Elise Berkley is a widow who has no intention of remarrying. She is enjoying the freedom that widowhood offers, and content with managing her late husband's estate and raising her son, Colin. One day, while out for her usual ride, Elise happens upon a man who is about to be hanged and a young boy whose life is also being threatened. She always carries her gun for protection, and deftly uses it to scare away their attackers. While seeing to the pair's well-being, Elise discovers the most handsome man she has ever seen. Once he recovers his senses, he disarms her with his roguish charms and very improperly thanks her with a kiss that leaves her stunned, feeling sensations she has never experienced before.
Jared Amesbury was born the son of a respected earl, but little does anyone know that he has a secret identity as the feared pirate, Black Jack. The men from whom Elise had rescued him and his young companion, were other pirates out for revenge, but at the moment, Jared has bigger fish to fry. He has been searching for three years for the high-placed informant of a notorious pirate ring, and is very close to finding him, but in order to accomplish that, he must maintain the facade of a proper gentleman, making the rounds of various social gatherings. Jared is both surprised and pleased to find Elise at the first dinner party he attends, and although he knows he shouldn't pursue her before his mission is complete, his heart just won't take no for an answer. At first Elise seems almost immune to his seductive appeal, but it doesn't take long for him to break through her reluctance, and being in her company feels more natural to him than anything has in years. But Jared's enemies lurk in the shadows presenting danger at every turn, and the lovely Elise has a strong distaste of pirates that would probably prevent her from having anything more to do with him if she ever found out the truth.
I had enjoyed Donna Hatch's debut historical romance, The Stranger She Married, so when she recently sent me a copy of the galley proofs for her brand new book, The Guise of a Gentleman, I was really looking forward to reading it. Now that I've finished it, I have to say that I liked it even more than the first book. In fact, I loved it. The Guise of a Gentleman sweeps the reader along in an almost epic journey that begins in the proper, quiet drawing rooms of country manor houses, then moves to a daring high-seas pirate adventure, and back to England for an intense, nail-biting climax followed by a sweet HEA. I was sucked right into the story in the first chapter when the heroine rescues the hero from certain death and he thanks her with a tender but searing kiss. Things slowed down a bit for me after that, with the plot following the couple around from one country party to the next as they get to know each other and their attraction builds. About a quarter of the way in though, I was hooked again, and by the time they set out to sea, I was utterly enthralled and at times reluctant to put the book down.
Jared has without a doubt earned a spot on my all-time favorite romance heroes list. From the moment he kissed Elise for the first time, I completely fell for him. Jared is an utterly charming, mischievous rogue, but at the same time, he plays the part of a proper gentleman to perfection. Underneath it all, he isn't quite the rake that he outwardly projects, which I loved. I thought this bit of his persona showed that in his heart he was looking for something special rather than just flitting from one ladies' bedchamber to another, although he certainly could have had his pick of female admirers if he'd wanted them. Jared was also a deeply tortured hero who was tormented by all the questionable things he'd done over the years as a pirate, even though they were for the greater good. At the same time, he showed a profound sense of honor by creating rules for his pirate crew that kept them in line and prevented even worse things from happening. He had also earned their complete trust and respect by being a strong leader, and even proved his loyalty to them unto death. Outwardly, Jared was strong and brave, but inwardly, he was lonely and broken, a man who wasn't even certain of who he was anymore. I adored how his real self naturally came out when he was in Elise's presence and he wasn't afraid to show her his vulnerabilities. The scene where he seeks out her comfort after a sad, upsetting event in his life was thoroughly beautiful. Jared was also great with kids, showing tender affection for Elise's young son, Colin and his cabin boy/tiger, Jose. I could very easily envision him being a fabulous father. Jared embodied all the qualities that I tend to love most in my romance heroes. I can't think of a thing about him that I didn't like, and he would be more than welcome to give me kissing lessons any day.;-)
Elise is a sweet, gentle heroine who can be brave and feisty when she needs to be. In many ways, she reminded me of the heroine from Lisa Kleypas' Where Dreams Begin. Elise was a widow who had barely come out of mourning for her late husband after five years, and was rather determined not to remarry. Her husband had been an extremely proper gentleman, not given to displays of affection and was actually downright prudish. Even after a few years of marriage and giving birth to a son, Elise is still pretty innocent. She had been content in her first marriage, but really didn't know what she was missing until an irrepressible rogue came along to steal her heart and teach her how to really live and love again. Elise was an intelligent, out-spoken woman with a repressed thirst for adventure. Jared really respected her for those things and his personality spoke to that hidden part of her. She is a wonderful, loving mother and a great friend. I liked Elise's courage and determination. She didn't allow fear and despair to overwhelm her and showed some backbone with her captors and even with Jared when she thought he'd duped her. However, she was a woman who simply couldn't ignore the cry of her heart and generously forgave Jared before she even knew the full truth about him, and was tenderhearted, offering him love and comfort when he needed it most. There were a few times in the early chapters when I thought that Elise protested her burgeoning feelings and mistrusted Jared's intentions toward her a bit too much, but overall, she was a well-rounded heroine who earned my respect and admiration.
Jared and Elise as a couple were absolutely wonderful. I really liked that they were both more average "middle class" type characters which is unusual for a historical romance. Jared was the second son of an earl, but his chosen profession made him equally, if not more, comfortable with the low-born as he was in higher social circles. I can't recall if it was specifically stated as to what Elise's first husband did for a living. They were wealthy enough to own a country estate and have servants, as well as have noble friends, but Elise was not of the nobility herself. The other thing I loved about Jared and Elise were their interactions. The author was able to create a thoroughly palpable and swoon-worthy connection between them with nothing more than looks, touches and passionate kisses, which is more than some authors can accomplish with pages of detailed love scenes. The Guise of a Gentleman is a very sweet romance that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend for mature teens and more sensitive readers, but at the same time, it contains some of the headiest non-explicit sensuality I've ever read. Even though I usually enjoy some steamy love scenes in my romances, Donna Hatch has definitely proven that a luscious, gratifying relationship can be built without them. If all sweet romances were written this beautifully, I'd probably read them more.
Believe it or not there were other things besides Jared and Elise that I enjoyed about this novel. From what I can tell, Ms. Hatch has done her research well and uses the historical details to really bring the setting to life. She is also very good at writing naturally flowing dialog punctuated with facial expressions and gestures. I found some of the exchanges between the protagonists to be very lovely and poetic. In addition, there is a strong cast of secondary characters. Colin and Jose are both cute little boys who are rendered in a very age-appropriate way, and Jared and Elise's friends and Jared's crew members help to set the stage, and are appealing in their own way but never overpowering. The Guise of a Gentleman is the second book in the Rogue Hearts series, and readers get a visit with Jared's brother, Cole and his wife, Alicia from the first book, The Stranger She Married. More depth is added to their other two brothers, Grant and Christian, and I'm now officially intrigued by both and can't wait for their stories. The pace may have been a little slow in the beginning with a few rough edges that could have been smoothed out, and some repetition that hopefully will be cleaned up for the final copy, but nothing that particularly detracted from my enjoyment of the book. Overall, The Guise of a Gentleman was a swoon-worthy romance coupled with a thrilling adventure that has earned a spot on my keeper shelf.
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