Claiming Mister Kemp (Baleful Godmother #4) by Emily Larkin

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lucas Kemp’s twin sister died last year. He’s put aside his mourning clothes, but not his heartache. If Lucas ever needed a friend, it’s now—and who should walk in his door but Lieutenant Thomas Matlock…

Lucas and Tom are more than just best friends; they’ve been in love with each other for years. In love with each other—and pretending not to know it.

But this time, Tom’s not going to ignore the attraction between them. This time, he’s going to push the issue.

He’s going to teach Lucas how to laugh again—and he’s going to take Lucas as his lover…

Rating: B

Claiming Mister Kemp is a long-ish novella that is the fourth story in Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series.  While characters from the previous books make brief appearances, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy this as a standalone – although the other three books are excellent and well worth reading.

Lucas Kemp and Thomas Matlock have been friends ever since their first term at Eton, even though their backgrounds couldn’t be more different.  Lucas comes from a wealthy background and a warm, loving family, whereas Tom, the youngest son of an earl, was born to parents who really couldn’t be all that bothered about him, and his fondest childhood memories are of the holidays he spent at Whiteoaks, where he and Lucas made a foursome with Lucas’ cousin, Letty Trentham (Trusting Miss Trentham) and his twin sister, Julia.  The four children were close, although as twins, Lucas and Julia shared a unique bond.  They remained close as they grew into adulthood, but eventually their lives took them in different directions, with Tom going into the army, Letty and Julia entering society and Lucas inheriting an estate of his own.  But some sixteen months before this book opens, tragedy struck, and Julia was killed when she fell from her horse.  Everyone was devastated at her death, but for Lucas, it’s even worse than that.  He feels as though he has lost something of himself, and although his mourning period has ended, he continues to miss his sister intensely.  He puts on a good show for those around him, fooling those who don’t know him well, or don’t care to look beyond the surface, but inside, he’s a mess, having resorted for a time to taking too much laudanum to try to dull the pain and when that avenue was denied him (his valet found his stash and threw it away) took to drinking too much and too often.

Tom, now a member of General Wellesley’s staff, has returned to London with the general in order to speak at a military enquiry into Wellesley’s actions after the battle of Vimeiro.  A recent brush with death has given him a new appreciation for living and made him determined not to waste another minute of his life in denial of the feelings he has always held for his best friend.

It’s Lucas’ birthday, and Tom knows it will be a difficult day for him, seeing as it should have been Julia’s birthday, too.  He goes to Lucas’ lodgings intent on offering comfort and support, only to find his friend drunk and alone in the dark.  His heart breaking for Lucas all over again, Tom decides to seize the chance to show Lucas that he is not alone, and that his – Tom’s – feelings for him go beyond friendship. When Lucas, his inhibitions and defences lowered, doesn’t refuse Tom’s advances, they share a brief moment of sexual intimacy.

Afterwards, Lucas is utterly horrified and disgusted at what happened, and tries – unsuccessfully – to avoid Tom the next day.  But Tom won’t allow him to ignore what happened between them, and pushes Lucas to acknowledge the truth of his own feelings as well as the strength of the attraction between them.  As his anger with Tom lessens, Lucas finds it harder and harder to resist the pull of that attraction and allows his long suppressed feelings for his friend to come to the fore – although once their moment of shared passion is over, he is once again overwhelmed by his thoughts and his fear of discovery and being labelled a sodomite.

Given that homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment (or even death) at this time, Lucas’ fears are well-grounded.  But this is much more than a story about a man’s reluctance to explore his sexuality; it’s also about a terribly lonely man who is so mired in grief and loss that he is in danger of losing himself, too.  Lucas has known for a long time that he’s not attracted to women and refused to admit the possibility that he was attracted to men; and the moment at which Tom realises that while he’s been away in the army, surrounded by people, having sexual relationships (with both sexes), Lucas quite literally had no-one is like a punch to the gut.

While I sometimes felt that Tom was perhaps a little too pushy, he’s redeemed by the fact that he is so patient with Lucas, allowing him to dictate the pace of their sexual relationship and to do as much or as little as he wants.  He’s funny and warm and charming, and there’s absolutely no doubt as to the fact that he loves Lucas dearly and would do anything for him.  But things come to a head when Lucas’ fears overcome him once more and he pushes Tom away for what could be the last time.

The events in this story run concurrently with those of Trusting Miss Trentham and one of the things I really liked was that we get to see the other side of some of the conversations both Tom and Lucas had with Letty Trentham in that book.  But if you haven’t read it, don’t worry – as I said at the outset, this stands on its own.

Claiming Mister Kemp is a heartfelt, compelling love story featuring two well-developed and likeable central characters. The sex scenes are sensual and well-written, conveying a real sense of the depth of the love and affection between the two men, and the emotional connection between the pair is palpable.  At somewhere around 170 pages, it’s a quick and satisfying read and one I’m recommending without hesitation.

