As an earl, Henry vowed to his father before he died that he’d marry a good woman and produce an heir. But as a man desiring another man, he goes to a brothel to spend the night with a stranger. As a bored lord, Richard has never turned down an offer of sex, whether from a man or a woman. One night between these two men feels like a beginning of something, and yet both turn to follow different paths in life. But when those paths converge and intersect again and again, all bets are off.
The characterization in this story is accomplished with subtle physical cues. Henry is shy, blushing, and has no guile, as his expressions always reveal the truth. Richard is a rake, plain and simple, self-confident, naughty, and reckless to the point of careless. Henry has no expectations of love, and neither does Richard, but their views on life and their motivations are totally different. Henry is innocent but given up hope of finding true love with a man because of his obligations; Richard has had so much sex that he’s cynical and doesn’t see intimacy of any kind as a prelude to emotions, let alone love.
Their relationship starts innocently and is highly sensual, but because of their individual social standing and roles to perform, their connections turns sour and bitter soon, both trying to bury the secret and expecting the other to lie, deceive, plot and manipulate. Brokenhearted, both men act horribly, even cruelly toward one another, as people do when they’re suspicious and unable to be true to themselves.
Unfortunately, for a long novel of nearly three hundred pages, this book has far too few instances when Henry and Richard are actually alone together, one on one and able to deal with their issues. I waited patiently throughout for those precious warm, sensuous moments to happen, but they didn’t. Their love for each other grows constantly, even while they’re apart, which made no sense to me, given their equally continuous doubts about one another when their paths do cross. The strong start and the length of this piece left me wanting, but I was disappointed.
The major reason for this separation was that their loving entanglement happened in a closed Victorian high society where proper protocol, manners, and marital alliances formed the heart of all interactions, no matter how false. As a result, Henry and Richard spend most of their time in the story engaged with other people and their problems. When that forced separation continued on to the last fifty pages, I lost all hope of a true, realistic deepening of their relationship. Their confessions of an enduring love, of love at first sight, felt hollow and meaningless because they didn’t really know each other in any realistic sense. Thankfully, the sensual passion did feel believable because the strong start showed how both men were changed after their single night together.
Gastrell seems to posses vast coffers of knowledge of this historical era, staying true to the idiosyncrasies of the period in almost every aspect: dialogue, scenes, context, personalities. That talent is what drew me to the story and what kept me reading all the way to the end. I often consider a book a success for me personally if and when it evokes an emotional response. This tale certainly delivered, making me grunt in frustration, giggle with elation, moan in sorrow, and mutter in bursts of anger.
Overall, this is good historical romance. The precious few sensual scenes and the continuous emotional undertone kept me entertained until the last line, even if I did wish for more time with just the two heroes in the throes of passion. I felt immersed into the story, and I recommend this to readers of M/M erotic romances and historical tales.