The third novel in Kate Bateman’s deliciously wild The Ruthless Rivals series, A Wicked Game, is an enchanting page-turner. From the moment readers meet Captain Morgan Davies and Harriet Montgomery, emotions are palpable right from the start. They’re in it for the long haul, and surprisingly the book spends plenty of time allowing them to take center stage.
As someone who’s generally apprehensive towards relationships where two people have known each other since they were children when done well, I’m able to ignore my distaste for it and jump right in fully. That’s the case with A Wicked Game because no part of me cared about the fact that Morgan and Harriet were at each other’s throats since they were sixteen. The witty banter Bateman writes seamlessly draws their past and present together, making every page a swoon-worthy spectacle as their debts are paid and bets continue to be made.
Additionally, while in many cases it’s fun to move aside from our primary couple to dive into what secondary characters are doing, it’s pleasantly surprising how much time we get to spend with Morgan and Harriet, as well as the other Montgomerys and Davies. Theirs is a sexy, glorious wicked game indeed and the depth of adoration burning within them for one another constructs some of the most discernible longing throughout.
Bateman’s style has been a particular favorite of mine since I devoured This Earl of Mine in one sitting. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first two novels in The Ruthless Rivals series, none of the characters had such a firm grip on me the way Morgan and Harriet do. Their partnership results in the best kind of romance because their bickering is never crude or cruel—it’s warm and full of fire. Bateman doesn’t merely tell us how much the two adore one another in secret, but she shows it to us through wondrous gestures at every turn. I wasn’t sure how she’d make the proposal feel special, but without spoiling at the risk of someone reading this who has yet to read the book, I was floored by the tenderness of the motion and the precision of applying cartography in the act.
A Wicked Game is for all the nautical girlies who adore adventure and have loved pirate romances for ages. Where there’s a heroine who longs for freedom and a man willing to give it to her, we’ve already got a great story ahead of us, but bring in exhilarating banter with the two where they challenge each other, and it’s a whole new level of greatness.
Further, while the exterior plot seems to be a looming shadow that ends rather abruptly, it’s quite nice to get a romance novel with this much heat, vulnerability, and tension. Every time Morgan and Harriet open a part of themselves to the other, physically or emotionally, something shifts brilliantly within the text, coaxing the narrative forward in an incredibly organic way that feels raw. Their intimacy feels like the kind of comforting embrace a book should feel like, with imagery and emotions that are hopeful and vulnerable.
We don’t always need high stakes to push something forward. Sometimes a romance consists of emotions dancing seamlessly between two people utterly oblivious to the fact that they’re each other’s constant. And every piece of their story was the most effortless read of the new year. Still, make no mistake, because Bateman’s novel was released after we posted our Best of 2022 coverage, it would’ve undoubtedly been included if we’d just had the time to read it before. It’s a five-star read in every way, and I, for one, cannot wait to see what she’ll pull Rhys through.
A Wicked Game by Kate Bateman is now available where books are sold!