Lady Phoebe Batten is pretty and vivacious. Despite being blind, she's never allowed her disability to get the best of her. All she wants is to live life to the fullest and be as normal as she possibly can. That's why she chafes at her older brother's restrictions. He says he's trying to protect her, but she sees it as a kind of prison. Phoebe doesn't really appreciate him hiring a bodyguard to dog her every step, especially not one as taciturn as the man she's been assigned. Still, after spending months in his company, Phoebe can scarce imagine her life without him, which is something that baffles her. As she grows closer to him and sorts through her feelings, she comes to realize he means more to her than a mere bodyguard.
Captain James Trevellion enjoyed many years in service to the King's dragoons, but a severe leg injury ended his military career. He can still shoot and ride extremely well though, so with few other options, he gladly accepted the position of bodyguard to Lady Phoebe when her brother offered him the job. After spending months escorting the lady about town, he's fallen for her grace and beauty, but he knows he can only love her from afar. It would be highly improper for him to pursue a woman so far above his station, not to mention twelve years his junior, so he defiantly tries to ignore his feelings for her and focus on the job at hand.
When ruffians make several attempts to kidnap Lady Phoebe, James will stop at nothing to keep her safe. Rumors abound that someone may be trying to take her in order to force her into an unwanted marriage for her generous dowry, which is something he will not allow to happen. Instead, James spirits her far away from London to a place he never thought he'd return to in an effort to keep her safe. As they pretend to be husband and wife and share close quarters during their journey, Phoebe's sweet but adventurous demeanor and her innocent touches may prove more than James can resist.
Elizabeth Hoyt never ceases to amaze me with how she can write such beautiful love stories filled with tenderness and passion. Her characters are always flawed but extremely likable and relatable. There's usually a little something else going on in the background, in this case a touch of danger and suspense as multiple kidnapping attempts are made toward the heroine, as well as a bit of mystery surrounding who is engineering these attempts and why. We also have a tender young heroine who wants nothing more than to live life to the fullest but has never really been allowed to, and an older hero who thinks he's simply too old and too common for the likes of a duke's sister. Their love builds gradually and believably throughout the story, culminating in some of the steamy and emotion-laden love scenes for which this author is known. And as always, accompanying the main story is a little fairy tale that mirrors it, told in excerpts at the beginning of each chapter. Dearest Rogue had everything I've come to expect from this author and left me with a huge smile on my face and a contented sigh when I turned the final page.
Phoebe, younger sister of Hero (Notorious Pleasures) and Maximus (Duke of Midnight), has been a part of the Maiden Lane series almost since the beginning, when she was a just teenage girl whose eyesight was failing. I've been waiting all this time for her to get her own story, so I was quite excited when the announcement that she would was made last fall. Now completely blind, Phoebe chafes at her brother's restrictions upon her. She has a naturally adventurous spirit that hasn't been curbed by her blindness, so she becomes increasingly frustrated by what she views as Maximus' over-protectiveness. She wants more than anything to be normal - or at least as normal as she can be without the use of her sight. In the previous book, she wasn't too thrilled to have James as her "babysitter," but the longer he's around, the more she gets used to him until she can't imagine life without him by her side. I like how Phoebe's love for James develops slowly. At first, her feelings for him confuse her. He is her bodyguard after all and based on his voice, a rather dour and dispassionate one at that. Her feelings gradually become stronger, but she doesn't really understand the full depth of her emotions until faced with him leaving her brother's employ and never seeing him again. Phoebe was a perfect heroine for me. She's sweet and kind to everyone and can light up a room with her presence. She hasn't allowed her disability to define her as a person. It's just one part of who she is. I love her fearlessness and most of all how she brightens up James' life in ways he didn't realize he needed. I also have to commend Ms. Hoyt for doing an incredible job of showing Phoebe's POV through her other senses such as smell, hearing, touch. You never feel like she's missing anything, because all of her senses are attuned to what's going on around her.
