A Scot in the Dark (Scandal & Scoundrel #2) by Sarah MacLean

a scot in the dark

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lonesome Lily Turned Scandalous Siren

Miss Lillian Hargrove has lived much of her life alone in a gilded cage, longing for love and companionship. When an artist offers her pretty promises and begs her to pose for a scandalous portrait, Lily doesn’t hesitate…until the lying libertine leaves her in disgrace. With the painting now public, Lily has no choice but to turn to the one man who might save her from ruin.

Highland Devil turned Halfhearted Duke

The Duke of Warnick loathes all things English, none more so than the aristocracy. It does not matter that the imposing Scotsman has inherited one of the most venerable dukedoms in Britain—he wants nothing to do with it, especially when he discovers that the unwanted title comes with a troublesome ward, one who is far too old and far too beautiful to be his problem.

Tartan Comes to Town

Warnick arrives in London with a single goal: get the chit married and see her become someone else’s problem, then return to a normal, quiet life in Scotland. It’s the perfect plan, until Lily declares she’ll only marry for love…and the Scot finds that there is one thing in England he likes far too much…

Rating: C

I’ve read and enjoyed Sarah MacLean’s previous two series and I enjoyed the previous book in this one (The Rogue Not Taken), so I suppose she’s allowed a dud, and that is, I’m sorry to say, my overall impression of her latest book, A Scot in the Dark. The romance seems to come out of nowhere, the heroine’s actions often don’t make sense, and while it was a refreshing change to read of the hero having body-image issues, I really dislike that whole “I am not worthy” trope in romance, and it’s done to death here. Worst of all, I didn’t really like either of the protagonists. I didn’t hate them, but neither of them grabbed me and as a result, I couldn’t root for them as a couple.

Lillian Hargrove has made the mistake of falling in love with a complete and utter bastard with an ego the size of the planet and was persuaded by him to pose for a portrait in the nude, believing he wouldn’t show it to anyone else. She realises her mistake some months later at the opening of the Royal Academy’s Exhibition of Contemporary Art, when it is announced that his painting of her is the highlight of the exhibition and will be unveiled in a month’s time amid all due pomp and circumstance. Lily is naturally and immediately the subject of all sorts of horrid gossip and her reputation is in tatters.

Enter her hitherto absentee guardian, Alec Stuart, the twenty-first Duke of Warnick, who has, during the five years since he acceded to the title (owing to the utterly improbable fact that the seventeen people who stood between him and the dukedom all managed to die without issue), managed to avoid London and remain on his lands in Scotland. Having had no idea until now that he even had a ward, Alec realises that he needs to rescue Lily from certain ruin and heads off to London in order to do so.

Lily doesn’t want to be rescued –she just wants to run away, but Alec isn’t having it. He decides she should get married straight away, as having a husband will protect her reputation. Lily doesn’t want to get married either, and most of the book is spent with them not agreeing to disagree on the way to deal with the scandal that is going to get even bigger once the painting is unveiled.

Ms. MacLean has tried to do something interesting with her protagonists, which is why the book gets 3 stars and not less. We’re told that Lily is the most beautiful woman on the planet, but it’s clear that her beauty has not brought her a happy life. Lily was orphaned young, passed from pillar to post and never really cared for with the result that she has spent most of her life being ignored, in spite of her exceptionally good looks. I found it a little difficult to accept that she has never, ever had a friend, but given the fact that young women had such limited choices and that Lily was so overlooked, it’s just about within the realms of possibility that she really had spent her life alone.

Alec is six-and-a-half-feet of big, brawny Scotsman whose mother pretty much rejected him for being too big and too coarse before she died when he was a child. Large hints are dropped throughout the story that the women who find him attractive want him only for one thing – he’s good for a night of raw, lusty sex, but not good enough for anything long-term – which means he’s not good enough for Lovely Lily.

