Rufus d’Aumesty has recently become the new Earl of Oxney. He grew up with a much simpler life, as his father was kicked out of the family for marrying a common woman. Rufus knew he would one day inherit the title … but apparently no one told his uncle, Conrad, who believes he should be the next earl and who has been making Rufus’ life miserable for months. Conrad fought against Rufus’ right to the earldom, making up a host of lies about everything from Rufus’ time in the military to the legality of his parents’ marriage. Now, seven months later, the court has finally ruled in Rufus’ favor and that should be the end of it. But Conrad and his wife refuse to let it go, insisting Conrad is the true earl.
The latest “evidence” comes in the form of a young secretary, Luke Doomsday, who reports hearing a story that his mother was the first, lawful wife of Rufus’ father. If true, it would make Rufus’ parents marriage illegal and Rufus an illegitimate heir. Rufus is sure this is all just another story, but he is ethical enough to want to confirm. While the family attempts to find evidence to prove or disprove Luke’s story, Rufus is attempting to take over the mess of affairs that is his earldom. The accounts are in disarray, no one has been caring for their tenants, and Rufus is in over his head. Fortunately, Luke is an excellent secretary and offers to take on the role while they sort out the story with the marriage.
Luke and Rufus hit it off immediately and Rufus finds himself trusting and relying upon Luke in the storm of bad behavior and vitriol that is his family. He also finds himself incredibly attracted to Luke, though determined not to act, given he is the man’s employer. But when Luke shows he is just as interested in Rufus in return, the men start an affair that is thrilling for both of them. However, Luke has a secret and an ulterior motive, one he is determined to keep hidden from Rufus. He hates lying, as he is falling hard for Rufus and Luke finds himself happier than he has ever been. But he is in deep in his lies and it may be too late to come back from them. Now, Rufus will have to decide just what he is able to forgive, while Luke will need to let go of his past for a chance at a real future with Rufus.
The Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel is the second book in K.J. Charles’ incredible Doomsday series, following the fabulous The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen. I love the way Charles approaches this second book, jumping us about 13 years into the future when young Luke is now a grown man. Luke plays a pivotal role in the first story and it was so rewarding to see him get his happy ending here in this second book. From a relationship standpoint, this story stands alone well, however I do think this one is much better read as part of the set. First off, this book will reveal some major spoilers from the first story. In addition, Luke is deeply affected by events from his childhood that happen in the first book and, while they are recounted again here, the emotion of seeing it firsthand definitely adds to the story. Also, the world Charles has created here of life on the Marsh and the Doomsday family is so rich and, again, reading the first book will give you more of that flavor. Trust me, this set of books is soooo good. They were both 5-star reads for me, so starting at book one is well worth it.
The conflict here is really two-fold. From a relationship end, we have the conflict between Luke and Rufus and the fact that we know early on that Luke is up to something, we just don’t know what. These two fall hard for one another and they are just such a fun couple. Rufus is a strong, confident man, used to leading men in the military, and he doesn’t stand on much ceremony. So Luke pushes a little and the two are able to banter and tease in a way not typical given their varying stations. They are sexy and fun together and I love how both men lift the other up. Of course, as much as Luke wants to help Rufus as his secretary, and as big a contribution as he makes, he is still lying to Rufus about why he is really there. I thought it was a great choice that we get the reveal and confrontation relatively early on in the book, rather than late in the third act. It gives a lot of time for us to see the after effects of the betrayal and how the men ultimately make their way back to each other.
The second conflict is between Rufus and his absolutely abhorrent family. Conrad is determined to see himself earl, no matter what lies or manipulations he needs to undertake to do it, and his wife is right by his side. They do all they can to turn the staff against Rufus and to make him miserable. They are truly horrible people, arrogant, cruel, and bitter. They are terrible to their children, scathing to anyone they deem beneath them, and they get worse as the story goes on. Rufus gives them beyond reasonable chances to get their act together and they fail time and again. The two conflicts end up sort of tying together with Luke in the middle of it all, and things get intense, exciting, and chilling at times. The ending is very rewarding and pulls all the pieces together well, including elements from Luke’s past.
Charles also does a wonderful job with the character development here and the men’s actions feel really grounded in who they are. Rufus has the patience of a saint with his family and, even as they are terrible time and again, he tries to see their side and put himself in their disappointed shoes. They don’t deserve a bit of it, but he is a genuinely kind man who sees the best side of others. Rufus is honest and straightforward and it is hard for him to see that others may not do him that same courtesy in return. Fortunately, Luke is a Doomsday and, while he may be the most educated of the bunch and work as a secretary, the smugglers blood still runs in him. He helps Rufus and runs interference and figures out the right way to approach people; he knows the angles, and keeps Rufus from being totally run over. We also see very much how Luke’s childhood and his past have come to affect him as an adult. As much as Luke lies to and hurts Rufus, Charles makes it work by very much grounding it all in Luke’s past and then watching him grow from that. Luke figures out how to move forward, how not to let himself get trapped by all his anger and resentment. It is just all done so well and we get such a rewarding end for the men.
This story is such a wonderful follow up to The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, which was one of my favorite books this year. I didn’t dare hope that this one would live up to that story, but I truly think Charles has another star in this book. I absolutely loved it and the two stories make a wonderful set. I adore this Doomsday world and would eagerly read on if Charles gives us more stories.