The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

An earl hiding from his future . . .

Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, is mad. At least, that’s what he and most of the village believes. A brilliant scientist, he hides himself away in his family’s crumbling estate, unwilling to venture into the outside world. When an annoyingly handsome man arrives at Penkellis, claiming to be Lawrence’s new secretary, his carefully planned world is turned upside down.

A swindler haunted by his past . . .

Georgie Turner has made his life pretending to be anyone but himself. A swindler and con man, he can slip into an identity faster than he can change clothes. But when his long-dead conscience resurrects and a dangerous associate is out for blood, Georgie escapes to the wilds of Cornwall. Pretending to be a secretary should be easy, but he doesn’t expect that the only madness he finds is the one he has for the gorgeous earl.

Can they find forever in the wreckage of their lives?

Challenging each other at every turn, the two men soon give into the desire that threatens to overwhelm them. But with one man convinced he is at the very brink of madness and the other hiding his real identity, only true love can make this an affair to remember.

Rating: A-

Cat Sebastian’s wonderful début historical romance, The Soldier’s Scoundrel, in which former thief-turned-valet-turned-private investigator, Jack Turner, was called upon to investigate a nasty case of blackmail and found love along the way in the unlikely form of Oliver Rivington, younger son of an earl  – was one of my favourite books of 2016.  Historical romance as it should be done, the book has a sharp eye for period detail and some degree of social comment as well as strong characterisation and, of course, a beautifully written romance between two characters that hold the readers’ attention and, in this case, gained my affection, too.

Naturally, I’ve eagerly been looking forward to Ms. Sebastian’s next novel and hoping for more of the same – and I’m pleased to report that she doesn’t disappoint.  While The Lawrence Browne Affair doesn’t quite top the appeal of the previous book, it’s nonetheless a superbly written story which addresses some difficult themes while showing, at its heart, that everyone needs love, acceptance and understanding, even though it’s sometimes difficult to believe one is deserving of it.

Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, is plagued by a family history of madness.  He lives alone in his dilapidated castle in the wilds of Cornwall, where he devotes his life and entire focus to scientific pursuits, and, at the moment, is working on a method of conveying messages through a complicated system of wires; what we might today call a primitive method of telegraphy.  His experiments have resulted in explosions, fires and other mayhem, and as a result of that, and the rumours that he is unhinged, the locals give him a wide berth.  Lawrence also thinks that the fact that he is attracted to men is yet more proof of his affliction and he fully expects that the madness that claimed his father and brother will eventually do for him, too.  He has given up on ever living a normal life; he doesn’t bother about his appearance, hardly remembers to eat and doesn’t care about his home or estate – and the only person with whom he has any regular interaction or something approaching friendship is the local vicar, the Reverend Halliday.  He genuinely cares for Lawrence, and when he hears rumours that Lawrence’s family may be taking steps to have him legally declared incompetent and locked up, he writes to his old school friend, Oliver Rivington, to ask him to find the earl a secretary, someone who can vouch for him if his sanity is ever called into question – and because Lawrence badly needs a secretary.

The vicar’s request arrives at an opportune time for Georgie Turner, thief, swindler and con-artist extraordinare who is also Jack Turner’s younger brother.  His latest scam has gone badly awry, with the result that the local crime lord is out for revenge – so when Jack asks him to go to Cornwall to see what he can find out about the Mad Earl, Georgie is only too pleased to get out of London.  He’s not really qualified to be a secretary, but he needs to get away from town to think things through and besides, Radnor might prove an easy mark.  Once a con-man, always a con-man…

Arrived at the crumbling Penkellis Castle, Georgie is utterly horrified at the state of both the earl and his home, unable to believe that a gentleman would want to live in such a mess and be so careless of his wardrobe and personal hygene.  Nonetheless, he sets to work straight away, starting to organise Lawrence’s letters and papers even though the earl, who is resistant to any kind of change, tries to get him to leave by behaving aggressively and unpleasantly.  But Georgie has quickly realised that while Lawrence is different, surly and quite brilliant, he is not insane; and also discovers that he actually enjoys his secretarial duties and is very good at them.  Once Lawrence accepts Georgie’s presence, the pair strikes up a comfortable working relationship that soon grows into a genuine friendship.  There’s also a strong undercurrent of mutual attraction, but Lawrence believes his madness means he cannot have a relationship with anyone, and in any case, he refuses to allow himself to be attracted to a man.  Georgie realises that Lawrence struggles to accept change and the reader will recognise that what Lawrence sees as episodes of madness are in fact, intense panic attacks whenever he is confronted with the prospect of something that doesn’t fit into his established patterns.  Cleverly, Georgie begins to make small, subtle changes to Lawrence’s daily life in order to make things easier for him, but he never attempts to change the man himself.  Sure, he needs a shave, haircut, new clothes, servants and a stable, ordered environment, but most of all, he needs to recognise that he is not mad and to see that he is entitled to love and be loved.

