Caroline Richmond has only just returned to England from the Colonies where she grew up with her uncle's family on their farm. Her cousins were more like brothers, and they taught her to be a crack shot. The first thing she does upon her arrival in England is to put her skills to use saving a nobleman who is being robbed and about to be killed by highwaymen. This inauspicious introduction to a country she barely remembers leads to an introduction of another sort to Jered Marcus Benton, the Duke of Bradford, who is friends with the man who was attacked.
Jered is instantly smitten with the feisty beauty who rescued his friend and vows that she will one day be his. Unfortunately, he seems to butt heads with her every time they see each other, but eventually, his kisses drug her into submission. They share a tempestuous love that soon leads to marriage, but after a series of suspicious accidents, Jered comes to the conclusion that someone wants his lady love dead. Little does Caroline know that she was sent away all those years ago for her own safety. Could the same person still wish her ill or has some new danger surfaced they don't even know about? Can Jered find and catch the killer before his evil plan is brought to fruition?
Rebellious Desire was Julie Garwood's second historical romance, and like its predecessor, Gentle Warrior, it was originally published for the Tapestry line of romances. Because of this, the book is a little shorter than her others that she wrote later, and I could see where it was lacking in both character and plot development. I also thought that she still showed signs of the novice writer at this point in her career, so I didn't enjoy this one as much as some of her later works. In addition, it has more of an old-school vibe with a rather brutish hero who doesn't show much of his softer side. For all these reason, I would probably only recommend Rebellious Desire to hard-core fans, not ones who are just starting out with Ms. Garwood's books.
Jered, who is mostly called by his title of Bradford throughout the book, is an insufferably arrogant, stubborn, clueless jerk for a large part of the story. I initially thought it was kind of cute that he was so enamored of Caroline after his first meeting with her that he couldn't stop thinking about her and was trying to find her again. Unfortunately, that cuteness quickly turned into a possessive, jealous streak a mile long. Jered thinks he can, and will, have Caroline no matter what, which didn't sit well with me. He basically tells her she's going to be his, never really taking her feelings into account or giving her a choice in the matter. At times, he was a bit of a bully, and IMHO, was even somewhat verbally abusive to Caroline. For example, he believes she's inciting lust in men by the way she dresses one evening and flat out tells her it was her fault when an unscrupulous man attacks her. On another occasion, when he catches a different man forcing his unwanted attentions upon her, he again thinks she was cheating on him, at least at first. Throughout the story, it is hinted that Jered has difficulty trusting women, presumably because of some other woman (or women) that he's known in the past, but no real details are given as to why until the very end of the book. Even then, that information is told to Caroline by his best friend rather than him sharing it himself, which tends to stunt the intimacy in a romance for me. Sometimes, I can forgive a jerk hero when he has good reasons for acting that way, and admittedly, this new information did make him a tad more sympathetic. However, I think it would have been better if this had come out earlier and they'd had to work through it together. IMO, it would have deepened Jered's characterization and might have made his words and actions throughout the story make more sense. While Jered may not have had a romantic bone in his body and may not have truly known how to treat a lady early on, he was a considerate lover. He also had one of those miraculous eleventh hour turn-arounds, which almost made up for his earlier bad behavior, but notice I only said "almost." He'll never be one of my favorite romance heroes, and Julie Garwood has certainly written better heroes than Jered, IMHO.
Caroline is a little different than most of Julie Garwood's other heroines I've read to date, in that she's not particularly flighty or scatterbrained. In fact, she's a woman who knows how to take care of herself. Having grown up on a farm in the Colonies, she was taught by her uncle and four male cousins how to shoot and quite well, I might add. This is a skill that she uses to open the story with a bang...literally. She doesn't back down from Jered's overt sexuality, and she goes toe-to-toe with him on many occasions. Admittedly, her declarations of love for him come about rather quickly and with little build-up to them. I just honestly didn't see anything happening at that point that would have caused her to fall for him, other than a physical attraction and lust. Their quick marriage was much the same for me, and once Caroline is married to Jered, she has few options but to go along with what he says, even though he treats her more like a possession than a partner. I will allow though that she, at least, doesn't take his nonsense lying down. Overall, I liked Caroline and thought it was very sweet of her to try everything she could think of to win her stubborn husband's heart and trust, even though she shouldn't have had to.
Probably due in large part to Jered's behavior, I didn't really feel much of a connection between these two for most of the story. Jered doesn't trust Caroline at all, which is a must for me in romance. I could see occasional glimmers of the stubborn alpha who protests too much, but it wasn't quite enough to make me truly believe that Jered loved Caroline. Then they're separated for a while when an attempt is made on Caroline's life and Jered thinks he's trying to protect her by sending her away. I felt like his reasons for not letting her in on the ruse were somewhat weak and the separation didn't really help with the issues I was having with the emotional connection. Even when they're together they spend nearly all their time either arguing or kissing, but the kissing felt rather forced, like Jered was simply imposing his will on Caroline. In this respect, Caroline is the classic bodice ripper heroine who always protests his advances, but then melts like butter in his arms, which rarely ever works for me. As an aside, the way this couple behaves (eg. Going off alone and kissing at balls with her family and others nearby) isn't really consistent with the mores of the era. I kept wondering where the chaperons were.:-) The one positive in their relationship was the love scenes. Given Jered's temperament outside the bedroom, he showed a surprising amount of tenderness and thankfully, there was no forced seduction, although there were a few anger turned to passion moments which aren't really my cup of tea. The love scenes and the ending when Jered finally comes around were the only times I really felt the emotional connection between this pair.
It's never a good sign when I like secondary characters better than the main characters. Jered's best friend Milford was more my kind of guy. He tried to play mediator between Jered and Caroline on more than one occasion, and his gentle guidance sometimes left me wishing he was the hero. Caroline's cousin, Charity, gets to reunite with her love, Paul, a man she met in the Colonies but who later disappeared from her life without a trace. The reasons for his disappearance are very sympathetic, and I also found myself wishing they were more prominent characters, as it seemed like their romance could have been very intriguing and emotional. I thought it was fun that the famous Regency fashion-plate, Beau Brummel actually showed up as a characters in a couple of scenes too.
IMHO the mystery could have been woven in a little better and brought out a little more prominently. There were few characters who even made viable suspects, and only one who truly made sense to me. However, I couldn't even speculate on why they were trying to kill Caroline or how it tied into the past events that were shown in the prologue until it was all revealed. Even then, the denouement was basically told more so than shown. In fact, there were a number of places where this happened, that the author told about events rather than writing them out in richer detail, which might have been a result of a lower word count that had to be met. There was also a lot of head-hopping POVs, which could be rather distracting, and when coupled with multiple names beginning with the same letter(s) (eg. Caroline and Charity or Braxton and Bradford), everything could get rather confusing at times. Still, despite my criticisms and not really liking the hero all that much, Rebellious Desire wasn't exactly a chore to read. Julie Garwood has always been a solid writer, and therefore, some of the weaknesses present in this story didn't bother me as much as they might have if it had been written by a different author. Rebellious Desire definitely won't go down as one of my all-time favorite Garwood books, but it still had it's moments and was better than some other books I've read.
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