I didn’t connect with either of the principals or feel a connection between them, either. For the first forty percent of the story, Lily is standing up to Alec, defying and running away from him – until suddenly she’s all over him and they’re sucking face and fondling each other in a carriage. There’s no build up or sexual tension beforehand and their verbal exchanges are flat and devoid of any spark or chemistry.

And then there’s the fact that Lily was utterly in love with the bastard who deceived her, but ten days later is in love with Alec. Naturally, she didn’t really know what love was before. And Derek Hawkins – the cad – is such an over the top, one dimensional character that I found myself questioning Lily’s intelligence for falling for him. What we see of him is so ridiculous it’s difficult to understand how she was so taken in by him.

And – I can’t put this off any longer, but the amount of English-bashing in this book got on my nerves very quickly. Alec hates the English – his mother was English and didn’t like Scotland. She abandoned him. All the women who humiliated him were English. England is horrible, it has no redeeming features whatsoever and he hates it. I got the message early on; I didn’t need to be continually beaten over the head with it.

Ms. MacLean writes with her customary skill, and I am still intrigued by the parallels she is drawing in this series between the scandal sheets of old, and today’s celebrity culture; I liked meeting West and Georgiana again, and there’s a very much appreciated cameo from Cross. But otherwise, A Scot in the Dark was a big disappointment and I was so disconnected from it and the characters that I struggled to finish it.

The Reluctant Viscount by Lara Temple

The Reluctant viscount

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A decade ago, wallflower Alyssa Drake’s heart broke when Adam Alistair was banished from Mowbray. Now, he’s back – wealthy, titled, and more cynical than before! And Alyssa’s determined not to fall under this notorious rake’s spell ever again…

Reluctant viscount Adam knows only betrayal. But Alyssa proves herself an unexpected ally when he finds his life endangered, and they are forced into a sham engagement. Their betrothal may be fake, but there’s no denying the very real passion that explodes between them!

Rating: B

The Reluctant Viscount is Lara Temple’s second book for Harlequin Historical, and while it is a little uneven in terms of the pacing and plotting, I enjoyed it sufficiently to want to read more of her work. The central relationship is very well written and the verbal exchanges between the hero and heroine are often funny and have a naturalistic feel to them that not many authors can achieve. But the mystery that is introduced in the latter part of the book is not as successful, and the shift in focus from romance to mystery left me feeling a little disappointed overall.

Some ten years before the story starts, eighteen year-old Alyssa Drake was heartbroken when her beloved childhood friend Adam Alastair was banished from their village of Mowbray. Her cousin Rowena, a manipulative young woman, made it seem as though Adam had compromised her so that she could secure the hand of another, wealthier suitor, and with everyone – including his family – believing the worst of him, Adam left England and hasn’t been back since.

Alyssa has spent the last ten years living with her neglectful father, a well-known poet who only remembers her existence when he wants something – and watching her siblings make happy marriages. When she was younger, she had been as much of a tearaway as her brothers and sisters, running wild with nobody to supervise them, but after Adam left, she realised such behaviour was unacceptable and started to bring her siblings into line, seeing to their educations and manners as well as turning herself into a proper young lady. A decade and more later, her transformation has been so successful that most of the village has forgotten the breeches-wearing, tree-climbing hoyden Alyssa used to be, and she is regarded as a model of propriety and is well-liked and respected in Mowbray.

She’s someone who has spent most of her life watching out for and taking responsibility for others, and it’s something she can’t quite stop doing. Her latest mission brings her to the door of the newly-minted Viscount Delacort with a request for help; his dandified, fortune-hunting cousin has set his sights on her father’s ward, Mary, who is supposed to be marrying her brother Charlie, and she wants the viscount to warn him off.

But this Adam Alistair is not the one Alyssa remembers. In place of the warm, friendly young man she knew is a cold cynic, one who has not forgotten his humiliation at Rowena’s hands and who clearly wants to be anywhere other than Mowbray.

