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James, the handsome, cosmopolitan Prince of Wales, is used to being in the public eye. But he’s keeping a king-sized secret…James, next in line for the throne, is gay.
He’s been able to hide his sexual orientation with the help of his best friend and beard, Lady Cassandra. Sometimes he feels like a coward for not coming out, but he daren’t risk losing the crown. If he did, the succession would fall on his deeply troubled younger sister, Princess Amelia. To protect her, James is willing to live a lie.
While on holiday, he meets Benjamin Dahan—a rugged international reporter with a globe-trotting, unattached life—who catches far more than James’s eye. And when Ben is transferred to London, it seems fate may finally be smiling on James.
But what began as a torrid fling grows into something far more intimate and powerful. Soon James will have to decide who he is, what he wants from life and love, and what he’s willing to sacrifice for the truth…
This book, and its upcoming sequel, His Royal Favourite, are set in an alternate Great Britain in which – if I read it right – Queen Victoria and the House of Windsor didn’t exist. It’s 2012, the reigning monarch is eighty-three year old King George IX of the House of Hanover, and the next in line to the throne is his grandson, James, who became Prince of Wales following the tragic deaths of his parents in a plane crash a decade earlier when he was nineteen.
James is handsome, charming and popular. He is well aware of how privileged his life is but also knows what is expected of him as the Prince of Wales now, and, in probably not so many years, as King of England. As the actual royal family must, James has to cope with life in the goldfish bowl that is the public eye and with the constant attention of the tabloid press, the gossip magazines and the paparazzi. This is stressful and difficult at the best of times, but for James it makes his life even harder than it already is, because he is gay. He had come out to his father, who was surprised but fully supportive and the two of them had intended to discuss a strategy for James to come out publicly once Prince Edmund returned from his trip to Austraila. Unfortunately, Edmund was killed before he could do so, and James remains in the closet, understanding the ramifications his homosexuality could have in relation to the monarch’s position as Head of the Church of England and of the Commonwealth, and convinced that the British public will not accept a gay man as the next king. He also knows that, should he step aside – whether voluntarily or because he has been forced to do so – the burden of future sovereignty will fall upon his sister, Amelia, an emotionally fragile and troubled young woman who would not be able to cope with all the demands such a position would place upon her.
So James continues to live a lie, protected by his long-term friend, Lady Cassandra who knows the truth and has acted as James’ beard for the last ten years. She is frequently the target of vicious attacks in the tabloids, which have got much worse lately because she has been seen in the company of another man. She is one of the small number of people who know the truth about James’ sexuality, and even though she thinks he should come out, she continues to stand by him in spite of the huge personal cost.
James is on a royal visit to Kenya when he meets Benjamin Dahan, an Israeli-born German national who is staying at the same complex. Ben sees a guy stuck outside in a downpour and invites him to take shelter on his patio without at first realising who he is. He quickly does realise, of course, but it’s immediately clear that James likes the informality and the opportunity to be a normal guy just having a drink with someone. They drink, chat, play a rather sexually-charged game of chess and end up in bed together. James has to be incredibly careful given his position, and this is the first time in three years he has let himself give in to his sexual urges. He was badly burned by his last relationship, in which the man he thought cared for him betrayed him when things ended between them, so James is naturally wary – but there is something about Ben that makes him feel comfortable. Ben tells James he writes, and doesn’t correct James’ assumption that he is a novelist when in fact, he is a journalist who reports on economic and financial matters for a major news organisation. When James discovers this at the end of their encounter, he is utterly horrified and accuses Ben of having deliberately used him – but he has just received news that his grandfather has had a stroke and that he needs to return to London right away. Sick with trepidation and fear, James waits for the story to break – but it never does, and he realises that, unlike so many other reporters, Ben was not out to get a story.
A month later, James is astonished to see Ben at a charity event in London, and finds the opportunity to speak to him privately. They apologise to each other and agree to get together again, which they do later that night. This marks the beginning of a passionate affair which both men know can be nothing more than sex, but that suits them. James’ life is not his own most of the time which means he can’t really entertain the idea of anything long-term; and Ben has trust and commitment issues as the result of a previous relationship, so a no-strings affair with lots of great sex is absolutely what he wants.
But it’s not long before things start to change between them, and they become more emotionally involved than they had wanted or expected. The sex scenes are quite numerous and hot, but the author also does a great job with showing how their relationship is evolving and how they care for each other, mostly through a series of little things and gestures, which are very telling. Even though Ben is determined to keep himself from becoming emotionally invested, it soon becomes clear that he can’t. James is a kind, generous, loving man, and even though Ben, as a journalist, has some idea of how little privacy James has, he is nonetheless unprepared for the enormity of it and can’t help being weirded out by all the custom and protocol that surrounds the prince’s position.
One of the most impressive things about this book is the picture Lilah Pace has painted of the day-to-day “job” of being a member of the royal family, or The Firm, as it is known. She aptly describes the different attitudes and power conflicts within the family; has a firm grasp of the political implications of James’ sexuality and absolutely nails the difficulties of the constant 24/7 year-round scrutiny faced by someone in James’ situation. James is a man with a strong sense of duty and honour, mindful of what is owed to his position and determined to do his absolute best, yet he can’t speak out or answer back those who will pounce on the slightest misstep – so it’s no wonder he doesn’t want to come out and open his life up to minute scrutiny.
Ben is just as likeable, a bit of a grouchy bear, and somewhat bewildered by the world into which he has suddenly been drawn courtesy of his association with James. I particularly liked the way we are shown him coming to a gradual realisation as to the truth of what James’ life is actually like, and how he comes to understand his decision to keep his sexuality a secret. The chemistry between the two men is seriously hot, but one can also feel the love and affection running alongside it. There are some wonderfully poignant moments between James and his sister Amelia (or Indigo, as she prefers to be known), and I don’t mind admitting that I had a lump in my throat near the end, when Ben decides to stand by James at a difficult time.
His Royal Secret is book one of a duology, so the story here ends with an HFN and the knowledge that there is much more to come in the next book, His Royal Favourite. I raced through both of them one after the other in the same afternoon, and had to wonder why the two weren’t just published as one long (but not overlong) book rather than in two halves. Whatever the reason, His Royal Secret is a thoroughly enjoyable read that makes a wonderfully romantic, sexy and gripping story out of an unusual premise and, as I said in my original note at Goodreads, “I can’t think of a single thing I disliked… Not one.”