Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.
Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it’s his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.
As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he’s determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they’re willing to risk for love.
Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, July 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1817
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 STAR TOP PICK
Review by Em
Cracking open Cat Sebastian’s newest standalone (loosely linked to her two earlier novels), I was nervous. I loved both her previous books and wasn’t sure she’d be able to top them. She does. The Ruin of a Rake ruined me for family, friends, and the beach (where I happened to be with them on vacation) because once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. It’s romantic, funny and wonderful and my favorite work of hers… so far. I loved the two principals: starchy and proper Julian Medlock and his protegé (of sorts) Lord Courtenay, rogue, libertine and rake who needs Julian’s help in order to rehabilitate his public image. Theirs is an opposites attract match made in heaven and I enjoyed every single bit of their fumbling, bumbling, sexy courtship.
The premise of The Ruin of a Rake is simple: Lord Courtenay’s reputation is in tatters. He wants to spend time with his nephew, Simon, but Simon’s guardian – Lord Radnor, one of the principals featured in The Lawrence Browne Affair – thinks he’s a bad influence, and refuses him access. His cause isn’t helped by the recent publication of The Brigand Prince of Salerno, which details the wicked exploits of Don Lorenzo, who is rumored to be based on Courtenay himself. Courtenay finds himself stranded in London, pockets to let, affairs in disarray and a social pariah, and he doesn’t know what to do. Lady Eleanor Standish, a close friend of both Courtenay and Radnor, sees how deeply hurt Courtenay is by Radnor’s refusal and intercedes on his behalf. Instead of turning to Radnor to plead his case, she asks her brother Julian for help. Julian Medlock is a paragon among gentlemen. His behavior is impeccable, he only cultivates friendships with the best of the ton, his dress is the epitome of good fashion and he’s as clever as a fox. He’s the perfect person to help rehabilitate Courtenay’s reputation and lend him an air of respectability. Despite his misgivings and a significant secret he’s keeping, he agrees to help.
From the very beginning, it’s clear that Medlock’s reluctance to help Courtenay is largely because of his inconvenient attraction to him. He’s alternately resigned and annoyed by his lustful thoughts (oh he’s such an adorable curmudgeon), and Ms. Sebastian has great fun with the oh, so stuffy Medlock, brilliantly capturing his flustered frustration whenever Courtenay is nearby. It’s hard not to laugh as he tries and fails to control his physical and emotional responses to the other man whilst trying to encourage him to control his own wayward impulses. He tries to resist his handsome companion, but he just can’t seem to help his body’s traitorous response. And Courtenay certainly doesn’t make it easy for him.
Medlock decides to take Courtenay to the opera for their first public outing. He realizes he might have made a mistake shortly after they’re seated in the box he’s reserved. They’re alone in the dark, Courtenay is sprawled in his seat and Julian is desperately trying to keep any part of his body from touching the other man. When Courtenay begins to quote passages from The Brigand (which he’s brought with him), and the conversation somehow strays to manhandling and Courtenay’s fondness for both men and women, Julian is beside himself and Courtenay is amused to discover his prim and stuffy companion has decidedly lecherous thoughts about him. He’s deliberately provocative, delighting in tormenting and teasing Medlock and draws him further into the darkness of the box where they share a passionate kiss. Melock eventually does pull away (before they get to any of the more interesting stuff) and pretends to be outraged by Courtenay’s behavior. Courtenay isn’t surprised but he is affected and after the opera, he finds himself remembering the kiss with alarming frequency.
Medlock tries valiantly to keep his distance and help Courtenay redeem his reputation, especially since the more time they spend together, the more he’s convinced of his goodness and kindness. Meanwhile, Courtenay does his best to please his clever and crafty companion, all the while subtly encouraging the passionate side of Julian he glimpses when they’re alone together. And it doesn’t take much to ignite the spark between them. A late night discussion about the state of Courtenay’s affairs turns flirtatious and shortly thereafter the men become lovers. Their physical relationship is sexy, hot and delightfully wicked, but their emotional intimacy with each other is particularly moving. Courtenay, for all his rakish ways, just wants to be loved and appreciated; Medlock, so confident in public, is tender and sensitive when it’s just the two of them alone together. Once Medlock discovers why Courtenay’s finances and estate are in such disarray, he focuses his intellect and cleverness on helping him and his efforts don’t go unnoticed. Courtenay is besotted by his brilliant and devious lover, and willing to do whatever Julian thinks is necessary to rehabilitate his finances and reputation. It isn’t long before realizes he’s fallen in love with his fierce defender.
Ostensibly a redemption story about Courtenay, The Ruin of a Rake is also a rumination on the power of love to surprise and delight when we least expect it. Neither Courtenay nor Medlock are initially thrilled by Eleanor’s meddling, but shortly after they begin to spend time together, they realize most of their assumptions about each other were wrong. What begins as a playful and slightly naughty friendship quickly evolves into an intensely tender and affectionate love affair that catches them both off guard. Courtenay and Medlock are wonderful, sharply drawn characters, opposites in every way but one – their mutual willingness to accept and embrace each other’s imperfections.
Meanwhile, as Julian and Courtenay secretly fall for each other, Ms. Sebastian spins out a secondary plot involving Lady Eleanor. Married, but left alone for the past six years, she’s caught off guard when her husband arrives at their home in London. This parallel narrative – why her husband has been absent for so long, Julian’s role in their separation, their reunion – develops just in time to disastrously intersect with Julian and Courtenay’s relationship. Witnessing these two men – who’ve obviously fallen deeply in love – suffer and doubt each other is deeply affecting, but fear not – their eventual reunion is bittersweet, moving – and funny.