At first, Alyssa wonders if Adam even remembers her, but that impression is quickly dispelled as Adam comments that Alyssa hasn’t lost her penchant for wanting to organise everyone, and she hits back by taking him to task about his principles – or lack thereof.  This initial exchange sets the tone for many of their subsequent encounters, which contain a mixture of insight, humour and forthrightness that clearly shows that these two have each other pegged. As I said at the beginning of this review, the dialogue between the protagonists is superbly executed and is one of the book’s strengths; there’s a real sense of the strong emotional connection between them and the underlying romantic and sexual tension bubbles along nicely.

A couple of hints are dropped early on in the story that someone is not at all happy at Adam’s return and his inheritance of his lands and title, but in the second half,  this plotline assumes greater importance and takes over from the romance as the driving force of the story.  When Adam is falsely accused of murder – or attempted murder – Alyssa steps in and provides him with an alibi, telling everyone that they were together at the time of the attack, and had just become engaged.  I rather like the fake-relationship trope in romances, and it’s done well here, with Adam coming to the realisation that he actually wants to marry Alyssa, and she still determined to stay single rather than subject herself to the rule of a man when she’s had enough of that from her egotistical father. I really enjoyed watching Adam gradually fall in love while Alyssa tells herself to be sensible and resist him, but the mystery is the weakest part of the book, the identity of the villain isn’t too hard to guess and the denouement is rather OTT.  I wanted more of Adam and Alyssa and their delicious banter and wonderful sexual tension; instead I got a predictable mystery that detracted somewhat from their burgeoning romance.

But with that said, The Reluctant Viscount is still getting a strong recommendation because the things about the book that DO work – the dialogue, characterisation and romance – work very well indeed. Even with the reservations I’ve expressed, I would definitely suggest that anyone looking for a new voice in historical romance could do worse than give this one a try.

Stolen Encounters with the Duchess (Hadley’s Hellions #2) by Julia Justiss

stolen encounters with the duchess

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She would rather burn in his presence than pine in his absence…

Faith Wellingford Evers, Duchess of Ashedon, is tired of society’s endless gossiping about her failings and her late husband’s infidelities. Seeking escape one night, she’s attacked by ruffians, but is saved by an unlikely figure from her past!

Having risen from penniless orphan to Member of Parliament, David Tanner Smith is no longer the quiet boy Faith once knew. With the first spine-tingling kiss, their old friendship is transformed. And in its place is an explosive mix of illicit encounters and forbidden desire…

Rating: B

This second book in Julia Justiss’ Hadley’s Hellions series is easily read as a standalone, although characters from the previous book – Forbidden Nights with the Viscount – do have parts to play in this one.  Stolen Encounters with the Duchess is a very readable cross-class romance which plays out against the solidly crafted backdrop of the work of a group of political reformers in which our hero, David Tanner Smith is one of the key players.

Readers of one of the author’s previous books, From Waif to Gentleman’s Wife, may recall that a lad called Davie Smith was instrumental in rescuing the heroine and thereby earned the gratitude of the hero, Sir Edward Greaves.  Davie was sponsored by Ned at Oxford, then worked as his secretary before realising his political ambitions and becoming MP for Hazelwick.  He is now a hard-working, respected member of parliament and is particularly dedicated to the cause of political and social reform.

Years earlier, when Davie was working for Ned, he encountered sixteen year-old Faith Wallingford, whose brother, the Marquess of Englemere, was one of Ned’s closest friends.  In spite of the huge difference in their stations, Faith and Davie became fast friends, frequently enjoying discussions about anything and everything, from art, to music to books and, of course, politics.  But theirs was not a friendship that could last, and they haven’t seen each other for more than a decade.

