It's been six months since the events of Kiss of Steel. Rip is struggling to gain control now that he has the virus coursing through his veins causing him to want blood. He has spent most of his time close to the Warren afraid to venture to far. Finally, wresting some control Rip seeks to become useful again and begins investigating a series of murders of women, causing him to flashbacks to the death of his mother. It is only when the one he loves most is threatened that Rip is finally able to give justice to the victims and finally feel whole again.
Tarnished Knight is very much a romance novel with a bit of kidnapping and murder wrapped around it for the sake of a thin plot. Unfortunately, the budding relationship between Esme and Rip is a typical bodice ripper with few surprises. It's the typical boy/girl love each other but are afraid to tell each other story -- followed by the requisite misunderstanding that drives them apart -- culminating in consummation and declarations of HEA. I had really hoped for more from this story, given the fascinating world building of Kiss of Steel . I suppose since this is a short story that McMaster didn't want to add anything that would cause confusion in later books for people who routinely skip short stories. Still, it was a tad disappointing.
I very much like Esme; she's a survivor. Esme has had to make her way through the world and always managed to pull herself above the odds and retain her dignity. When she is kidnapped (as all heroines somehow need to be) Esme leaves a trail for Rip and fights for her life every step of the way. Even though Rip is more than capable of taking care of himself, when the big fight begins, Esme is not content to sit on the sidelines and let Rip handle it all. Esme dives in with an axe and cuts off her kidnappers arm.
I also like that there is no shame when it comes to sex for Esme. She is not afraid to initiate sex and take what she wants. In a reversal of gender roles, it's Rip who is reticent to take the big step and it's nice that Esme respects his boundaries, never pushing him harder than he can handle. Consent is always a sticky thing in these kinds of stories and in this case, it was handled far better than in Kiss of Steel.