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There's the kind of enmity you find in romance novels, where the hero and heroine secretly like each other, but can't express it, so they engage in barbs and banter. We know that, at the core of their biting riposte, is love just waiting for a chance.
Then there's the enmity that Lady Ophelia has for Drake Darling. There is nothing teasing or playful in how Lady Ophelia talks to Drake. It is painful to see Lady Ophelia slice at Drake with her words and actions, and she's very clear in what she wants to do: to remind Drake of his place in society, which is far, far beneath her. One would wonder what Drake had done to earn Lady Ophelia's disfavour, but Drake does not. As the son of a murderer, as a child of the streets, he believes that Ophelia is treating him that way he deserves to be treated.
"You are no better than the muck I wipe off my shoes."
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Very early on, Lorraine Heath hints at a "dis-ease" that rests deep within Ophelia -- this darkness inside her that calls her wicked and unworthy, and Ophelia seems to lash out at the one person she knows can withstand the abuse: Drake.
"No man would ever love her enough to forgive her for what she'd once done, and it was a secret she could not forever keep from a husband."
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Is there attraction between the two? Can love grow between them? I wondered how Lorraine Heath would accomplish this love story. How could she convince her characters to give each other a chance to know each other?
After a painfully uncomfortable night at Grace and the Duke of Lovingdon's wedding party (and after an evening of suffering Ophelia), Drake finds her floating in the Thames, rescues her, and brings her back to his home -- fully intending to bring her home once she had recovered. But, when Ophelia wakes up with amnesia, Drake decides to to teach Ophelia a lesson on manners by telling her that she is his servant.
I have to say I was very worried at this point in the story and actually wrote to my book buddy, F, expressing my concerns about the book. First, amnesia is a problematic trope to use in a love story. Second, I wasn't happy at how Drake took advantage of Ophelia's situation and subjected her to his petty revenge. BUT I kept reading, and I'm glad I did -- Lorraine Heath has transformed a problematic situation into an opportunity to tell one of the most moving stories I've ever read. (By the end of the book, I was in tears.)
It may seem like an easy way out for the author to erase Ophelia's memories of Drake, but that didn't seem to be the point of Ophelia's amnesiac episode. Drake was not the aim of this particular plot device: it was Ophelia's _other_ memories. Ophelia has been caught up in the prison of her experiences that she isn't really able to live fully in the present. Her words, and her actions are all informed by her past -- and it's quite sad to see a person cheated of an opportunity to live, love and be happy because of what happened to her.
Amnesia is a gift to Ophelia, it is her chance to discover who she is. Without her memories, without her father's stern education and edicts, Ophelia breathes free for the first time in her life -- and we realise that she isn't that hateful or malicious (though, she's still haughty ^_^) and that she actually possesses a really, really good heart. It was endearing how she cared for the lost and abandoned animals that follow her home and how conscientious she was in wanting to do her job well.
It's really the conversations between Ophelia and Drake that makes this story so convincing: the pull between the idyllic relationship that they versus reality just gives so much meaning and weight to the words that they say -- and it all really plays up to the "what if" scenario that is unfolding between the two.
"Am I married?"
He could feel her gaze boring into him. Why were there so many dishes to be put away? Why was it taking forever to end this ghastly mistake? He should have never returned here with dinner. He should have stayed at the club.
"Is it because of the difference in our positions?" she asked quietly.
"Yes," he answered succinctly. Tossing in the last of the items, he thought he heard a plate crack. Lovely.
"Our different places in Society matter to you," she said.
"They matter to you." Twisting around, he faced her. Feeling a need to lessen the tartness of his earlier response, he trailed his fingers over her cheek. "You'll remember that someday." He was quite sorry that she would.
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My second concern has to do with Drake's dishonourable choice -- a greater man would have taken the high road and restored Ophelia to her family sooner. A greater man would have told her the truth about herself sooner. Then I realised that Drake had never believed he was a gentleman, despite his upbringing in the Duke of Lovingdon's household -- he never believed he was a great man, or even a good man, for that matter. How he reacted to the situation was very human, and very Drake -- a reminder that not all men are knights in shining armour, but, that not all scoundrels are irredeemable.
In that, Heath does a good job of balancing fantasy and reality -- an amnesiac Ophelia is part of the evanescent and escapist and Drake's behaviour is very firmly rooted in humanity -- and there is an urgency by the dramatic irony: we know who Ophelia is and Drake knows, and it's only a matter of time before Ophelia will come to this realisation ... and we know what will happen to their relationship (the ramifications of Drake's actions) when _that_ happens.
The mystery of Ophelia's accident and subsequent memory loss is tied up with what happened to her in the past (that made her so miserable and angry) and it does seem as though there were a lot of pieces up in the air, but Heath showcases her caliber by creating such an incisive resolution. She took her characters through an inward journey where they discovered the best and worst in each other and, in the end, when the question of "why love?" comes up, the only answer is "why not?" --
As I finished reading this book, I realised that all my fears were unfounded and, while I went into this book a skeptic, I came out of it a believer: Lorraine Heath is, was and will always be amazing.
Once More, My Darling Rogue is the second book in Lorraine Heath's Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series, and will be released on August 26, 2014. To find out more about Lorraine Heath and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC via Edelweiss. Thank you to Lorraine Heath and to Avon Books for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.