Lily Chadwick has spent her life playing by society’s rules. But when an unscrupulous moneylender snatches her off the street and puts her up for auction at a pleasure house, she finds herself in the possession of a man who makes her breathless with terror and impossible yearning…
Though the reclusive Earl of Harte claimed Lily with the highest bid, he hides a painful secret-one that has kept him from knowing the pleasure of a lover’s touch. Even the barest brush of skin brings him physical pain, and he’s spent his life keeping the world at arms’ length. But there’s something about Lily that maddens him, bewitches him, compels him…and drives him toward the one woman brave and kind enough to seek to heal his troubled heart.
“Are you going to try the champagne?” she asked.
He looked at the elegant glass in his hand. The act had become such an ingrained habit that he never even thought about it anymore. But then, no one else seemed to notice when he did not actually raise his glass to drink.
“I prefer not to have my judgment clouded.”
In truth, he never consumed anything that might promote a loss of control while among society. He had to be ever diligent if he was to successfully maintain his composure.
Perhaps tonight more than ever.
“Then why pour yourself a glass?”
“It has become habit, I suppose. A way to blend with my peers and avoid drawing attention.
She tilted her head. A smile played about the cor¬ners of her mouth. “You do what you can to blend in, whereas I’ve always secretly wished I possessed some quality that might help me to stand out. We make an odd pair, my lord.”
Avenell’s lips curved upward involuntarily. “We do indeed, Miss Chadwick.”
He hadn’t intended the intimate tone that had crept into his words, but in seeing her eyes widen with that barely perceptible reaction she had to him, he was glad for it. Knowing he could cause the involuntary response made him feel as though they were on a bit more equal ground.
“Will you call me Lily?” she asked with a modest dip of her chin. “It feels odd to be so formal, considering our…association,” she added hesitantly.
It took him a moment to gather himself enough to respond. “Would you like me to call you Lily?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“Shall I call you Avenell?”
Hearing his name on her lips created a fine point of pressure in his chest. He instinctively squared his shoulders in defense. Although he was pleased she would allow him the intimacy of using her given name—in fact, he intended for her to share far more intimacies with him—he could not do the same in return.
“I prefer you address me as Lord Harte.” He knew his words sounded cold, but there was no help for it. “Or my lord.”
A shadow slid across her expression at this response. Her mouth curved softly downward in a way he found intensely alluring. A tiny line formed above her brow, then quickly disappeared. He could see his refusal bothered her. For a moment it appeared she might dispute him, but she held her tongue.
While she remained silent, Avenell felt an unusual desire to provide some sort of explanation. Not all of the truth, perhaps, but something to help her under¬stand that the denial was not a personal rejection.
“I have never kept a mistress,” he began, carefully easing into what he needed to say.
“I recall you telling me as much,” she replied. “And of course, you know I have never been one before.”
Her tone was gentle, and her features were set in a perfect expression of serenity, but he could have sworn he detected a note of dry humor in her tone. Her composure despite the subject matter astounded him. She was so unlike the typical modest young lady.
Something in the steadiness of her gaze urged him to glance away, to look anywhere but at her. He resisted the temptation and began again. “I never entered into such an arrangement because I knew there would be an expectation of certain liberties that I cannot allow.”
There was a long pause, during which the point of pressure in his chest spread outward. Then she tilted her head in a subtle gesture.
“What sort of liberties?” she asked softly.
Her voice had changed. It was difficult to identify exactly what it was, but it warmed him. Made him feel a burst of impatience, a wave of deeper desire. He took a moment before he replied.
“You will understand more fully soon enough. But I promise, I will not allow my limitations to lessen the pleasure you experience during our association.”
A blush pinked her cheeks. But she did not look away.
“And what of your pleasure, my lord?” Her voice was soft and low. Smoky, like her eyes.
It weaved through Avenell’s senses and hit him hard in the gut. Heat scored through his insides on a direct path to his loins. He had suspected from the start that her gentle manner had lured him so strongly. But the unexpected boldness in her query had an intense effect on him.
