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Thursday, July 21, 2011

'Shameless' House of Rohan #4 by Anne Stuart

Received from NetGalley

From the BLURB:

A long string of tragic loves haunts Viscount Benedick Francis Alistair Rohan. Cool and cynical, he's weary of life's fickle games and wants a prim and proper wife he can ignore while indulging his sensual appetites.

Lady Melisande Carstairs is nothing less than a tornado storming into Benedick's measured life. Possessed of boundless energy and the soul of a reformer, Melisande always conquers, whether it's saving the souls of soiled doves or seducing the man she's inconveniently fallen for. When she informs Benedick that his brother's newly revived Heavenly Host has graduated from simple carnal debauchery to sadistic violence, he's compelled to investigate, undercover. Under those covers, however, is Melisande herself, playing a dangerous game in the name of justice.

And the Heavenly Host has just seen her hand, and more…

Decades ago Benedick Rohan’s grandfather birthed ‘The Heavenly Host’. A decadently erotic party where the elite ton could let down their hair and partake of scandalous orgies and phony demonic rituals. The ‘Host’ tradition was passed down the Rohan line, to Benedick’s father and then it vanished into gossip oblivion . . . until now.

Benedick Rohan is the eldest of the Rohan clan, and the most jaded. He has lost two wives to childbirth and a sister to the devilish Scorpion. His younger brother, Brandon, has come back from war horribly scarred and intent on opium oblivion. Benedick’s life has been an endless stream of heartache and sorrow of late, so it is with hellish intent that he decides to search for a new bride, get her with an heir (and a spare) and then cavort around London town with every prostitute, madam and widow who will have him.

There’s only one catch to Benedick’s full-proof plan . . . and that is Lady Melisande Carstairs.

While Benedick has been in reclusive mourning, London nightlife has changed dramatically. Lady ‘Charity’ Carstairs is a wealthy widow on a mission – to aid and reform London’s prostitutes. She is taking in tainted-ladies and educating them to be cooks, maids and dressmakers in a bid to get them off the streets once and for all.

But Melisande’s do-gooding is putting a serious crimp in Benedick’s plan for fornication. She is taking all the best ladies of the night and turning them into . . . *shudder* . . . respectable women.

Worse than that, Melisande has decided that she needs Benedick’s help in debunking the newly reformed ‘Heavenly Host’. She believes that Bendick’s familial ties to the Host will help her in disintegrating their horrific meetings – especially since Brendan Rohan has started participating, and the Host has become decidedly violent and degrading . . . especially against the unwilling prostitutes the members kidnap.

‘Shameless’ is the fourth book in Anne Stuart’s decadent historical romance series, ‘House of Rohan’.

‘Shameless’ really feels like a full-circle instalment in the ‘Rohan’ series. First book, ‘Ruthless’ was based entirely around ‘The Heavenly Host’ gathering. Second book ‘Reckless’ made the notorious ‘Host’ a little bit tamer, and by third book ‘Breathless’ the naughty gathering was barely a blip on the plot’s radar. Well, in ‘Shameless’ the Host has arisen from the ashes and distorted into something worse than idle gossip and faux-derelict. In this fourth book, the rumours of the Host have manifested into reality – members are kidnapping prostitutes and abusing them, they have become the ton’s own worst nightmare.
So it’s only befitting that since the Host started with a Rohan, it should end with one too. Enter Benedick – a widower with a jaded heart and an awakening libido, reluctantly thrust into the role of hero.

I loved Benedick. He really has been put through the emotional ringer of late – losing two wives to childbirth and his sister to a thieving husband. When he meets Melisande he is just about at the end of his tether – and a saintly reformer is the last thing he wants to deal with.

But Melisande is unlike any woman he has ever met. She is outspoken and loyal, bull-headed and righteous. . . and Benedick is utterly in awe of her, while also disgruntled by his attraction.

He released her wrists, but she didn’t hit him. An odd stillness has crept over her limbs, and it seemed to be affecting him, as well. She could see the glitter of his eyes in the darkness, but she couldn’t see his expression.
“Lady Carstairs,” he said in a soft voice after a long moment, “I’m beginning to believe you might be a very dangerous woman.”

Melisande and Benedick have one of the more complicated ‘Rohan’ romances. There are a lot of superficial things keeping them apart – like Melisande being intent on wrecking Rohan’s fornicating fun. But beneath all that is Rohan’s fear of losing another woman he loves – and it’s that undercurrent that makes their scenes so intense and luscious.

‘Shameless’ takes a slight detour from Stuart’s previous books in the series. In all the other ‘Rohan’ instalments Stuart has given readers two-stories-in-one: there has always been a secondary romance running concurrently with the main couple. In ‘Ruthless’ it was between Lydia and Charlies, ‘Breathless’ included Jane Pagett and Jacob Connelly’s steamy romance. I have often preferred the secondary romance to the main relationship conundrum – so I was a little miffed to read no such secondary romance in ‘Shameless’. Stuart sets one up – between the scarred Brandon Rohan and Melisande’s good friend (and ex-madam) Emma Cadbury. Emma recounts meeting a wounded young soldier and nursing him back to health . . . but being scared off when she realized he was from the respectable Rohan family. But this story was severely under-developed, garnering pittance page-time and ending on an unsatisfactory, open-ended note. I only hope that the reason for this lacking is that Stuart has more ‘House of Rohan’ books planned, and she has deemed Emma and Brandon worthy of a book unto themselves.

I love Anne Stuart’s decadent ‘House of Rohan’ series. Her rakes are dark and dangerous, seductive and sensual and her romances are twisted delights. ‘Shameless’ feels like a full-circle of the series; harking back to the Heavenly Host and their dangerous fun. I do hope that Stuart has more ‘Rohan’ stories planned – especially for the wounded Brandon Rohan, whose romance was sadly lacking in ‘Shameless’.


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