Random House, June 2012
Lydia Slaughter understands the games men play—both in and out of the bedroom. Not afraid to bend the rules to suit her needs, she fleeces Will Blackshear outright. The Waterloo hero had his own daring agenda for the gaming tables of London’s gentlemen’s clubs. But now he antes up for a wager of wits and desire with Lydia, the streetwise temptress who keeps him at arm’s length.
A kept woman in desperate straits, Lydia has a sharp mind and a head for numbers. She gambles on the sly, hoping to win enough to claim her independence. An alliance with Will at the tables may be a winning proposition for them both. But the arrangement involves dicey odds with rising stakes, sweetened with unspoken promise of fleshly delights. And any sleight of hand could find their hearts betting on something neither can afford to risk: love.
GEORGIAN/NAPOLEONIC ERA ROMANCE
Heat Rating 2
REVIEW RATING 4 stars
Review by Caz
I think that Cecilia Grant’s début book, A Lady Awakened was one of the best historical romances I’ve read in a long time. Not only was it very well-written, but the plotline was original, something that can be hard to find in the genre. (I’m not knocking the tried-and-tested plotlines; some of them are incredibly well done, it’s just refreshing to find something different for a change!) So naturally, I’ve been looking forward to her follow-up novel ever since I finished the first one.
Once again, the author has put an original spin on what might, at first glance, seem a familiar story – that of the courtesan redeemed by true love. But this is no fairy-tale romance; in fact it’s rather a dark story, quite different in tone to her début.
In this book, we meet Will Blackshear, formerly a Lieutenant of the Thirtieth Foot and brother to Martha, the heroine of A Lady Awakened. He has recently sold his commission and is endeavouring to add to it at the gaming table as he has vowed to provide for the widow and child of one of his fellow combatants. The novel opens as Will, having discovered Talbot, half-dead on the battlefield, is struggling to get his wounds tended at the makeshift field hospitals, only to be told by the doctors that it’s a hopeless case and that he may, in fact have worsened the man’s injuries by moving him. The action then jumps forward several months and Will is back in London. He’s not rich; he’s not a member of the aristocracy, and in order to make good on his promise to Talbot’s widow, he turns to gambling in an attempt to build up a suitable sum to invest to provide her with an income.
Will is a very attractive hero. He’s handsome (of course!), honourable and intuitive, with a wry sense of humour – but underneath that he’s filled with self-loathing for having hastened the death of a husband and father by his own foolish actions, and worse besides. And one night, at the gambling club, he becomes intrigued by Lydia Slaughter, the mistress of one of his opponents at the card table.
Lydia is a difficult heroine to like. She’s fiercely independent of spirit and, it transpires, somewhat of a mathematical genius, a talent she utilises to good effect at cards when she gets the opportunity. She also is looking to build herself a nest-egg, but unlike Will, it’s for herself, so that when the time comes, she will not need to depend on a man to support her. They come together through this mutual need to make money. Will wants Lydia to teach him about odds and wagers and how to count cards so that he can make what he needs quickly; and she needs him to help her to gain access to some of the less salubrious gambling establishments.
Lydia carries just as dark a secret as Will does, is filled with even more self-loathing, and unlike him, also has a destructive streak. She blames herself for the death of her parents; following her disgrace at the hands of the young man with whom she was in love, her parents stood by her and were preparing to retire to the country when they were robbed and killed. Alone in the world, Lydia turns to one of the few means of support open to her, and goes to work in a brothel, using sex and degradation as a way to lose herself, a means to escape the deeds that haunt her.
She is taken from the brothel by Mr Roanoke and becomes his mistress. He’s not a very pleasant man and insults and mistreats Lydia on several occasions in the book, but she’s a kept woman and has to put up with it. In fact, she makes no secret of the fact that she enjoys sex; it gives her a sense of power which she’s not above using to her advantage. There are a couple of times in the book where she desperately wants Will to take her to bed, wanting to use him to help her to forget – but he knows what she’s about and manages to refuse her, despite the fact that he’s (by now) in love with her. The sex in the book is pretty explosive, but it’s also quite harsh at first. Lydia doesn’t want consideration or tenderness; she wants to be treated roughly as she once more tries to lose herself in the act, not believing herself worth of kindness or love.
A Gentleman Undone was somewhat darker in tone than much of my usual reading material, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The story gripped me, and I adored Will, but I have to admit that if I have a complaint it’s that I found Lydia difficult to really like or sympathise with. I enjoyed her humour, and the flirtatious, sexually charged back-and-forth with Will, but I can’t help but think that she was perhaps just too damaged to be “redeemed by love” in the end. Will shares his “terrible secret” with her late in the book, but even after that, there was never any doubt in my mind that he was worthy of love; but I didn’t get that feeling about Lydia. I think she’s going to need a lot more TLC if she’s going to be able to leave the past well and truly behind her.
That said, I’m still giving the book four stars. It’s well-written, the story itself is original and the characterisation is strong and consistent. Even though this book wasn’t exactly what I expected after A Lady Awakened it was still a terrific read and I’m eagerly awaiting Cecilia Grant’s next book – A Woman Entangled – next year.
With thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the review copy.