His arousal roughened his tone as he answered, “My pleasure is assured. Do not doubt that.”
The pink in her cheeks spread down across her chest and the upper swells of her breasts, but still she held his gaze. He wondered what she might be thinking. Her stillness was disconcerting when he sensed so much going on inside her.
After a few moments, her lashes swept low as she looked down at the glass of champagne held lightly in her hands.
Avenell set his own glass on the mantel over the fireplace and turned to face her more fully. It was time to begin.
“Come here, Lily.”
Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, November 2016
Time and Setting: 1812-1817, London
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Maria Almaguer
Avenell Slade – an unfortunately purple name, to say the least – the impenetrable Earl of Harte, cannot bear to be touched. Much like Christian Gray, the troubled hero of E.L. James’ bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey, Avenell is so touch averse that he seeks assistance from Madame Pendragon and the skilled ladies at her pleasure house. As a child, Avenell was traumatized by a medical condition and so he recoils from any human contact. Of course, as a result, he has never bedded a woman and is that rarest of specimens, a male virgin. There is no detail about how the brothel’s women help Slade as this takes place entirely in the novel’s Prologue, but I am curious as to how they attempted to help him. Because he is still afraid of touch when he meets the heroine.
Lily Chadwick is the plain and retiring middle sister of the Chadwick family, struggling to make a good match after their mother’s death and their father’s gambling left them indebted to a persistent and threatening man, Mason Hale, who is eager to collect his money.
In a desperate move Hale, for his own personal reasons, kidnaps Lily and whisks her off to Madame Pendragon’s brothel, who auctions off Lily’s virginity to the highest bidder. In a great coincidence, Avenell just happens to be there that night and buys Lily in order to protect and save her. Of course, things don’t quite work out that way.
While Ms. Sandas writes well, I find the story a bit farfetched and melodramatic. The hero’s gothic-style name, the reasons for his touch aversion, and the determination of Lily to shed her purity don’t ring quite true.
Avenell is a rather cold and odd character; I don’t understand what Lily sees in him except a dark and damaged man who sets her on fire every time she looks at or touches him (accidentally, of course). Then again, Lily figures she is already ruined and has nothing to lose by living out the erotic fantasies she reads about in her favorite steamy novels.
This is the second book in Ms. Sandas’ Fallen Ladies series, a dark story that is nothing at all like her sparkling and delightful novella, Relentless Lord, that I loved. The plot of the first book in this series (Luck is No Lady runs concurrent to this one so it may be helpful to read that one first though it isn’t necessary. The premise of three close and very different sisters (Emma, the eldest and headstrong sister from book one and Portia, the youngest) who find love in an unorthodox way with improper gentlemen – an oxymoron to be sure – is interesting but not very exciting. Indeed, after the brothel auction, the story seems to drag by trying to create unbearable sexual tension between Lily and Avenell in the delay of their inevitable mutual seduction.
Lily is an unremarkable heroine who, once she decides to make herself available to Avenell, seems determined to make their relationship work no matter what; in this case, at great risk to her reputation as well as that of her sisters. She is the staid, quiet sister who has self-educated herself on sex and wants the freedom to experience the sensual side of life.
Avenell’s reasons for his problems with touch are eventually revealed but by then it seems anticlimactic. Their relationship is based solely on sex because they seem to spontaneously combust when they are together. And they talk a lot about how difficult it is for him to accept her touch. However, he has no problem with touching her. Odd, that.
However, the secondary characters (especially Portia, the independent and outspoken youngest sister, and Angelique, the sisters’ free-spirited and fun chaperone) are well depicted and the close family relationship dynamic is heartwarming to read. In fact, I wonder if it would almost be better for them to remain a household of independent women rather than seek marriage as its inevitable end. But then it wouldn’t be a romance, would it?
Read this for the solid writing but be ready to suspend a lot of disbelief.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Sandas’ love of romance began one summer when she stumbled across one of her mother’s Barbara Cartland books. Her affinity for writing began with sappy pre-teen poems and led to a Bachelor’s degree with an emphasis on Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She lives with her husband and children in Wisconsin.