As he's served as Phoebe's bodyguard, James has come to see the beautiful young woman she is, not only on the outside, but inside as well. He's fallen deeply in love with her, so much so that it's almost torture to be so near her every day and not able to act on his feelings. James is an adorably stuffy and disciplined soldier through and through, who desperately needs someone like Phoebe to loosen him up. He takes his duty to her very seriously and I admired him for his protectiveness. He knows though, that it would be improper on a number of levels to pursue his attraction to her, so he stuffs his feelings away, hoping she doesn't notice anything is amiss. It's so sweet how he gazes at her like a lovesick puppy when no one else is around. Knowing that she can't see the adoration written across his face gives him the freedom to at least look his fill, although believing he can never have her, it only torments him more. James doesn't think he's good enough for Phoebe. He knows that she's far above him financially and in social station, so a marriage between them is extremely unlikely. Also, being twelve years her senior, he thinks he's too old for her, just a broken down soldier with a bum leg, while she's young and vibrant. I love how Ms. Hoyt makes James seem dispassionate through his dialogue. Initially, he's a man of few words with lots of "Yes, my lady" and "No, my lady." However, the author shows him to be a passionate man through his thoughts, introspection and actions. He tries and tries to resist Phoebe, telling himself and her that he's not right for her for a myriad of reasons, but in the end, he simply can't stop himself from loving her. When she fully captures his heart, James can be quite the poetic charmer, making me love him all the more. I also like that even though it's difficult for him, he comes to realize that Phoebe's spirit can't be locked up like a bird in a gilded cage, but she needs to spread her wings and fly. He just needs to give her some space and be there to spot her if she truly needs his help.
As I mentioned before, James and Phoebe's romance is a slow-building one. It takes Phoebe a while to sort out her feelings, and James tries to hold his back. Still, unlike some other books I've read where this was the case, I never felt their connection was in any way lacking. It's there from the start, simmering beneath the surface, just waiting to be embraced. And when they do, it's swoon-worthy romance at it's best. With her blindness, touch is incredibly important to Phoebe, and the author deftly uses this to advantage to create some sizzling sexual tension. Even early on, her innocent touches nearly drive James to the brink of madness with wanting her. Later when they begin to grow closer, Phoebe's gentle exploration of his body sends him right over the edge. I love how Ms. Hoyt places them in close quarters, pretending to be husband and wife for the sake of her safety. It builds the tension between then to an exquisite level before they finally give in to the deep desire burning between them. Once they do, their love scenes are sweet and tender, while also full of explosive passion and intense emotion.
Since James and Phoebe spend a fair bit of time alone on the run from her would-be kidnappers, we don't see quite as much of the secondary characters as we have in some of the other books. Early in the story, we get to see a little of Phoebe's family, mostly Maximus, since he employs James and is heading up the investigation into the kidnapping attempts against her. There is also one brief meeting of the Ladies' Syndicate, in which we see most of the previous heroines and their growing families. Later in the story, we get to meet James' family. James hasn't been home in twelve years and feels he failed them, so there are some negative emotions they have to work though to find healing. Mostly, the author introduces the reader to a brand new character, Eve Dinwoody, who has ties to Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, whom we met in the previous book. Eve caught my interest very early on. She appears to be a woman who's been badly hurt in the past and doesn't really trust men. I look forward to getting to know her as the heroine of the next book, Sweetest Scoundrel, due for release in November (2015), where she'll be paired with Asa Makepeace. I'm also still wondering about Val himself. After the events in this book, I'm not sure whether to be intrigued by him or dislike him, but I feel certain we haven't seen the last of him yet.
I really can't say enough good things about Dearest Rogue. It had everything that I read romance for: likable and relatable characters, a passionate love affair, a bit of excitement, and a sweet HEA. What more could I ask for? I loved every minute I spent reading it and wouldn't change a thing. In fact, I was rather sad when I turned the last page, because there was no more left to read. At least my wait won't be long for the next book, and I'll be eagerly looking forward to reading Asa and Eve's story by the end of the year.
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