Once Ms. Sebastian establishes her delightfully opposite in every way principals, The Ruin of a Rake details their often funny, heartbreaking and sexy road to happily ever after. Perhaps the most delightful thing about this novel is the way in which both principals discover how the assumptions and presumptions they’ve each made about the other are not only wrong, but hurtful. Funny, naughty and moving, The Ruin of a Rake is my front runner for best historical romance of the year.
Julian pursed his lips as he gazed at the symmetrical brick façade of his sister’s house. It was every bit as bad as he had feared. He could hear the racket from the street, for God’s sake. He pulled the brim of his hat lower on his forehead, as if concealing his face would go any distance toward mitigating the damage done by his sister having turned her house into a veritable brothel. Right in the middle of Mayfair, and at eleven in the morning, when the entire ton was on hand to bear witness to her degradation, no less. Say what one wanted about Eleanor—and at this moment Julian could only imagine what was being said—but she did not do things by halves.
As he climbed the steps to her door, the low rumble of masculine voices drifted from an open second story window.
Somebody was playing a pianoforte—badly—and a lady was singing out of key.
No, not a lady. Julian suppressed a sigh. Whoever these women were in his sister’s house, they were not ladies. No lady in her right mind would consort with the sort of men Eleanor had been entertaining lately. Every young buck with a taste for vice had made his way to her house over these last weeks, along with their mistresses or courtesans or whatever one was meant to call them. And the worst of them, the blackguard who had started Eleanor on her path to becoming a byword for scandal, was Lord Courtenay.
A shiver trickled down Julian’s spine at the thought of encountering the man, and he could not decide whether it was from simple, honest loathing or something much, much worse.
The door swung open before Julian had raised his hand to the knocker.
“Mr. Medlock, thank goodness.” The look of abject relief on the face of Eleanor’s butler might have struck Julian as vaguely inappropriate under any other circumstance. But considering the tableau that presented itself in Eleanor’s vestibule, the butler’s informality hardly registered.
Propped against the elegantly papered wall, a man in full evening dress snored peacefully, a bottle of brandy cradled in his arms and a swath of bright crimson silk draped across his leg. A lady’s gown, Julian gathered. The original wearer of the garment was, mercifully, not present.
“I came as soon as I received your message.” Julian had not been best pleased to receive a letter from his sister’s butler, of all people, begging that he return to London ahead of schedule. Having secured a coveted invitation to a very promising house party, he was loath to leave early in order to evict a set of bohemians and reprobates from his sister’s house.
“The cook is threatening to quit, sir,” said the butler. Tilbury, a man of over fifty who had been with Eleanor since she and Julian had arrived in England, had gray circles under his eyes. No doubt the revels had interrupted his sleep.
“And I’ve already sent all but the—ah—hardiest of the housemaids to the country. It wouldn’t do for them to be imposed upon. I’d never forgive myself.”
Julian nodded. “You were quite right to send for me. Where is my sister?” Several unmatched slippers were scattered along the stairs that led toward the drawing room and bedchambers. He gritted his teeth.
“Lady Standish is in her study, sir.”
Julian’s eyebrows shot up. “Her study,” he repeated. Eleanor was hosting an orgy—really, there was no use in pretending it was anything else—but ducked out to conduct an experiment. Truly, the experiments were bad enough, but Julian had always managed to conceal their existence. But to combine scientific pursuits with actual orgies struck Julian as excessive in all directions.
“You,” he said, nudging the sleeping man with the toe of his boot. He was not climbing over drunken bodies, not today, not any day. “Wake up.” The man opened his eyes with what seemed a great deal of effort. “Who are you? No, never mind, I can’t be bothered to care.” The man wasn’t any older than Julian himself, certainly not yet five and twenty, but Julian felt as old as time and as irritable as a school mistress compared to this specimen of self-indulgence. “Get up, restore that gown to its owner, and be gone before I decide to let your father know what you’ve been up to.” As so often happened when Julian ordered people about, this fellow complied.
Julian made his way to Eleanor’s study, and found her furiously scribbling at her writing table, a mass of wires and tubes arranged before her. She didn’t look up at the sound of the door opening, nor when he pointedly closed it behind him. Eleanor, once she was busy working, was utterly unreachable. She had been like this since they were children. He felt a rush of affection for her despite how much trouble she was causing him.
“Eleanor?” Nothing. He stooped to gather an empty wine bottle and a few abandoned goblets, letting them clink noisily together as he deposited them onto a table. Still no response. “Nora?” It almost physically hurt to say his childhood name for her when things felt so awkward and strained between them.
“It won’t work,” came a low drawl. “I’ve been sitting here these past two hours and I haven’t gotten a response.”
Banishing any evidence of surprise from his countenance, Julian turned to see Lord Courtenay himself sprawled in a low chair in a shadowy corner. There oughtn’t to have been any shadows in the middle of the day in a bright room, but trust Lord Courtenay to find one to lurk in.
Julian quickly schooled his face into some semblance of indifference. No, that was a reach; his face was simply not going to let him pretend indifference to Courtenay. He doubted whether anyone had ever shared space with Lord Courtenay without being very much aware of that fact. And it wasn’t only his preposterous good looks that made him so . . . noticeable. The man served as a sort of magnet for other people’s attention, and Julian hated himself for being one of those people. As far as he could tell, the man’s entire problem was that people paid a good deal too much attention to him. But one could hardly help it, not when he looked like that.
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.