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Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:
Helping his poor parishioners
Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre
After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.
Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:
People doing precisely as they’re told
Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity
Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.
In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.
Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, December 2017
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Em
A few of my favorite things:
Queer historical romance
But not, I’m sad to say, It Takes Two to Tumble. In this first book of Cat Sebastian’s new series, Seducing the Sedgwicks, a stern, widowed naval captain returns home to find his three wild and wayward children under the care of the local vicar. A relationship that begins in animosity quickly transitions into a love affair…which somehow makes everything wrong in life, right. Though I found much to like here, I struggled with the pacing of the central plot and with the development of the secondary storylines.
Ben Sedgwick is happy. After an unconventional childhood as one of five children raised by eccentric, bohemian (and neglectful) parents, he finds fulfillment in his quiet, predictable life as country vicar in the bucolic village where he was raised. Though he’s frustrated by the recent suffering of his flock at the hands of their landlord Martin Easterbrook, his faith is less dogmatic than pragmatic, and he offers what comfort he can. Betrothed to his closest friend, Alice Crawford, he’s surprised when her father asks a favor. Could he possibly step in and check the wayward behavior of absent naval captain Phillip Dacre’s children? Since the death of their mother two years ago, the children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors, and their wild behavior grows worse every day. With future familial harmony in mind – and the expected arrival of Captain Dacre in the next two weeks – Ben reluctantly agrees to the request. He decamps for Barton Hall, to see what can be done.
Phillip Dacre has made a life for himself at sea. Although he knows it’s long past time he visited his children, and his sister’s last letter has left him deeply concerned about their well-being, the thought of being away from his ship fills him with dread. Only a promised visit from the ship’s surgeon – his closest friend since the death of his beloved lieutenant, McCarthy, provides any relief from the bleakness of his thoughts.
Sending word of his arrival ahead, he hopes to be greeted by his children, but instead finds an empty house. When a servant informs him they’re in the orchard with the vicar, he expects to find them in prayer or singing hymns; instead, they’re up in the cherry trees – as is the vicar. When the handsome clergyman drops to the ground with a curse and introduces himself, Phillip struggles to control his temper. The meeting goes from bad to worse as Ben informs him just why he’s been watching the children -.and then has the temerity to suggest how Phillip might approach them moving forward.
After this less than auspicious beginning, Ms. Sebastian positions Ben and Phillip as quasi-adversaries who unfortunately, also suffer an inconvenient attraction to each other. The novel unfolds in their alternating PoVs as each tries to do what he feels is right. Phillip, who still mourns the loss of McCarthy, and regrets he never confessed the truth of his feelings to him, is adrift without his late wife who managed the children and the estate. He loves his children, but he doesn’t know how to be a father to them.
Ben has always known and suppressed his attraction to men – but something about Phillip staggers him. He doesn’t castigate himself for his lustful thoughts about the other man, but he’s overwhelmed by his feelings, which put his previously orderly, predictable world in turmoil. Phillip is in his thoughts, his dreams, his heart… and everything he wants from Phillip feels like a betrayal of his commitment to Alice. He suffers that too.
Both Phillip and Ben struggle with their lustful feelings for each other, but they go from wanting to having in the blink of an eye. Days after their first meeting, the sexual tension between them – characterized by heated/longing glances, angry conversations about the children and Ben’s faith, and brief and (not so) inadvertent touches – gives way to passionate kisses and frantic, furtive couplings whenever and wherever they can sneak away. Phillip leads and Ben exuberantly follows, and the lead-up to their love affair is nicely fraught with tension and angst. They’re both flawed, likeable – loveable – men, but too much of their story is wrapped in their sexual relationship, and it’s difficult to see when they actually get to know the person they’re falling for.
