Maggie York, a convent-raised foundling, knows the Duke of Dunwoody’s sexual tastes are a shade or two darker than normal, but marries him anyway—partly because she has no other prospects and partly because, try as she might, she can’t seem to stop fantasizing about her dashing guardian.
Two years ago, a voyeuristic experience involving him lured her from the garden of innocence into the orchard of forbidden fruit and she’s been hungry for more ever since.
Robert Armstrong, the duke, is a Roman Catholic whose extreme devotions as a child colored his desires as a man. He’s also a slave to the times in which he lives–and to his king. Everything he is, everything he holds dear, depends on staying in Charles II’s good graces.
Unfortunately, Maggie isn’t the king’s choice of brides for the young Duke of Dunwoody. Now, to make amends, Robert must choose between the lesser of two evils: whore his wife or be reduced to a penniless commoner.
Whose interests will Robert choose to serve, his own, the king’s, or the woman he loves?
Publisher and Release Date: Nina Mason. January 2015
Time and Setting: 1680, Scotland
Genre: Historical Erotic Romance novella
Heat Level: 3
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Maria Almaguer
John Cleland’s Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure was published in 1749 and promptly banned. Describing the life and (gasp!) carnal pleasures of a prostitute, it is a titillating, uninhibited, descriptive work and its blatant narrative leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. Perhaps its greatest controversy isn’t its graphic nature but rather, its assertion that women derive pleasure from sexual intercourse. Indeed, women who enjoy sex have always been viewed as cheap and immoral while men are lauded for their virility and prowess.
In this very well-written and lustful erotic historical novella, Nina Mason tells the story of a young woman’s sexual awakening in clear but historic period language in all its crassness, bawdiness and, given its historical emphasis on the politics of Catholicism during the reign of Charles II, counter to religious teaching.
Maggie York is the young ward of Robert, the naughty Duke of Dunwoody. She has long known that the young and handsome duke enjoys a vigorous and unorthodox sex life, but she is surprised to learn that he desires her for his bride. As an unprotected female with no prospects, she marries Robert for security but, unbeknownst to her, he has long admired and loved her, the girl his father intended for his bride when his family took her in under questionable circumstances.
Maggie has had a complicated crush on the young duke ever since she secretly watched him have sex with her maid two years earlier. Maggie, a devout Catholic raised and educated by nuns until the age of ten, is shocked but is just as shocked to find that she actually enjoys watching and also becomes aroused by what she sees. She reasons she must be a sinner if she likes what she observes but can’t quite find it in herself to be ashamed. After all, why should men be the only ones who enjoy sex?
“Yes, ‘twas a sin, but surely God would forgive her if she said a rosary or two. She was, after all, only witnessing the sinful act, not taking part.”
“She’d been abandoned by her parents, treated badly by the sisters, ignored by the saints, and told by the religion she embraced she was lesser in God’s eyes because she lacked a penis.”
Robert is an attentive and loving husband, eager to initiate his bride to the pleasures of lovemaking. Maggie is cautiously willing to indulge her husband if it will keep him from straying but, in exchange for allowing him to introduce her to his proclivities, she asks him to educate her in the classics, philosophy, and the sciences, as well as in pleasures of the flesh.
The bold and direct conversations between Robert and Maggie are enlightening and eye-opening, not just about sex but also about the views of men and women in the Catholic faith. Maggie learns that Robert is reading Paradise Lost by John Milton, but he prefers the views of Margaret Cavendish, a duchess who was also a writer and scientist. Such thoughts and belief explorations are dangerous in the current political climate and to Robert’s precarious position in the court. Maggie is intelligent, well read, and self-educated and is eager to learn more. Science meets religion in radical tomes mentioned in the text, including On the Use of Flogging in Venereal Affairs and in the Office of the Loins and Reins, published in 1629 by a German physician.
But Robert’s past in the debauched royal court of Charles II soon comes to haunt their newlywed happiness in the Scottish countryside. It seems that Robert married without royal permission and the ramifications of that disobedience impact the last few chapters of this tight and gripping novella. When they are summoned to Edinburgh, Maggie discovers just what depravity Robert and the court intends.
The licentiousness of the royal court is shocking to read but is based on rigorous historical research on which the author prides herself. That a supposedly Catholic regime would partake in wife swapping, whoring wives to placate a king, and orgies and ménages is not for the faint of heart. I am impressed and astounded by Mason’s presentation, her rich and colorful use of language and vocabulary, and the relaxed sexual mores rampant in the royal court.
“I’m a Catholic, Maggie. Do I need a reason to feel guilty?”
I found myself looking up certain words used for sex and body parts and they are all historically accurate according to the king of dictionaries, The Oxford English Dictionary. But some of the prose and sentence structure are humorous and border, at times, on the purple:
After several more thrusts, her cork burst, spraying orgasmic effervescence through her body.
She’d be royally screwed in more ways than one.
But I am disappointed (and shocked) by Robert’s actions as well as his reasoning in the final chapter. However, I suppose it suits the actions and plot of the story. I’m still not quite sure of his devotion to and love for Maggie but, given the lax morals of the court, I suppose he’s better than most.
Warning: if explicit sexual descriptions and adventures alongside Catholic scripture make you uncomfortable, this is not a book for you. But if you enjoy well-written, saucy, and ribald historical fiction, you will really enjoy this book.