While Davie has spent the last ten years living a fulfilling and interesting life doing something he loves, Faith’s life has been the opposite.   She fell in love with the handsome, charming Duke of Ashedon, married him and gave him three sons, only to discover that his frequent and indiscreet infidelities had made her a laughing stock among the ton.  Not only that, he had insidiously made sure that all ties with her family and friends were cut, leaving her completely dependent on him for everything.  It’s only now, in the months since his death, that Faith has discovered how isolated she is; cut off from everyone she used to know and even prevented from spending much time with her sons, she is a very different young woman to the vibrant and quick-witted girl that Davie Smith fell for all those years ago.

To make matters worse, Faith’s critical, officious  mother-in-law has decided to move with her so that she can make sure the new eight-year-old duke is receiving the proper guidance. Which to her means teaching him to be a rude, arrogant and self-entitled arse like his father.  And then, Faith’s dissolute brother-in-law keeps making unwanted advances which are becoming more and more threatening.  She is anxious about her boys, weighed down by the continual carping of the dowager and is at a very low ebb, having no friends or family she can confide in.  Until, that is, an odd quirk of fate propels her into the arms of a stranger who saves her from the unwanted attentions of a couple of ruffians – and turns out to be none other than Davie Smith, all grown up, filled out and ridiculously handsome.  They haven’t seen each other for over ten years, but Faith knows he has become a rising star in political circles – even though such things as politics are thought to be far too difficult for ladies to understand.  Realising that Faith is starved for good company and intellectual stimulation, Davie invites her to the “discussion evening” being held by friends of his the next night, and agrees to meet her earlier in the day to bring her up to speed on the likely topics for discussion.

I enjoyed this story of young lovers reunited after a long separation.  Davie is as much in love with Faith as he ever was, and just as aware of the distance between them.  Even though he knows he can never be more to Faith than a friend, he helps her to rediscover herself and to again be the bright, assertive and lively woman she had been before her marriage.  With Davie’s support, Faith is able to start living her own life once more, re-connect with her family, take control of her sons’ education and to stand up to the dowager.  His obvious admiration also helps Faith to regain confidence in herself and her attractiveness, but she is as conscious of the social gulf between them as Davie is and worries that their relationship will be misconstrued in such a way that will affect her position in her sons’ lives.

Cross-class romances can be difficult to pull off in historicals because the social strata were so strictly defined, and I appreciated the fact that Ms. Justiss has taken such a detailed look at the difficulties faced by her protagonists in this story.  In fact, their consciousness of the difference in their stations is really the only thing keeping Davie and Faith apart, but it’s not a pointless road-block on the way to HEA-land; it’s a real concern and both characters are going to have to make major reassessments  as to how they see themselves, each other and what they want from life if they are going to be together.

Faith’s situation as a woman worn down through an unpleasant marriage is presented with accuracy and sympathy, and her dilemmas feel very real. Davie is a steadfast, honourable and attractive hero, and I particularly liked the few scenes which clearly show what a good influence he will be on Faith’s sons in spite of his low station.  The character of Faith’s brother-in-law effectively shows the fallacy of the assumptions made at the time that those of the upper classes must necessarily have been everything that was right and good, and presents a strong contrast to Davie, an orphaned nobody who has more integrity in his little finger than can be found in half the aristocracy.

Stolen Encounters with the Duchess is enjoyable and emotionally satisfying with a well-integrated historical background and two engaging and attractive protagonists.  At category length, it’s a quick read, but it doesn’t lack depth or nuance and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking to read a tender second chance/reunion story.

The Soldier (Windhams #2) by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton

the soldier audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

His idyllic estate is falling down from neglect, and nightmares of war give him no rest. Then Devlin St. Just meets his new neighbor…

With her confident manner hiding a devastating secret, his lovely neighbor commands all of his attention, and protecting Emmaline becomes Devlin’s most urgent mission.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B-

The Soldier is the second book in Grace Burrowes’ eight-book series about the sons and daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Windham and, as with the first book (The Heir), it features a number of recurring characters and family members. That said, the story works well as a standalone; anyone starting with the series here shouldn’t have any particular problems working out the various friendships and familial relationships.

