REVIEW: Hazard (Rockliffe Book 5) by Stella Riley
Hazard: a game of Chance and Luck, made riskier when Fate is rolling the dice.
For Aristide Delacroix, the first throw summons shades from his past. A man he had met, just once, over a card-table … and the lovely girl indirectly responsible for plunging his life into catastrophe.
For Lord Nicholas Wynstanton, tired of waiting for Madeleine Delacroix to make up her mind, it slyly suggests he begin a whole new game with loaded dice; while for Madeleine, it devises a terrifying lesson in missed opportunities and the uncertainty of second chances.
And for Genevieve Westin, hoping widowhood will be happier than marriage, it brings a rude awakening – leaving a single, wild gamble her only option.
A cardsharp turned businessman, a duke’s charming brother, a stubborn, razor-edged beauty and a desperate widow.
Four players in a game of Hazard … all playing for very high stakes.
Dear Ms. Riley,
I’ve read and review all the previous books in the Rockliffe Series and to say I was looking forward to the story for Lord Nicholas and Mademoiselle Madeleine is an understatement. For the past two books, we’ve seen these two circling around each other – Nicholas obviously in love and Madeleine obviously trying not to be, or at least not willing to admit it. Would he finally win his lady fair?
The opening of the book threw me for a moment. Who are these people in Paris and how will this episode fit into the story? Ah, it’s Madeleine’s brother in his younger days and this little anecdote will set up his story and in a way, how he came to know Adrian Deveraux, Earl of Sarre and hero of book 3. The two of them are now co-owners of Sinclairs, a most exclusive gambling club in London. And there one night Aristide’s past finally catches up with him when he is recognized by a man he played cards with in Paris and from whom Aristide won a sizeable amount of money. Now publicly accused of sharping (cheating – that worst of flaws men could have in aristocratic circles), Aristide must find a way to deflect the man’s claims or risk losing the business that now supports him and his beautiful sister Madeleine.
At a party hosted by the Adrian and his wife, Aristide encounters another ghost from his past in the person of Genevieve Harcourt, the young woman he once tried to help. Slightly annoyed that she doesn’t appear to recognize him, Aristide is polite but cold towards her. Yet he soon realizes that for some reason, she is being avoided by Polite Society. Learning of her disastrous marriage, he understands why as the circumstances of her husband’s death created a scandal. Genevieve’s life has been a misery and now things are looking worse. She needs a rich husband, fast, and Aristide appears to be her best bet.
Meanwhile, Nicholas is still mooning over Madeleine and trying to win her over. He’s pretty sure she’s attracted to him and not just for his social position as the younger brother of the powerful and intimidating Duke of Rockliffe (book 2) but how to get her to admit this? Madeleine is rigidly in control and ruthlessly distances herself from this handsome man who would clearly swim the Atlantic ocean and then hang the moon on a string for her. Why won’t she at least listen to him? Nick is frustrated, baffled and almost ready to reluctantly admit he might never know.
So what will happen to our quartet of lovers? Will Aristide’s past ruin his future? Can Genevieve escape the cruel clutches of her family? Why won’t Madeleine contemplate accepting a man who loves her? And will Nick hang in there or finally yield to her frosty denials?
I have to be honest and admit that this book took a while to really grab me. There are a lot of past characters and they almost all make appearances early on though thankfully not in “go back and buy my book!” ways. As I mentioned in my review of “The Wicked Cousin, this is a closed society so it makes sense that all of them would be in company but even so I still found myself having to stop and cast my mind back to remember, especially for the secondary characters, who was in which book. There’s a lot of “happy families, oh look who’s pregnant, let’s play with our children” scenes that are nice for those of us who have read the past books but which will probably bore or confuse those who haven’t. This is definitely not the book to start this series with.
Genevieve surprised me and in a good way. Yes, she desperately needs to marry a man with money but I understood what drives her. She’s more a victim of the 18th century mindset that men controlled the lives of their womenfolk. Jo Beverley often wrote these characters and this is the focus of “An Unlikely Countess.” If you have good men in your life hopefully they’d take care of you. Bad ‘uns and you were screwed.
Aristide and I actually admired Genevieve’s guts to size up her situation, make a decision and save herself. Aristide knows a little of her life since he last saw her but I love that his feelings are based on what he sees and begins to know of her rather than pity. I did laugh that their relationship turns the cliché of the suave Frenchman on its head as Aristide can’t seem to come up with any romantic moves to sweep Genevieve off her feet once he’s realized his true feelings for her.
The relationship I’d waited for frustrated me. Nicholas has been smitten for two books. He admires Madeleine and not just for her beauty. He loves everything about her – her intelligence, her organizational skills and yes, even her prickly exterior. We get Madeleine’s POV and know that she feels strong emotions for him but beyond some vague thoughts that “there are things in my past that make me totally unacceptable as his bride” I was as flummoxed as Nicholas as to why she refuses to give him the time of day. Even Nicholas’s circle of friends and family had already shown they were willing to accept her and the wives of a few of these powerful men had modest backgrounds themselves.
I guess in a way, not knowing what she thought stood in the way of true love makes Nicholas’s insistence that nothing of her past would ever change his heart that much more impressive. He marshals strong rebuttals to every objection she offers and, despite seeing what a lurking event from the past almost does to Aristide, he emphatically denies that anything will affect his feelings. Frankly, I was looking for a stronger conflict or at least a more detailed one. Even if the readers were the only ones along with Madeleine privy to what exactly happened, I wanted to know it. I guess I just wanted something bigger and grander because once they finally talked, things seemed to wrap up quickly.
Is this the last book of the series? Casting my mind back, I can only think of one or two secondary and tertiary characters from previous books who might have their stories told. Olivia, Cassie’s sister in book 4, is one and I’d bet she could lead her hero on a merry chase. Aristide and Genevieve’s romance is a nice surprise and I’m happy to finally see Nick and Madeleine together even if their story isn’t quite all I’d hoped it would be. B