He’s a reclusive Earl with a painful secret that’s kept him from knowing a lover’s touch. She’s a sheltered debutante tired of living by society’s rules. But when she’s forced from the ballroom to the brothel, Lily discovers the dark thrill of falling from grace…and into the arms of a man who could destroy her as easily as he saved her.
Lily Chadwick has spent her life playing the respectable debutante. But when an unscrupulous moneylender snatches her off the street and puts her up for auction at a pleasure house, she finds herself in the possession of a man who fills her with breathless terror and impossible yearning.
Though the Earl of Harte claimed Lily with the highest bid, he hides a painful secret―one that has kept him from knowing the pleasure of a lover’s touch. Even the barest brush of skin brings him physical pain, and he’s spent his life keeping the world at arm’s length. But there’s something about Lily that maddens him, bewitches him, compels him…and drives him toward the one woman brave and kind enough to heal his troubled heart.
The character – usually the hero – who, for some reason is touch averse (doesn’t like being touched, touching others or both) is not uncommon in historical romance, although I have yet to see that particular plotline played out convincingly. Most recently, the hero of Kerrigan Byrne’s The Highwayman had a history that fully explained his dislike of being touched and his reasons for not wanting to touch the heroine, but even so, his problem was solved reasonably easily once he fell in love. Lazarus, Lord Caire, in Elizabeth Hoyt’s first Maiden Lane book, Wicked Intentions had a similar problem that was also solved rather too conveniently once he’d met and fallen for his heroine.
Avenell Slade, Earl of Harte (and when will authors learn that those sorts of names for men in Regency England are too way out to be believeable? Plus the idea of the heroine panting “Avenell, do it to me Avenell!” in bed is just too ridiculous!) has reached the age of twenty-four without having experienced the touch of another person that didn’t hurt him. But he realises he isn’t going to be able to live his life without at the very least being able to stop himself flinching every time someone touches him, even accidentally. I admired him for the fact that he had the sense to realise he couldn’t go on like that, and for deciding he needed to seek a solution. He therefore heads to a discreet, high-class brothel, and confesses his problem to the madam, explaining that he needs to learn how to at least bear the touch of another person. He’s a virgin (obviously, given his condition), but at this point, having sex is the least of his worries. He does, however, also want to learn about pleasure and how to give it – and naturally a brothel is going to be able to help with that 😉
Given this set up, I thought that perhaps I was going to be reading a story in which – at last – the hero’s touch aversion was going to be realistically dealt with and solved… but alas, I was disappointed, and here was yet another instance of the hero’s being miraculously cured by the touch of the Right Woman.
The three Chadwick sisters are struggling to keep afloat financially following their father’s death. That nice man left them with a massive gambling debt, and in the previous book, Luck Is No Lady, we met the eldest sister, Emma, who had a plan to pay off the debt and get them out of trouble. As The Untouchable Earl takes place concurrently with the first book, that plan has not yet succeeded, so the bad guys are still out to get their money. Readers may recall that the man who is owed the debt – one Mason Hale – was presented as a bad-guy-with-a-heart (sort of) as he needs the money in order to pay off the opium-addicted mother of his daughter to bring the girl to him so he can care for her. I assume the author means the reader to feel conflicted about this character, and I did – but I’m not really sure where she’s going with it.
Anyway. Our heroine in this book is the middle Chadwick sister, Lily and from the minute she sets eyes on the gorgeous but dangerously aloof Earl of Harte at a ball, she’s immediately drowning in a sea of insta-lust and the reader is treated to lots of descriptions of tingling skin and fluttering bellies and hitching breath and all that stuff. Lily regards herself as the boring sister – and I can’t say that I disagree with her assessment, as her life seems to consist of reading naughty books and dreaming about being one of the heroines therein and not much else.
Soon after the first meeting of eyes across a crowded ballroom, Lily is kidnapped by Hale and taken to the very brothel at which Avenell had sought help, where she is drugged and put up for auction. Naturally, Avenell is there, and naturally he is the highest bidder.
It’s obvious where this is going, but the story ends up being little more than a string of lengthy love scenes that are not terribly sexy and are full of those same flutterings and tinglings and sparks and hot breathiness and honestly, I got fed up after the first couple and started skim reading them, which is never a good sign.
The writing throughout is decent, but there is no character development, both principals are little more than one dimensional and there is no sense of any emotional connection or chemistry between them. Avenell had the potential to be an interesting hero, but Lily is one of the blandest heroines I’ve come across in ages. I’ve read some lately who have irritated the crap out of me, but Lily is just… meh. I also couldn’t buy the idea that a gently-born young woman would so easily suggest becoming a man’s mistress at a time when a woman’s reputation was everything and once lost could never be mended. And once they do start making the beast with two backs, there is no mention of possible pregnancy or attempt at preventing it.
I normally try to avoid giving spoilers in my reviews, but I think the reason for Avenell’s issues with being touched need to be mentioned here, as it’s such an integral part of the story. We’re told that as a child he suffered a serious and lingering illness that left him with some sort of nerve damage in the upper part of his body, so that anything that touches him on those parts of his body causes him pain. It’s a sad story, because as a result of his reluctance to be touched, those who were supposed to be caring for him believed him to be wayward and attention seeking and dismissed him and his suffering. But of course, right at the end, Avenell is Cured by the Love of a Good Woman, and in the last few pages learns that his issues are mostly psychosomatic because he got so used to the pain that he expected to feel it, and so he did.
I rolled my eyes so hard…
As is obvious, I’m not recommending The Untouchable Earl, which is, ultimately, a rather dull book with flat characters, a lacklustre romance and no storyline to speak of. I will normally give an author a couple of chances to impress me before I give up (unless the first book I read is so utterly dire that I can’t face another one!) – and as this is the second book I have read by Amy Sandas that hasn’t impressed me, I doubt I’ll be trying a third.