Devlin St. Just is the Duke of Windham’s eldest son, although he was born on the wrong side of the blanket some time before the duke met and married his duchess. In fact, the duke was unaware of Devlin’s existence until he was around five years old, when his mother decided it would be better for her boy to be brought up in the comfort and security a ducal family would provide. Devlin was accepted into the family with open arms, growing up with his legitimate half-brothers and sisters and loved by them and by the duchess who looked upon him as she did her own sons.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Forevermore (Darkest London #7) by Kristen Callihan (audiobook) – Narrated by Moira Quirk

forevermore

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Miss Layla Starling, the young, beautiful, and extremely wealthy heiress, is the talk of London. Until now, she’s managed to evade the marriage noose. Despite the fact that she is unfortunately American, she’s received a staggering number of offers. And turned down every one.

St. John Evernight does not want to admit the relief he feels every time he hears that she has rejected one of her suitors. Which is unfair of him. Layla deserves to be happy. But he can not offer her happiness. He will never be normal, never be anything but a freak in her world.

So St. John resolves to keep his distance, until he is recruited by the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals to guard Layla. For she is in grave danger, and he is about to learn the full extent of his powers.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

Forevermore is the seventh and final book in Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series of paranormal historical romances, and provides an exciting and fitting end to what has been one of my favourite series in both print and audio over the past few years. Even though most of the books can – just about – work as standalones, there are many plot threads and characters that are common across all the stories, and this is especially true of Forevermore; so anyone coming to it without any experience or knowledge of the other titles in the series is going to be at a disadvantage. The multiple common threads and characters also mean there are going to be spoilers for other books in the series in this review.

St. John (pronounced “Sinjun”) Evernight is the younger brother of the three Ellis sisters, Miranda, Daisy and Poppy (whose stories were told in Firelight, Moonglow and Winterblaze) and like them, is a powerful supernatural being. When he was a child, Sin was hidden away from his father, a crazed demon, and it wasn’t until very recently that he discovered that he had siblings and the truth about his parentage. While his sisters can control Fire, Earth and Water respectively, Sin is the most powerful of all of them, able to control all the elements and do much more besides.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Tangled by Mary Balogh

tangled

ONE MAN HAUNTED HER PAST…
Her beautiful eyes flashing with hate, Rebecca faced Lord David Tavistock. He had come back, wounded but still vibrantly, sensually alive, from the Crimean War. Julian Cardwell, her sweet, gentle bridegroom–and David’s foster brother–had not. She blamed wild, reckless David for Julian’s decision to enter the Queen’s Guards, and for the devastating loss of her perfect young husband, whose memory even now broke her heart and filled her dreams.

ONE PROMISED HER A FUTURE…
His blue eyes shadowed by dark secrets, David had come to claim the woman he had always loved. All his life he had protected the charming Julian, hiding the truth from Rebecca about the women Julian dallied with, the child he had fathered, the scandalous way he died. Now David offered Rebecca a life of privilege and wealth…as his wife. She wanted a marriage of convenience, but he intended to awake her deepest passions, to make her forget Julian Cardwell…and to find in his bed all the ecstasy of a man’s true love.

Rating: B

August’s TBR Challenge prompt is “Kickin’ it old-school” and it’s a prompt I always enjoy as it gives me the opportunity to pick something from the TBR Pile of Doom, which still looms large next to the bed. I went for Tangled by Mary Balogh, a standalone title originally published in 1991 which features a somewhat unusual premise; one I haven’t read before although I’m sure this isn’t the only book to have made use of it. I see that the book has engendered very mixed reactions over the years, and although I can understand why, I enjoyed it, principally because Mary Balogh is so skilled at portraying the emotional lives of her characters in a way that makes them feel very real to the reader.

