Remember that feeling of anticipation and delight that you felt for the holidays when you were a child? That’s how I feel about finally getting to read the April 1st release of A Shocking Delight, David Kerslake's own story from Jo Beverley's Rogues series—and I’ve been waiting for it for much longer than twelve months.
David Kerslake was first introduced in The Dragon’s Bride, and also plays an important role in Skylark, as well as popping up in other Rogue stories (Jo Beverley’s website, by the way, is immensely helpful in sorting out just who are all these Rogues and who are they to one another).
A Shocking Delight is the fourteenth book set in the Regency world of the Rogues. The last book of the series, Lady Beware, was published in 2007, so it’s been seven long years since readers have spent time with Nicholas and Lucien and Con and all the other Rogues. Let’s start with a description of the dilemma facing David Kerslake, taken from Jo Beverley’s website:
The man she shouldn't love. The woman he shouldn't marry.
At the end of The Dragon's Bride, the heroine's brother, David Kerslake, was left with two inherited burdens — the role of Captain Drake, leader of the smugglers on the south coast of Devon, and Earl of Wyvern, who should support law and order. To make matters worse, the earldom is broke. He sets out to find a richly-dowered bride who'll be too feather-witted to realize his secrets.
He chooses merchant's daughter Lucinda Potter, but soon discovers she's not at all the bride he needs, even though she's everything he desires. Lucy knows she should be wary of the mysterious and dangerous lord, but the power of love might overule her usual good sense.
The hero of The Dragon’s Bride (2000) is Con Somerford, Viscount Amleigh, who has been soldiering on the continent for years. Unexpectedly, he inherits the Earldom of Wyvern after the death of three men, the old earl, his father Lord Amleigh and his older brother Fred. As a youth, Con spent a few weeks at Crag Wyvern, a castle by the coast of Devon. There he met and fell in love with fifteen year-old Susan Kerslake, the daughter of the local smuggler leader, Captain Drake. Con and Susan were no Romeo and Juliet: they had a bitter parting because Susan rejected Con’s love, deciding to try for the greater prize of one day becoming the Countess of Wyvern, since the mad old earl had no issue. But Fred, the heir, dies in a boating accident, making Con the new Earl of Wyvern.
How does twenty-four year-old David Kerslake, Susan’s younger brother, fit in? David is the estate manager while Susan is the temporary housekeeper. As Jo Beverley says, not only is Con “not pleased to have inherited the Earldom of Wyvern and the monstrous house that goes with it,” he’s even less pleased when the first person he encounters there is Susan Kerslake who pulls a pistol on him. Con has arrived smack dab in the middle of a midnight smuggling run and he realizes he’ll have to deal with that as well as sort out who’s involved. A better question might be who isn’t involved with smuggling? The previous Captain Drake, Mel Clyst, was convicted of smuggling and he and his beautiful partner “Lady Belle” Kerslake were transported to Australia. Who is the new Captain Drake, a legendary position of great local authority, albeit on the other side of the law?
Susan, now twenty-six, has an older sister’s concerns for her brother, particularly because he’s the master of the Dragon’s Horde, the local term for the smugglers. The morning after the earl’s arrival, she tracks down David at their aunt’s house, where he’s calmly eating breakfast.
She saw evidence of tiredness, but none of fighting. He seemed his usual lighthearted self, thank the Lord. Everything was all right.
He flashed her a look from subtle blue-gray eyes. Apart from the eyes they’d been very alike when young, with their father’s square chin and their mother’s golden brown hair. By now, however, he’d grown heavier bones and six more inches of height, and a great deal of muscle.
There’s nothing smuggling master David wants less than a military man turned earl in residence: “even a friendly one had to be constantly thought of and pacified.” David was only a boy when Con visited eleven years ago but now, “He was tall and strong, with an aura the officer in Con recognized. Things fell into place. This was Captain Drake. Of course he was. He was Mel Clyst’s son.”
Con’s secretary, the irrepressible Race de Vere, after listening to David’s report on the estate, sums up him up succinctly, “Honest, competent, thorough, and severely underemployed.” Ah, but he isn’t underemployed, as Con points out.
Con sighed. “Smuggling, Race. Smuggling.”
“It’s that attractive to a man of such ability?”
“The best of games, and he’s captain of the team. I’m sure of it. He is the old one’s son, after all.”
The Dragon’s Bride is a compelling love story but for our purposes, let’s get to the crux of the story as it affects David Kerslake and his sister. The reason Susan is the acting housekeeper at Crag Wyvern is so she can search for a fortune in gold coin, a secret that she eventually shares with Con. Susan also receives a letter from her mother in Australia, telling her that she was once married to the mad earl. Con and her brother are shocked. Con, never happy about becoming earl, rides away from the estate in turmoil, in search of sanity and friendship—who better to talk to than “King Rogue,” Nicholas Delaney?”
Nicholas immediately sees a solution for Con’s “dislike and more” for being Earl of Wyvern—make David the earl. Con protests that “it goes against the code to put a complete cuckoo in the nest” but Nicholas carries on.
“I like to look at consequences not conventions … Who gains? You. This David Kerslake. The local people who will have a resident lord. The smugglers who will have a great deal of security. Is he able to be a good Earl of Wyvern, do you think?”
Con considered it. “Yes. He’s somewhat brash and overconfident, but then, he’s only twenty-four and hasn’t been knocked about enough to age quickly. I’d say he is sound. He’s certainly bright and hardworking enough.”
