It is Will’s wedding day and he is about to enter into marriage with a woman he does not love. In fact, Will has no interest in women at all. But as the heir to a powerful Duke, Will is being forced into this marriage and a life as a wealthy lord. All he wants to do is to escape to a quiet life painting and reading. Fortunately, Will manages to sneak away before the wedding, applying for a job as a companion to a bed-ridden lord living in the country. Will isn’t sure how long he can hide from his father, but he is determined not to have both him and his fiancé end up in a loveless marriage.
When Will arrives at Alex’s home, he finds the man in desperate shape. Alex has a severe wound that is clearly infected, along with a crippled leg from his time in the military, as well as being dirty and bedraggled. With all the pain, Alex has been drinking and drugging himself into near senselessness. It is clear that his two servants are making no effort to care for him at all and the man is obviously suffering. Will knows he is in over his head, but he can’t bear to allow Alex to suffer as he has been, and immediately jumps in to help care for Alex and attempt to nurse him back to health. Alex is grumpy and mostly drunk and drugged on laudanum, but Will is determined to help get him cleaned up and healthy again. He realizes that he can’t hide out in this house forever, as he is not that far from London and his father who will be searching for him. But in the meantime, Will will care for Alex and help him recover.
The more time the men spend together, the more Will begins to fall for Alex and for Alex to care for him in return. But Alex is clear that after his time spent as a spy in the war, he has no patience for liars. Given that Will has been lying about who he is from the start, he knows there is no future for them. And Alex doesn’t believe Will could ever really care for him, not to mention he is still harboring guilt about his wife’s death. The two men have fallen for one another, but neither believes there can be anything between them. The situation is further complicated when the espionage from Alex’s military days comes back to his doorstep, involving Will in a dangerous plan to help the war effort. Between Alex’s pride, Will’s lies, and the risks they face spying for the crown, the love the men share may not be enough to secure their future together.
Ooh, I really liked this one a lot. The plot here is my total catnip as I love a good Beauty and the Beast style story. The set up here is so great, with Will escaping his forced marriage and hiding out as a common servant, all the while heir to one of the wealthiest men in England. Alex is grumpy and surly and can’t hold onto a companion due to his attitude and general drunkenness, but at the same time, he is clearly vulnerable. We can see right away that his servants are taking advantage of his physical limitations and have left him to live in squalor and near starvation, not to mention practically dying from an infected wound. I loved the way Will doesn’t hesitate to jump in, pretty clearly in over his head, but also refusing to let Alex suffer when he knows he can help. I found these early scenes where Will is caring for Alex to be particularly sweet and I loved the connection between them as Alex slowly comes back to himself and finds this gorgeous man caring for him so kindly.
The main conflict here is apparent from the start (and the title), as even as their relationship develops, Will is lying to Alex about who he is. Victoria Sue handles this really well, as even as we know Will is deceiving Alex, his kindness and caring are so apparent we can never really find fault with him. So we know a conflict is coming, but in the meantime it is really lovely to watch these men together. They are both so vulnerable, both so sure they are not worthy of love, that is really rewarding to see them find happiness together.
The second part of the book takes on a more suspenseful angle as Will and Alex are involved in espionage for England. While involved in the war effort, Alex was a spy, and now his cohort Gus has come to him needing help that it turns out only Will can provide. So this part of the story adds a lot of excitement and intensity as Will tries to get the information he needs without getting caught and his life becomes threatened as the situation escalates. I found this a nice balance between the relationship end and some suspense and intrigue as well.
I did have a few small issues here, but nothing major. First off, you kind of have to go with the idea that that man who is heir to the fourth wealthiest estate in all of England, a man brought up to become a Duke, has no problems at all suddenly posing as a servant. However down to earth Will’s ideal life might be, he was still raised to be a Duke, and likely has never lifted a finger to do anything on his own in his life, if only because his father wouldn’t have allowed it. So seeing him easily take on all these domestic chores, not to mention fooling people that he is commoner, is a little hard to imagine. But honestly, I could totally go with it with no problem. For me, the bigger issue is that a lot of the story involves the men assuming they are not wanted and making decisions based on their own self doubts, as well as misunderstandings, and not talking to one another. And things get a tiny bit crazy at the end with one issue after another cropping up. But really, these were small problems for me and I thoroughly enjoyed this story.
The Innocent Betrayal is actually the second book in Victoria Sue’s Innocent series, following The Innocent Auction. The books take place in a shared world, but are only loosely connected. Will’s former lover was Beau, the cousin of one of the main characters in the first book, and a secondary character in that story. Will appears there as well, but only very briefly, and as far as I can tell he is the only character to appear in both books. Will’s background with Beau is explained here, so you can easily read this story without the first (though note that this book will have major spoilers for Beau’s storyline in the first book, so read that first if you are interested).
Overall I really loved this story and found it really romantic, as well as exciting. Sue also does a nice job of exploring the politics and historical setting in her books and it is done really well here as well. So I can definitely recommend this one, especially for fans of historicals. I am excited to hear there is a third book planned in this series and I am really looking forward to it.