The book opens as Lady Rebecca Cardwell is saying a fond farewell to her husband, Julian, before he departs with his regiment for Malta, and then the Crimea. He is accompanied by his foster brother, David, Viscount Tavistock, whom she dislikes and blames for Julian’s joining the army. Julian is eagerly reassuring his anxious wife that he will be in no danger, and it’s clear that he is keen to be on his way and sees the whole thing as an adventure.

The glimpses we see of Julian’s life in the army very quickly reinforce those initial impressions of his character. We learn some of his and David’s backstory, and see that Julian is one of those happy-go-lucky types who breeze through life with no care for anyone but himself. He’s not evil, per se, just incredibly selfish and immature. But his devil-may-care attitude, and particularly his womanising eventually has disastrous consequences which ultimately result in his death.

David returns home a decorated war hero, haunted by the death of the man he’d loved like a brother, and looking to settle down to a useful life at his country estate. He very quickly realises that Rebecca is in a difficult situation; even though she regards the Earl of Harrington as a father, she is not actually related to him and since his remarriage, feels the awkwardness of being the house’s former mistress in the presence of its new one. David has been in love with Rebecca for years, since long before she married Julian, and even though he knows that she will never love him, he offers her marriage, telling her that he can provide her with a home of her own and a purpose in life. He makes it clear, though, that while he is proposing a marriage of convenience, he wants a wife to share his bed and, hopefully, give him children.

Initially, Rebecca is stunned and turns him down. She doesn’t really like David, believing him guilty of a slew of misdemeanours in his youth and of having fathered a bastard child and refused to marry the mother. Yet she has to admit that since his return, she has seen a much quieter and more thoughtful man, and believes that perhaps he has outgrown his youthful exuberance. She also can’t deny that the prospect of a home of her own and having tasks to fill her days is an attractive one, so she eventually agrees to David’s proposal, assuring him that she will be a good wife to him and that once she is married to him, she will put Julian out of her thoughts.

At first, David thinks he has made a fairly good bargain, although his father is sceptical and warns him that he wants more than Rebecca will be prepared or able to give him. The marriage takes place and the newlyweds travel to their new home where Rebecca is delighted to discover that there is plenty for her to do and looks forward to being useful and taking her place as the foremost lady of the local community.

But their married life gets off to a rocky start. Rebecca’s version of “being a good wife” is letting her husband do as he wishes in bed with no thought for her own wants – and David is bewildered. He knows Julian and Rebecca were very much in love and thinks Rebecca must have experienced passion; but not only does she not respond to him, it’s clear she is having to force herself to endure his lovemaking. David believes that she is deliberately holding herself back from him because she doesn’t love him and because, in spite of her promise not to think of Julian, she is doing just that. Their relationship becomes incredibly strained until, after their third night together, David snaps, says some cruel things and then tells Rebecca he won’t be bothering her again.

Rebecca is equally confused. She has been brought up to believe that sex is for a husband’s pleasure and for procreation, and that she should just lie there and let him get on with it. She is surprised by her attraction to David, but is ashamed of her response to his kisses and lovemaking, feeling things she’s never felt before and desperate to control herself to make sure he isn’t disgusted by her wantonness. But after that night, she finds she misses the bonding that had begun between them in bed and also that she needs the reassurance of David’s presence there, and of his lovemaking, too. The couple settles into a way of life that sees them living and working together as little more than business partners, but Rebecca wants a real marriage and has no idea how to achieve it while David distances himself from her; his jealousy of Julian and the guilt, the secrets and the lies that shadowed their relationship distort his view of the situation and lead him to believe that Rebecca is disgusted by him. It’s a stalemate for quite some time until at last, it seems as though they have finally found a way through … which is when (of course) disaster strikes.

