Among his eccentric though strictly principled group of friends, Lord Richard Vane is the confidant on whom everyone depends for advice, moral rectitude, and discreet assistance. Yet when Richard has a problem, he turns to his valet, a fixer of unparalleled genius—and the object of Richard’s deepest desires. If there is one rule a gentleman must follow, it is never to dally with servants. But when David is close enough to touch, the rules of class collide with the basest sort of animal instinct: overpowering lust.
For David Cyprian, burglary and blackmail are as much in a day’s work as bootblacking—anything for the man he’s devoted to. But the one thing he wants for himself is the one thing Richard refuses to give: his heart. With the tension between them growing to be unbearable, David’s seemingly incorruptible master has left him no choice. Putting his finely honed skills of seduction and manipulation to good use, he will convince Richard to forget all about his well-meaning objections and give in to sweet, sinful temptation.
This is the third book in K.J. Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series, which is one of the best set of historical romances I’ve read in recent years. Set in the late Regency period, Ms Charles has made fantastic use of the historical and political background of the time, which was one of great unrest and disillusionment in England. It’s easy to forget, given the steady diet of stories set in the salons and ballrooms of the ton, that there were increasingly large numbers of disaffected people speaking out against the abuses and privileges of the upper classes, the vast majority of whom had no voice because they could not vote. The only way to effect change was, for many, through acts of sedition, and by 1819/20, when this series is set, things had become so serious that the government was terrified of revolution, and had passed the Six Acts, laws designed to stamp out the possibility of armed insurrection. This situation is explored brilliantly in the previous book, A Seditious Affair (which remains my favourite of the three), but the sense of unpredictability and instability of the times permeates throughout all the books in the series, providing all of them with a fascinating and compelling background.
In A Gentleman’s Position, the political situation in the country is far from steady and there is still trouble in store for the group of characters we have come to know throughout the series, but Ms Charles has chosen a slightly smaller canvas for her story here. Focusing more on domestic issues, she explores class differences and the problems innate in having a relationship outside one’s ‘proper’ sphere. The master/servant relationship is a popular one across the board in romance, but it is especially difficult to handle in historicals because of the incredibly strict social conventions of the time. Readers have to be prepared to suspend disbelief to a high degree in some stories, but happily, Ms Charles is not the sort of writer who tries to shove such issues under the carpet; the dilemmas faced by her two protaganists feel very real and their happy resolution is hard won.
Lord Richard Vane is the second son of a marquess and enjoys a position of wealth and power. He is the leader of a set of men who term themselves “Ricardians”, a group bound both by friendship and by the fact that they are all men whose sexual preference is for other men. Richard’s wealth and influence means that he has been able to create a safe haven for all of them, somewhere they can meet and carry on discreet liaisons without fear of censure or arrest. He is the man to whom everyone brings their problems – as seen in the previous two books – and he, in turn looks to his valet, the frighteningly competent David Cyprian to help him to solve them.
Cyprian is extremely clever, shrewd, devious and completely devoted to Richard, with whom he has been hopelessly in love for four years. His valeting skills have made Richard the envy of fashionable London, but his talents do not end with blacking boots or tying a crisp cravat. Behind the scenes, he is the man keeping wheels turning and palms greased; his network of informants across London is second-to-none and there is nothing he would not do for his master – blackmail, house-breaking, intimidation, it’s all in a day’s work if that’s what it takes to do Richard’s bidding.
There have been hints dropped in the other books to the effect that Richard is in love with someone he cannot have, and at the beginning of this story we find out exactly who that is. David discovers that his long-buried feelings for Richard are reciprocated, but Richard, having been brought up a gentleman and for whom the tenet “never dally with the staff” is almost an unwritten law, has no intention of acting on their mutual attraction, no matter how strong it is or how miserable it makes them both to be unable to embark upon a more intimate relationship.
With the truth – albeit still unspoken – now known to both of them, David finds it increasingly more and more difficult to be in the sorts of intimate situations with Richard necessitated by his job, and eventually he snaps, trying to get Richard to properly acknowledge what lies between them. Unfortunately, however, his efforts have the opposite effect and an enraged Richard – who is finding it difficult to keep his hands off his valet and hating himself for it – dismisses David without really knowing what he’s doing.
Feeling hurt and betrayed, David flees with the help of Silas Mason, with whom he has developed an unlikely friendship. It’s only when David is gone from his life that Richard starts to fully appreciate what he had in the man – not just because of his extraordinary ability to get things done, but on a more emotional level to realise the degree of support, care and affection he offered day after day simply because he could and because it gave him pleasure and satisfaction to do so.
But when one of the Ricardians inadvertently brings about a situation which could mean exposure, ruin and perhaps even the gallows (homosexuality was illegal and could have been punished by death at this time) for all of them, there is only one person who can possibly be trusted to engineer a solution. But will David agree to return to Richard’s side to help? And how will Richard bear being close to his valet again knowing that he has hurt him so badly?
K.J. Charles has once again crafted a compelling and intriguing story which keeps the emotions front and centre while also making excellent use of historical detail. Richard comes from the highest echelons of society, but all his wealth and good-breeding doesn’t help him when it comes to explaining what he means or how he feels. The idea of taking a servant as a lover is abhorrent to him not precisely because of the difference in their stations, but is more to do with the fact that a servant cannot say “no” if they want to retain their position. But he fails to realise that in attempting to protect David from such a difficult situation, he is taking away his choices and, in a way, dismissing his ability to make his own decisions. He has to learn that David is capable – more than capable – of taking responsibility for himself in their future relationship and that he is able to set his own boundaries.
The romance is beautifully written and developed and the sexual chemistry between the principals is scorching. I enjoyed meeting Julius, Harry, Dominic and Silas again – especially Silas, for whom I have a soft spot – but though I’m sorry to say goodbye to them all, I do at least have three wonderful stories to revisit. Richard and David’s HEA is hard won, but feels all the more deserved because of it and I can’t do anything other than recommend A Gentleman’s Position most highly. It’s a superb conclusion to an excellent series.