Meanwhile, there are several additional narratives that Ms. Sebastian fails to adequately develop. Philip’s children suddenly become lovable and better behaved, Alice conveniently falls in love with a visiting friend, and a beloved brother shrugs off a painful sacrifice he made years ago for the good of the family. Now reader, you and I both know there are MANY successful romance novels wherein the principal couple fall in love quickly, the romance evolves in a brief span of time and love conquers all somehow rings true. But not this time. I have no quibble with the short length of time it takes for Phillip and Ben to fall in love; unfortunately, it’s everything else – the resolution of so many complex secondary plotlines – that felt rushed and contrived. That said, though I disliked the plot deus ex machina that simultaneously resolves Ben’s professional future and Easterbrook’s storyline, I liked how the author dovetailed Phillip’s inability to read (which his son Jamie has inherited) with Ben’s future plans. It’s a sympathetic and brilliant merging of the two storylines.
It’s been a struggle to grade It Takes Two to Tumble. The writing is strong, the setting is beautifully realized and the principals are appealing. But in this awkward mash-up? Homage? to The Sound of Music and Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox, the author can’t seem to decide whether she’s writing a disney-esque fairy tale, a story of forbidden love or both. It’s a seductive premise, but I didn’t find this happily ever after believable – or plausible. Really, it was all much too much, and despite the authors typical lovely writing, It Takes Two to Tumble is overstuffed and underdeveloped.
After the fact, Phillip thought he might have handled the situation a bit more gracefully if the children hadn’t been in a tree. But he was not at his best, having walked the distance from the coaching inn to the house, with each step growing more disoriented by the sheer familiarity of the terrain. Surely the place ought to have changed. But every rock and tree aligned precisely with memories Phillip hadn’t even realized he still had.
Despite having sent a messenger ahead with the approximate time of his arrival, the children were not waiting in the hall to greet him. Of course they wouldn’t be, he told himself. That had been Caroline’s doing, and she was gone. Their failure to appear was just further proof of how badly Phillip’s intervention was needed. He needed to get to work turning them into well-behaved, competent midshipmen. Children, he corrected himself. Yes, children.
The servant who opened the door told Phillip he’d find the children in the orchard with the vicar. Phillip found this surprising, as nothing in Ernestine’s final letter had indicated religiosity as part of the children’s reign of terror. But instead of discovering the children at work in prayer or singing hymns, he found them high up in a cherry tree.
The plain fact of the matter was that children did not belong in trees, at least not when they ought to be in the hall awaiting their father’s return. Nor did vicars belong in trees at any time whatsoever. He might not have much experience with either, and thank God for it, but he knew trees were not the natural habitat of either class of person. He had expected to see his children for the first time in two years in a setting that was slightly less arboreal. Somewhere he could properly see them and they could properly see him and they could all say whatever the hell they were supposed to say in this situation without Caroline to manage things. Instead all he got was a glimpse of booted feet vanishing higher into the branches accompanied by the sound of stifled laughter.
The vicar spotted him first, and promptly swung down from the tree to land at Phillip’s feet. At least, Phillip assumed it was the vicar, and not some stray stable hand who had taken to capering about the orchard. But didn’t vicars wear uniforms of some sort? Special hats or black coats? The chaplain on the ship always had. This fellow was in his shirtsleeves, and if that weren’t bad enough, his sleeves were rolled up. The chaplain had never done that. The chaplain had been about sixty. And bald. This fellow had wheat-colored hair that needed a cut and freckles all over his face. He was nothing like the chaplain. Unacceptable.
“Oh damn,” the vicar said. Phillip gritted his teeth. Swearing was another thing the chaplain had never done. “I mean drat,” the man said, his freckled face going pink. “Bother. You must be Mr. Dacre.”
“Captain Dacre,” Phillip said frostily. This fellow had to go. No discipline. No sense of decorum. No wonder the children ran amok if they spent time in this man’s company. “You have the advantage of me,” he said, not bothering to conceal his frown. He never did.
“Ben Sedgwick,” the vicar said, smiling in a lopsided, bashful way. He stuck his hand out, and Phillip had no choice but to take it. The vicar’s hand was warm and his grip was firm, and Phillip’s gaze automatically drifted down to the man’s exposed forearm, sun-burnished and dusted with light hair.
“Thank you, Mr. Sedgwick,” Phillip said. “You may take yourself off.” His effort to dismiss this careless young vicar was interrupted by a rustle of leaves and the thud of a child landing at his feet.