I am not normally a fan of stories in which so many misunderstandings and secrets abound, but I did enjoy Tangled. True, there were times I wanted to beat both protagonists over the head with a big stick and tell them to just be honest with each other; but somehow, Mary Balogh has made their reluctance to confide in each other believable. It’s frustrating to read at times, but is understandable, especially given that Rebecca’s upbringing has conditioned her to propriety and submission and that David is driven to protect the people he cares about. The deeper emotions are brilliantly illuminated, and the author has very skilfully illustrated the importance of sex in the development of the central relationship. Without it, David and Rebecca are almost strangers, and because they are both hiding things from each other, they don’t have any other way in which to achieve closeness on an emotional level.

It’s difficult to say much more about the plot without giving away spoilers for the last third, but there are several places in that final section of the story that deliver a real emotional punch to the gut, as David and Rebecca struggle to adjust to a huge upheaval just as they were beginning to make something real out of their marriage. I especially liked the way in which the author shows that Rebecca is falling in love with David while being completely unaware of it, and how she shows the depths of his quiet, unrequited love for his wife, but as individuals, they are complex, flawed and not always easy to like. Rebecca puts Julian on a pedestal and is unable – or unwilling – to see any of the shortcomings of which the reader – and David – is aware. She elevates him practically to sainthood after his death, and there are times when her continual harping upon his perfection gets very irritating. David, too, is not without his faults; for the most part, he’s one of those honourable, quiet men who are driven to protect, but I did have to ask myself how he could bear to let so many people think badly of him for so long. But with those things said, both characters feel very much like products of their time, and I applaud Ms. Balogh for creating and keeping them that way in spite of the sometimes negative effect on their overall appeal.

While the secret-keeping is frustrating and the central characters could sometimes be a bit irritating, my principal criticism of Tangled is with the ending. Granted, the outcome was a foregone conclusion if David and Rebecca were to get their HEA, but the action that leads up to it is so completely out of character for the person concerned, that I had to read and accept it as a necessary plot device rather than a natural direction of the story.

This is an angsty and emotional book, and I can understand that the secrets, misunderstandings and – for want of a better word, passivity – of the protagonists may mean it is not one that everyone will like. But the depth of the emotion contained within its pages and the skilfully developed, strong connection between the protagonists are sufficiently compelling as to allow me to overlook any weaknesses and commend it as an absorbing and thought-provoking read.

His Royal Favourite (His Royal Secret #2) by Lilah Pace

his royal favourite

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

James, Prince of Wales, is making history. He’s decided to come out to his subjects—and the world. However, telling the truth means exposing his relationship with lone-wolf reporter Benjamin Dahan. Although Ben never wanted commitment, the unexpected depth of his feelings leads him to join James in the media’s harsh spotlight.

When the news story explodes across the globe, Ben can endure the mockery and dirty jokes. But after his tragic past is cruelly revealed, his life begins to implode. Can even his love for James be worth this?

James has it no easier. His revelation divides the country and sparks turmoil within the royal family. He must struggle to defend not only himself and Ben, but also his younger sister, who hovers on the brink of a breakdown that could endanger her life.

Is Ben strong enough to survive the onslaught and stand by James’ side? And will James have to make a choice between Ben and the crown?

Rating: A-

His Royal Favorite is the second book in the duology that began with His Royal Secret. As it’s a direct sequel, it’s advisable to have read the first book before embarking upon this one, and also means that there are going to be spoilers for His Royal Secret in this review.

The story in His Royal Favorite picks up pretty much where it ended in the previous book. In a Britain in which Queen Victoria and the House of Winsdor never existed, the reigning monarch is the elderly King George IX of the House of Hanover, and the next in line to the throne is his grandson, the handsome, popular, twenty-nine year old James, Prince of Wales. But James is gay and very firmly in the closet, believing that the British people will not accept a homosexual as their next king, and also well aware of the political and religious issues that would arise as a result of the fact that the monarch is also Head of the Church of England and of the Commonwealth.