“Lord above, get on with it! How many peers of the realm could be described that way?”
Nicholas, ever curious, is dazzled by the offer to visit Crag Wyvern, a bizarre edifice resembling a house of horrors more than an earl’s residence, “full of arcane books and manuscripts.” The search for the hidden marriage certificate is on. There’s one more scene to play out, though, after the castle divulges its secrets. David, Captain Drake, is trapped by preventive officers while trying to pull off an unusual stratagem, a smuggling sortie in broad daylight. He’s injured and trapped, but after Con, Race and Susan rescue him, Con asks if he’s “had time to think about the earldom.”
“It’s not a burden a man of twenty-four wants,” he said, pulling a face. “Since I would be living here, I’d have to host a plague number of events and take part in county affairs. Then there’s London and Parliament, for heaven’s sake.”
“The price of leadership,” Con said without sympathy.
“And you didn’t even mention the fact that you’ll instantly become a prize trophy in the marriage hunt.”
“Didn’t you say you wanted me to accept it?” But Kerslake sighed. “I don’t really have any choice, do I, if I’m going to do the best for my people here.”
How many readers immediately thought this is terrific, once a smuggler, now an earl, when will we get David’s story? In The Devil’s Heiress (2000), Con’s childhood friend, Major George Hawkinville, is in Brighton courting Clarissa Greystone: David Kerslake and his strange inheritance is the talk of the town.
“And now the secret heir emerges?” Clarissa inquired. “It’s like a play. Or a Gothic novel.”
“Except that in this case the ‘wicked earl’ is Lord Amleigh, and he doesn’t want the inheritance at all.”
David has a pivotal role to play in Skylark (2004). Nicholas Delaney tells Sir Stephen Ball, another Rogue, that Captain Drake will assist him in unraveling a mystery threatening his lady, the beautiful widow Laura Gardeyne. Stephen and Laura are convinced that Farouk, the man they seek, has entered England illegally and is now residing in a quiet coastal resort. Nicholas invites them to confide in Captain Drake, pressing Laura to involve him fully.
“It’s his business to be informed about any unusual people visiting his territory. In addition, he commands most of the people along that stretch of coast and can even summon an army if required. If Farouk is part of a vicious gang, Captain Drake can keep you and Stephen safe.”
Sir Stephen, Member of Parliament and a lawyer, is concerned that Captain Drake is a criminal. Nicholas, after both Stephen and Laura promise to keep what he is about to tell secret, says that “Captain Drake is also David Kerslake-Somerford, soon to be the Earl of Wyvern.” When Laura meets David “she couldn’t have said what she expected of a smuggling master, but it was not this handsome young man with glowing vigor and an open, unguarded smile.”
Smuggler and putative earl—Stephen and Laura wonder how David will find common ground between his life’s work and his future role. He tells Stephen,
“The key to ending smuggling is to lower taxes to reasonable levels. I intend to apply myself to that when I’m in the House of Lords. Will I have your support in the Commons?”
The men shake on it. Ensue mayhem but all ends well, with Stephen and Laura safe at Crag Wyvern, planning their wedding, to be attended by illustrious guests including a duke, a marquess and an earl, all part of the Rogues circle. It’s important to their future, and the future of Laura’s young son, that their wedding be accepted at the highest levels. David adds,
“A notorious almost-earl pales by comparison, but if my presence will add weight, I’m happy to oblige … I admit, I’m curious to meet more of the Rogues.”
In Lady Beware (2007), Viscount Darien, with the help of the ubiquitous Rogues and the Debenham family, is trying to eradicate his dreadful reputation, an “inheritance” from his horrendous father. Someone else is trying to navigate the treacherous shoals of London society, David Kerslake. Darien asks Lady Thea Debenham if she knows the young earl.
“Yes, of course. He’s from my part of the world.”
She dipped a curtsey and Wyvern bowed, but rolled his eyes at the same time. “Don’t know why I allowed myself to be persuaded up to London. Give me the country and the coast any day. I’m off in search of fresh air, if such a thing exists in London at all.”
It’s no coincidence that the new and “notorious” earl is in London when the ton is agog at the sullied reputation of Viscount Darien.
“His arrival in Town provided an excellent distraction,” Darien said, watching him depart, “given the furor over his inheriting the title. As he’s brother-in-law to Amleigh, I assume the Rogues arranged it.”
“Wheels within wheels,” Thea said. “How clever.”
That was it, seven years ago, our last tantalizing glimpse of the new earl. As far as we know, his role as Captain Drake is still a reality and now he has the added responsibilities of the earldom, without the financial backing to make that an easy proposition. And he prefers the fresh air of the coast … but no more hints and fooling around, on April Fool’s Day, 2014, all will be revealed.
Let me leave you with a question and a morsel of a suggestion. Of all the Rogues, who hasn’t starred in his own story? Did you guess Major Hal Belmont? That’s correct; Hal and actress Blanche Hardcastle’s romance has only been woven through the various Rogue stories. Which I’ve always thought was rather a shame. So my invitation to Jo Beverley would be to shake down the Rogue tree one more time, in the hopes of uncovering a worthy plot. Perhaps it could center on Blanche’s mysterious natural daughter, adopted by a wealthy family when Blanche was little more than a girl herself. What if she … But I digress—time to read up on David Kerslake and his roguish past as we all await A Shocking Delight.
Suggested reading list: The Dragon’s Bride, The Devil’s Heiress, Skylark, and Lady Beware.
Janet Webb, Blogger