Buy Link: A Private Gentleman
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Lord George Albert Westin is painfully introverted and suffers from an extreme stutter that keeps him out of most social settings. But he has braved a party with the help of some laudanum in order to see a prized orchid owned by the hostess. Though he is uncomfortable with people, Albert dearly loves plants and manages to pull himself together enough to visit the rare specimen.
Michael Vallant is a high class prostitute, hiding out from an unruly client at the party when he stumbles upon Albert. Nearly blind without his glasses and mistaking Albert for his friend Rodger, Michael makes a sexual move, startling Albert as well as intriguing him. After Albert helps Michael hide out from the irritating client, the two share a bit of illicit passion fueled by the excitement.
As much as he enjoyed his time with Albert, the experience also reminds Michael of scars from his past and the abuse he suffered at the hands of someone Albert knows well. Michael is suddenly is unable to face sex with any of his clients and begins having nightmares and panic attacks. Although Michael had thought he had moved past the trauma, he had never really dealt with the pain and it all resurfaces. Rodger, his friend and boss, decides bringing Michael and Albert together once again might help Michael move past it.
Albert agrees to pay for a month of Michael’s companionship and the men begin to build a relationship and a close bond, despite the emotional struggles each man faces. Michael is haunted by his past and is still largely unable to have any intimacy, even with Albert whom he has grown to love. And Albert is still suffering from the extreme stuttering and resulting shyness, making it difficult for him to interact with others, enter crowded places, or engage in other everyday activities. He has become increasingly dependent on the laudanum and other opiates to get by and is falling further under the drug’s control. Yet the bond the men form together is incredibly strong, and despite their individual challenges, each man is committed to helping his partner find his way to a better future.
Oh, this was really a wonderful book. Dark and haunting and definitely intense, but the connection between the men was so lovely. Both Albert and Michael are damaged in their own ways but somehow they manage to create something wonderful together. I loved watching them each grow and find themselves throughout the story. One interesting section early in the book finds Michael without his glasses (he is practically blind but refuses to wear them due to vanity as he makes his living by his looks). Michael is struggling to understand Albert because he can’t really see Albert’s face or body language. And Albert’s stutter prevents him from being able to share his thoughts verbally and he has to rely on more nonverbal communication. So the two men each have a challenge that prevents them from fully interacting with one another.
However, over the course of the story, they each begin to overcome their issues together. Albert reassures Michael that he loves him and thinks he is beautiful even with glasses. And Michael helps Albert feel comfortable in ways that help diminish his stutter. Everything isn’t perfect for them, and I really like how it isn’t all sunshine and roses, but it is so nice to see the way the men really help each grow and find confidence in themselves. They see past each other’s surface imperfections to the man inside.
The story also has great side characters. Albert befriends American Penelope Brannigan at the party where he finds the orchid. She is brash and a bit outrageous, but she also spends her time helping the poor and takes a special interest in Albert because she too used to stutter. Penny is strong and confident and fights for Albert when he begins to lose his battle with opium. She is fiercely protective of him and supportive of his relationship with Michael. I also really liked Michael’s friend and boss Rodger. Rodger has been part of Michael’s life since he was a young child. He too is fiercely protective of his friend, caring for Michael and doing whatever it takes to help and support him. Despite the fact that Michael works for Rodger as a prostitute, underneath Rodger is really his best friend and he will stop at nothing to care for Michael.
One thing that was a bit unusual is that Michael uses the name Albert, but everyone else refers to Albert as Wes. When we get Albert’s POV, or when other people are speaking to him, he is Wes. But when we are in Michael’s POV, or when Michael is addressing him, it is Albert. This actually was less confusing while reading than it probably sounds in this review, but it was sort of an odd convention to go back and forth between the names. But I had no trouble following along and I don’t think it negatively impacts the telling of the story.
The other thing that I questioned was how easily the two men were able to be out in public together. While I am sure two men on an outing or traveling together would raise less suspicion than a man and woman, I would still think there are folks out there who would know that Michael is a gay prostitute. Wouldn’t they be risking discovery of their homosexuality by so openly being together? Or maybe anyone who would accuse them would be afraid of revealing their own proclivities? I am really not sure how this would work so I may be way off base, but I did find it surprising how freely they were out and about.
I really enjoyed A Private Gentleman and adored Michael and Albert together. They are such a sweet couple and I was really rooting for them to each be able to face their demons and come out the other side. It isn’t a light story, or even always a happy one, but seeing each man find true love and companionship at the end was totally worth it. I found the book wonderfully done and I highly recommend it.