When upstairs valet meets downstairs maid, the line between work and play blurs.
John Toogood dreamed of being valet to a great man…before he was laid off and blacklisted. Now he’s stuck in small-town Lively St. Lemeston until London’s Season opens and he can begin his embarrassing job hunt.
His instant attraction to happy-go-lucky maid Sukey Grimes couldn’t come at a worse time. Her manners are provincial, her respect for authority nonexistent, and her outdated cleaning methods–well, the less said about them, the better.
Behind John’s austere façade, Sukey catches tantalizing glimpses of a lonely man with a gift for laughter. Yet her heart warns her not to fall for a man with one foot out the door, no matter how devastating his kiss.
Then he lands a butler job in town–but there’s a catch. His employer, the vicar, insists Toogood be respectably married. Against both their better judgments, he and Sukey come to an arrangement. But the knot is barely tied when Sukey realizes she underestimated just how vexing it can be to be married to the boss…
Publisher and Release Date: Samhain Publishing, January 2016
Place and time: Sussex, England 1812
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars
Review by Wendy
Listen to the Moon is the third in Rose Lerner’s, Lively St. Lemeston series about the inhabitants of a fictitious, quaint little town in the Sussex countryside. This historical romance is unusual in that its main protagonists are servants, and the refreshingly different synopsis held an appeal for me as we only see the aristocracy on the periphery of the story and only then in the way that their actions affect the lives of the central characters.
Through no fault of his own, John Toogood has lost his job as valet to a member of a politically powerful, aristocratic family. He takes up residence in a boarding house where he meets a pert and cheeky little housemaid, Susan (aka Sukey) Grimes who agrees to clean his room in addition to her other duties. The pair share an immediate and lusty physical attraction on first sight. Yet even though they are both servants, the difference in their stations is huge. John – a handsome, well set up forty-year-old ‘gentleman’s gentleman’, is almost at the top of his employment pecking order and twenty-two-year-old, maid-of-all-work, Sukey, about as far down it as she can get.
With the help of a reference from his previous employer, John is offered employment by the local vicar – this to take charge of said vicar’s small household as butler, a position John had previously foresworn; but as beggars can’t be choosers he decides that this type of employment will suit him after all. The only snag – he must be a married man and his wife must join the staff as upstairs maid. The obvious solution, he thinks, though not ideal, would be a marriage of convenience to the precocious and very appealing Sukey. After some deliberation and a fateful push in his direction, Sukey accepts John’s dubious proposal; the pair embarks upon this mutually convenient partnership and a position in life, as far as Sukey is concerned, that far outstrips anything she could ever have hoped to attain under normal circumstances.
Neither John nor Sukey are entirely happy with the arrangement, and live their working lives in a kind of parallel fashion. John, in his new role, with its responsibilities to more than one person, has his work cut out to manage the small staff of mainly women, who on the whole, make life difficult for him. Sukey, sitting on the fence, neither fish nor fowl – trying to keep all parties happy and not succeeding. The uncertain relationship between John and Sukey is floundering but luckily the mutual sexual attraction the two have for each other in the bedroom has gone from strength-to-strength; in fact they enjoy a very earthy and imaginative love life!
John has been reared by an unloving, strict and exacting Father, one who has never accepted anything less than perfection; and this is one reason why John has never aspired to the more exalted position of butler. Nevertheless, some of the senior Toogood’s pompous and severe manners have stuck to his son, and John’s nothing-is-good-enough attitude has Sukey tearing her hair out on the one hand and worrying that she will never live up to his expectations on the other. She acts like the inexperienced young woman she is; part cocksure and brash, part childish petulance. It really does feel at times that the lovers will never completely understand each other; in fact I found their behaviour irritating and felt like banging their heads together.
Listen to the Moon is intelligently written, but I admit that I found it not quite to my taste to begin with. I persevered, though, and am glad I did, because while I didn’t feel much of a connection to the characters when I started, they – and the book as a whole – grew on me. The culmination of the story in which we see WHY John and Sukey behave the way they do is very well executed as is the manner in which they resolve their differences. By the time I approached the end I was actually rather enjoying the story and felt satisfied with the ending and am glad I didn’t give up on it. I’ll almost certainly read more by this author.