There are a couple of intriguing secondary plotlines in the book running alongside the romance, but this is essentially the story of two people who have to make a major re-evaluation of their self-perception if they are going to be able to accept love and make a future together.  Georgie has spent most of his twenty-five years cheating and swindling, having done whatever it took to get out of the poverty into which he was born and determined never to go back there.  He’s always compartmentalised his life and likes it that way, but the sudden and unwelcome intrusion of a conscience casts all that to the winds, and he’s left wondering exactly who he is – and whether he will ever be able to go back to his old life.  Or if he even wants to.

The relationship between them is beautifully drawn, and Ms. Sebastian does a terrific job showing their growing understanding of each other.   Lawrence realises that Georgie is trapped by his view of himself as nothing but a worthless thief; Georgie wants to free Lawrence from the restrictions and judgements he has imposed upon himself due to his supposed madness.  Each helps the other to begin to see himself in a different light, and it’s wonderful to watch that happening at the same time as the attraction and affection between them deepens into love.  It’s perhaps true that Lawrence’s turn-around from believing his attraction to men is part of his madness to embarking upon a physical relationship with Georgie happens a little quickly, but that’s a minor quibble about what is otherwise a very well-developed romance.

The Lawrence Browne Affair is only Cat Sebastian’s second published novel, yet her writing is so accomplished and assured that it’s almost difficult to believe that to be the case.  If you enjoy historical romances with a strong sense of period, fully-rounded, complex characters, a sensual love story and a nice dash of humour, then this book – and its predecessor – is highly recommended.

The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

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This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

A scoundrel who lives in the shadows.

Jack Turner grew up in the darkness of London’s slums, born into a life of crime and willing to do anything to keep his belly full and his siblings safe. Now he uses the tricks and schemes of the underworld to help those who need the kind of assistance only a scoundrel can provide. His distrust of the nobility runs deep, and his services do not extend to the gorgeous high-born soldier who personifies everything Jack will never be.

A soldier untarnished by vice.

After the chaos of war, Oliver Rivington craves the safe predictability of a gentleman’s life – one that doesn’t include sparring with a ne’er-do-well who flouts the law at every turn. But Jack tempts Oliver like no other man has before. Soon his yearning for the unapologetic criminal is matched only by Jack’s pleasure in watching his genteel polish crumble every time they’re together.

Two men meant only for each other.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

The Soldier’s Scoundrel is one of those rare début novels that is so accomplished in terms of the writing, characterisation and storytelling that it’s difficult to believe it’s someone’s first book. Cat Sebastian has penned a story which combines a wonderfully written and very… well, romantic romance with a dash of mystery and topped it off with a healthy dollop of relevant and cleverly interwoven social comment and a well-researched historical background.

A former thief, con-artist and gentleman’s gentleman now turned investigator, Jack Turner takes as his clients those people who, because of their gender or social station have no other way of securing justice – women and the poor. He is expecting his latest client when a gorgeous but angry man bursts into his office demanding to know why his sister, Lady Montford, has just paid Jack the large sum of two hundred pounds. Jack has no love for the aristocracy, and bridles immediately, recognising the man as Captain Oliver Rivington, younger son of the Earl of Rutland.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian

the-soldiers-scoundrel

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A scoundrel who lives in the shadows

Jack Turner grew up in the darkness of London’s slums, born into a life of crime and willing to do anything to keep his belly full and his siblings safe. Now he uses the tricks and schemes of the underworld to help those who need the kind of assistance only a scoundrel can provide. His distrust of the nobility runs deep and his services do not extend to the gorgeous high-born soldier who personifies everything Jack will never be.

A soldier untarnished by vice

After the chaos of war, Oliver Rivington craves the safe predictability of a gentleman’s life-one that doesn’t include sparring with a ne’er-do-well who flouts the law at every turn. But Jack tempts Oliver like no other man has before. Soon his yearning for the unapologetic criminal is only matched by Jack’s pleasure in watching his genteel polish crumble every time they’re together.

Two men only meant for each other.

Rating: A-

Cat Sebastian’s début historical romance is a thoroughly enjoyable, extremely accomplished piece of work that sees a prickly former-thief-turned-investigator working with the son of an earl to establish the identity of a blackmailer and falling in love along the way. This is no light-hearted romp, however; during the course of the story, the author explores the realities of the class differences lying between the two men and takes a look at the inequalities inherent in a justice system which really only operated in favour of the wealthy and influential.