But James’ life got even more complicated when he met and fell in love with Benjamin Dahan, an Israeli born German national who is also a journalist. Given the circumstances, the couple were happy to settle for a no-strings sex-only affair at first, but it wasn’t long before the relationship turned into something more emotional as both men realised that they had found something very special in the other, someone to talk to and laugh with, someone who understood them on an almost instinctual level. At the end of the book, James had finally decided that enough was enough and that he didn’t want to live a lie any longer. Knowing that Ben doesn’t want commitment, that putting a partner through the horrors of the media circus that was bound to follow his announcement would be extremely unfair, and, ultimately, loving Ben enough to let him go, James resigned himself to going it alone. I admit I had a lump in my throat when Ben told James he was in it for the long haul and that he was going to stand beside him through whatever was to come.

His Royal Favorite starts with James telling his PR people that he is going to be coming out as a gay man in an existing relationship and follows the two men through the ensuing months, which are going to prove incredibly difficult for both of them and will test them to their limits.

Lilah Pace has done a fantastic job in both books of portraying the way that tradition and protocol still play such a huge role in the life of the modern royal family, and also of the way the tabloid press, gossip rags and paparazzi operate.  James gives a wonderful, heartfelt speech at his press conference, and while the public’s initial reaction to the fact that he is gay is generally positive, it’s Ben who suffers the real slings and arrows.  He had some idea of what might be awaiting him from the media – people camping outside his flat, his place of work and following him wherever he goes – but nothing could have prepared him for what actually happens, which is incredibly nasty and intrusive.

Ben had led a rather nomadic existence up to now, his work as an economic and financial journalist taking him round the world.  He loves his job and plans to continue it, but after he is revealed as the Prince of Wales’ lover, it becomes impossible.  Sure, his phone calls are taken by everyone now, but nobody takes him seriously, and when he discovers that someone at the office has been leaking comments to the press, it’s the final nail in the coffin and he resigns, planning to work on his next book instead. But things don’t quite work out that way.  Ben feels adrift – his life has changed in ways he couldn’t have forseen and he starts to question his decisions and even to wonder if he knows who he is any more.  An uncomfortable distance begins to grow between him and James, but neither knows how to cross the breach.

James may have been born to a life of immense wealth and privilege, but he has problems, too.  His uncle, Prince Richard, is stirring up trouble within the Church by speaking to the Archbishop of Canterbury about the incompatibility of James’s homosexuality with his (possible) future position as Head of the Church of England; his sister, emotionally fragile at the best of times, is showing signs of becoming more unstable; and Ben is pulling away from him.  Added to all that is the fact that James knows that there are soon likely to be calls for him to be removed from the line of succession.  While he can’t deny that the idea of stepping aside and being able to have more of a private life, is an attractive one, being king is the job James was born to do, and has been trained for all his life.  Moreover, he wants to do it; he loves his country and he wants to play his part in shaping its future.

All the secondary characters, even those that only appear briefly, are carefully crafted to be individuals rather than stereotypes, and I particularly enjoyed Ben’s interactions with the formidable Queen Louise and his developing friendship with Cass, the young woman who had acted as James’ girlfriend for years.  Ms. Pace writes with warmth, humour and poignancy; and if the ending is a little bit fairy-tale… well, that’s what handsome princes are for, right?

His Royal Secret and His Royal Favorite (and I have to wonder why, as they’re both fairly short books, the whole story wasn’t published in one long one) tell the story of two people who fall in love under extraordinary circumstances and are prepared to go the extra mile to make it work. It’s not easy; both make mistakes and Ben is often overwhelmed by the complexity of James’s life, but it’s obvious that in spite of their massive difference in status, Ben and James are equal partners in their relationship.  Both are fully cognizant of what they have found in each other and the way they support one another through some truly difficult times and experiences is a real joy to behold.

His Royal Favorite provides an excellent conclusion to this sexy, heart-wrenching and quite unique tale, and I’m already looking forward to reading the whole thing again.