite of his deeply checkered past.
Gideon had a very rough life growing up, and by the time he reached his teen years, he was a champion knife fighter. This is where Messalina's Uncle Augustus found him and offered him a job doing all his dirty work. Through the years, he's observed Messalina and knows all the little things that make her who she is. Although he doesn't really realize it until late in the story, I believe he'd fallen in love with her before he ever married her, because she was the only one he wanted. Eventually growing tired of working for Augustus and having used the money he earned to build his own business, he decided to leave Augustus's employment. But given that he was the one who knew where all the bodies were buried so to speak, Augustus was reluctant to let him go. He struck a bargain that Gideon would do one last unnamed job for him and in exchange he could have Messalina's hand in marriage, which was too sweet a deal to pass up. Of course, it wasn't until after he married Messalina that he discovered the job was killing her brother, Julian, and that Augustus would be holding back half the dowry money until the task was completed. Despite all the nasty work he's done for Augustus, Gideon has never killed a man in cold blood before, so it pricks his conscience. Still, he's determined to get the money, something he needs to build out his investments in the coal mining business and finally be accepted by society. But the more time he spends with Messalina, the weaker his resolve to do it becomes until he knows he would lose her if he did, something he simply cannot allow to happen. Normally I fall hard for Ms. Hoyt's heroes, even the rough-around-the-edges ones like Gideon, and in general, I did like him. All the little tidbits of his character development made me pretty sympathetic toward him, but for some reason, I still didn't quite fall all the way in love with him.
Overall, in spite of my uncertainties about Gideon, When a Rogue Meets His Match was another great story from this favorite author that I enjoyed. I can't quite put my finger on what it was about Gideon that didn't entirely work for me, something that rarely happens. Although he shows care for Messalina right from the start, he is rather mercenary in his pursuits, so perhaps it was that. Or maybe it was because for the better part of the story, he was pretty intent on killing Julian. He also didn't seem to be quite as generous of a lover as Ms. Hoyt's heroes usually are. I'm not really sure what it was, or maybe it was everything combined. Also while the ending was sufficiently satisfying, it doesn't quite wrap up in a neat little bow. We never find out exactly why Augustus wants Julian dead, and the suspicious death of Messalina's sister, Aurelia, remains a mystery as well. However, I'm willing to give Ms. Hoyt a pass, because based on some of her previous work, I have a feeling she's saving these reveals for a future story of the series. And I must say that I'm very much looking forward to continuing. She's introduced quite a number of intriguing supporting players throughout these first two novels who would make great heroes and heroines, so the series could potentially go on for quite some time. If it does, I can't wait to learn more about them, especially Julian. The next one, No Ordinary Duchess, is due for release sometime late this year (2021). I don't know yet which characters will star in it, but I'm very eager to find out.
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