Former valet, former thief and former perpetrator of various other illegal activities, Jack Turner now runs his own business working as an investigator and righter of wrongs for those in society – the poor and women – who have little or no recourse to justice via normal means. His life on the wrong side of the law and then as a servant has only served to reinforce his own opinions about the ‘nobs’, the gentlemen of the nobility who largely regard themselves as untouchable and if his work gives him the opportunity to even the score a little, then he regards it as a job well done.

So Jack isn’t best pleased when Mr Oliver Rivington – second son of the Earl of Rutland – bursts into his office one day, demands to know why his sister recently paid Jack a large sum of money, and refuses to leave until he gets an answer. Realising he can’t get rid of the man without causing a scene, Jack allots Rivington a seat in a dark corner while he interviews his latest client, a young, married lady who is being blackmailed over a series of letters exchanged with a former beau.

A serious leg wound after a decade in the army has led the former Captain Rivington to sell his commission and he has returned home eager to embark upon a life of quiet predictability, free from the chaos and frequent lawlessless of the army. His experiences with the sort of riot and mayhem wreaked by a victorious force following a battle have made him determined to uphold the law and respect due process, so the idea that Jack Turner could have employed less than legal means in order to help Charlotte sits badly with him, no matter that whatever Jack actually did has kept her drunken, abusive husband away overseas for the last two years.

Both men are rather surprised to recognise the sudden sexual attraction that crackles between them, and both ruthlessly tamp it down. Jack doesn’t want anything to do with aristrocrats, no matter how pretty they are, and Oliver is most certainly not going to become embroiled with a criminal. Realising that Jack is probably going to resort to law-breaking in order to help Mrs. Wraxhall, Oliver is determined to find a way of getting the lady’s letters back without using illegal means to do so, and begins making inquiries of his own.

When it seems that a journey to Mrs. Wraxhall’s former home in Yorkshire will be needed to dig up more information on the lady’s past, Jack very reluctantly agrees to accept Oliver’s help. After all, a prettily behaved, good-looking gentleman like him will be able to open doors that are closed to Jack, and Oliver will probably be able to charm people into revealing confidences that Jack’s gruffness would be unlikely to encourage. And while his intense fascination with Rivington irritates him, the attraction is obviously mutual and also impossible to ignore, so Jack decides that he might as well indulge himself while he can. It’s not something he does very often; he doesn’t do emotional entanglements and the only people in his life he trusts are his brother and sister, but he’s certainly not averse to taking Oliver to bed.

Oliver is similarly captivated by Jack – a man he is coming to know as having his own code of honour that he lives by, no matter how strongly he might deny it. Oliver recognises that Jack’s gruffness is his way of keeping people at arms’ length and he very much wants to break through that barrier and show Jack that he’s worth caring about.

Cat Sebastian has crafted a very well-balanced tale in which the relationship between the protagonists takes centre stage, while also offering an intriguing sub-plot about the blackmail investigation. As I said at the outset, she takes a look at the inequality in a justice system that permitted the upper classes to – sometimes literally – get away with murder while it would hang a starving man for stealing a crust. And worse, a system that would turn a blind eye to a woman trapped in an abusive marriage or a woman being threatened in the vilest terms. But there is no heavy-handed sermonising or info-dumping; her observations are seamlessly incorporated into the plot, adding richness and colour to an already readable and entertaining story.

But there’s no question that Jack and Oliver’s romance is at the heart of this book, and it’s by turns funny, tender, sexy, and wonderfully romantic. The two men complement each other in terms of their personalities and outlook; Jack is all rough edges, where Oliver is polished politeness and charm; Jack is outspoken where Oliver is more considered – and they make a terrific couple. I particularly liked their playfulness with each other, and the sense that, in spite of the class difference, they are equals in the relationship. I’ve not read m/m romance very widely, but in some I’ve read there is one experienced character and one who is less so or perhaps somewhat uncomfortable with his sexuality. It’s refreshing to see that isn’t the case here, and I really liked how, despite his blushes, Oliver is shown to be every bit as comfortable with himself and his preferences as Jack – and, when called for, just as naughty 😉 Even though they hide things from each other to start with, once they get to know and accept one another, there’s a lovely honesty to their relationship, a true caring that goes deeper than lust or attraction, and Ms. Sebastian has done a superb job in conveying that depth through their words and actions.

The Soldier’s Scoundrel captivated me from start to finish and is most definitely going on to my keeper shelf. The central romance is wonderfully portrayed, the characterisation is excellent and I loved Oliver and Jack to bits. I can’t wait for more from Ms. Sebastian and am eagerly awaiting her next book – about Jack’s flamboyant brother, Georgie – next year.

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.

His Royal Secret (Royal Secret #1) by Lilah Pace

his royal secret

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

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…

Rating:A

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.”

A Gentleman’s Position (Society of Gentlemen #3) by K.J. Charles

A Gentleman's Position

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

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.

Rating: A-

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.

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