The child was tall, lanky, and excessively rumpled. “Edward,” Phillip said, briefly startled by the changes a lapse of two years wrought in children. Phillip had last seen his older son as a coltish child of eleven. Now Phillip could discern two things—one, that he looked very much like Caroline, and two, that he was not best pleased to see his father. For an instant, Phillip could hardly blame him. Phillip had never much enjoyed seeing his own father either. When the navy had taken his own father away for years at a time, Phillip had rather thought they had all been the better for it.
He held out his hand and noticed the barest hesitation before his son took it. “You look so much like—”
“I know I look like Mama,” Edward said coolly, dropping his father’s hand. “I have a looking glass.” His scowl was so intent that Phillip opened his mouth to scold the boy. “Mr. Sedgwick,” Edward said, turning to the vicar, “I’m going to finish my history lesson.” Without waiting for a response from Sedgwick or so much as a by-your-leave from Phillip himself, the child dashed off towards the house.
While Phillip had always striven to keep order on his ship in less brutal ways, some captains wouldn’t have hesitated to have boys flogged for even less blatant insubordination. Phillip swallowed his anger and turned his attention to the tree, where he could see two pairs of dangling feet.
“Margaret,” Phillip called up into the tree. “James.”
“Oh, they won’t come down,” Sedgwick said cheerfully. “Not a chance.”
“I wouldn’t even bother calling them. They’ll stay up there until the sun sets or until the spirit moves them otherwise.” He seemed utterly undisturbed by this. His eyes were actually sparkling, for God’s sake.
“And you permit this?”
Sedgwick’s brow furrowed. This was the first lapse in the blithe and idiotic good cheer he had displayed since Phillip’s arrival. “Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do about it. Rope them like a couple of stray sheep? They’re safer up there than they are getting into whatever devilry they might seek out elsewhere. Really,” he said, lowering his voice and leaning close in a way that made Phillip instinctively mirror the pose until he realized what he was doing and straightened up. Proximity was the last thing he needed with this man. “The tree’s been a godsend.
They haven’t been capering about the rooftops even once since they discovered how climbable the cherry trees are.”
Phillip blinked. “What I meant,” he said slowly, “was that perhaps you would like to tell them to come down.”
“Tell them?” the vicar repeated, as if Phillip had suggested a satanic ritual. “Won’t do a blessed thing other than inspire them to more mischief, I’m afraid. No, no, leave them safely up there, and when they’re hungry they’ll come inside.”
“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” Phillip said in precisely the tone he’d use towards a sailor about to be assigned morning watch for the foreseeable future. “But now that I’ve returned I’ll see to engaging a proper tutor.”
The man had the nerve to look hurt. Really, what had he expected? If Phillip had wanted his children to run about like South Sea pirates, he could have stayed on his ship where he belonged, thank you very much. But instead he would hire a tutor for the boys and a governess for Margaret. And when they were ready, he’d send them off to school, where they belonged.
“About that,” the vicar said slowly. “I’m not sure you’ll find a tutor. They’ve run through a good half dozen and I fear that well has run quite dry.”
“A half dozen!” Ernestine hadn’t mentioned that in her last letter. Or at least he was fairly certain she hadn’t. He knew there had been some trouble engaging suitable help, but quite possibly she had obscured the details. Well, it was a good thing he was here, then. He would see to it that his household was as it ought to be, that his children were on a safe course, and then he’d go back to sea. Two months. He had turned far more insalubrious characters into perfectly disciplined first-rate sailors in less time than that, hadn’t he? He was used to commanding dozens of men in clockwork precision. Surely he could make a couple of children—his own children, at that—fall in line.
“Never mind that,” he said. “I have everything in hand. Good day,” he added when the vicar didn’t seem inclined to take the hint and leave.
“Good luck,” the vicar said, gathering his discarded outer garments and carelessly dropping his hat onto his head.
Phillip thought he heard the man laugh as he made his way towards the house.
Ben gave it fifteen minutes before Captain Dacre came begging for help. Half an hour at the outside.
Likely as not, the captain would be tied to a burning post before Ben had his valise packed.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.