Rating: 4.25 stars
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William Drake has been a thief and a gambler since childhood, struggling to survive on the streets of London. It is his dream to get out of the city and buy his own farm, but the only way to make enough is to keep on living in the seedy part of town and earning money any way he can.
Jack Morgan is Will’s best friend from childhood. The two lived on the streets together for years until Jack was able to get an honest job and left Will. Now Jack works as the driver and trusted assistant for the Duke of Pelham and has found contentment in his job and his life.
Periodically, when the Duke is in London, he sends Jack on various jobs requiring some knowledge of the city. When Jack needs to locate someone for the Duke, he tracks Will down for his help. Will is used to Jack coming and going. He gets to see Jack when Jack needs him, but he knows their time together is fleeting. When Jack’s latest job has him keeping an eye on the Duke’s lover all day, Will decides to keep him company.
Will knows he really should be earning money for his future. But he has always loved Jack and he can’t help but grab any time they have together. He knows that as soon as the job is over, Jack will be gone again. There can be nothing between them long term. Not only will they live in different parts of the country, but Will knows that Jack disapproves of his lifestyle.
As the men pass the time however, the attraction between them flares back to life. They are each finally able to admit to the feelings they have for one another and enjoy a hot affair together. But Jack is wary of opening his heart fully. He fears abandonment by those he loves, just like when his father left him as a child. Not to mention that he has a job he cares about and responsibilities to the Duke that will soon take him far from London. Will loves Jack as well, but knows the pattern — Jack visits when he is in town and needs something, but he has moved on from Will and Will is sure Jack would never want to be with him for good. As Jack’s time in London draws to a close, the feelings between the men intensify. Will knows he wants to be with Jack, but Jack will soon be gone, breaking his heart once again.
Sharp Love is the second book in Ava March’s Gambling on Love series. We meet Jack in the first book, All in with the Duke, as the Duke of Pelham’s trusty servant who always seems to be able to take care of the odd jobs that need to be done. Jack has a small role there, but a memorable one, and I was excited to see he was getting his own story here. March sets this book up in a really interesting way, as the timeline overlaps from the first story. The book takes place during the time period when the Duke and his lover Tristan have separated and the Duke is attempting to woo him back with his changed behavior. During the time Tristan is in London, Jack is assigned to watch him and make sure he stays safe. So this story gives us a look at the other side of the story, this time what’s going with Jack and Will during this period rather than Max and Tristan. It is very clever and makes a nice complement to the first book.
I also like that this story features two heroes who are both working class. We often see m/m historicals featuring one lord and one commoner, but two working class men is much more rare. I enjoy seeing how two men without enormous wealth and power at their disposal are able to make it work at a time when sodomy was a crime and they can not be open about their relationship in any way.
Here we see Will and Jack as two friends who grew up together on the streets, poor and doing whatever it took to survive. Jack made it out to an honest job and a respectable life, and Will is still stuck in the poor part of town, struggling to survive. What I really enjoyed here is that there is so much more to these guys than we might expect. Yes Will gambles and cheats and steals when he has to. But he is also working hard for his dream of leaving the city and owning a farm. He is reading books on farming, even growing plants in his rundown rooms to practice for when he finally can realize his dream. Will is caring and hard working and as children was the one to do what needed to be done to protect Jack. Jack may be physically big and the one with a job, but Will in many ways is the stronger of the two.
Jack grew up with Will but was determined to find a job and a way off the streets. When the chance came to leave, Jack took it. But not just for the security of the job, but also because he feared for Will and couldn’t take the pain of constantly worrying about finding Will dead in the streets one day. He cares for Will, but has been scared to let himself get too emotionally involved. After his rough childhood, Jack’s fear of abandonment make him wary about getting serious with Will. Yet the more time they spend together, Jack finds the feelings he has for Will can no longer be pushed aside. I loved Jack as sort of this gentle giant. He seems so big and strong, yet he really needs Will to guide him along. He has fairly inexperienced with men and is shy and uncertain for much of the time. It takes Will’s lead to open Jack up to taking pleasure, and his trust in Will to be truthful about his desires.
There is a bit of slow build between these guys as each has feelings but neither really acts on them. Maybe a little too slow for me at the beginning as there seems to be a lot of set up here, but it picks up the pace quickly after that. For Will especially, we know he is hot for Jack but he doesn’t think Jack feels more than friendship for him. Both men are wary of getting hurt, but when they finally are able to be honest about how they feel, things are definitely hot between them. There is a little bit of a power play dynamic here with Will guiding Jack along and Jack having a little submissive bent to him. It is part of what makes Jack so shy about his interest in men. As a big guy people expect him to be a dominant top and so he is very self conscious about his true desires.
I do have a few small quibbles here. First, we are very much in Will’s head about things, despite the shifting POV. I wished we had a better sense of Jack and what he felt about their building relationship, their future, etc. As the conflicts between the men resolve, we see Jack sort of have an epiphany about things, but until then I didn’t feel like I had as much of a handle on him as I wanted. It seems most of what we know about him comes from Will’s observations but not as much from his own head. In some ways it makes sense, as Will is really guiding things in their relationship, but I still wanted to know Jack a little more.
As I mentioned, one of things I really liked here is the way we get the other side of the story we heard in the first book. Honestly, I don’t think you need to have read that one for this to make sense. You miss the cleverness of seeing things from the other side, but from a plot standpoint I don’t think you would have any trouble following along with just this half. I actually felt like I would have liked to see more of a connection between the books though. Jack’s personality here is so different, or at least our perception of him, that I wanted to see him interacting with the Duke and Tristan a bit more to really connect his two worlds for us. But despite this, I really loved how the stories connect and to see this little snippet from the book played out in the full story here.
So I am a huge fan of Ava March’s historicals and this was another great one. I loved the friends to lovers dynamic here of two childhood friends who finally after so many years are able to find their way to one another. I loved the connection between the two men who are quite different than they may first seem. And I really loved the way the whole story comes together. So I really enjoyed Sharp Love and definitely recommend it, as well as All in with the Duke, the first of the series.