It’s been year since the death of his twin sister and Lucas Kemp is barely able to function. He’s managed to put on a veneer of normalcy for the sake of appearances, for the most part. When his best friend Tom Matlock returns from war for a brief respite, however, the change is as startling as it is obvious…at least when you’re in love with your best friend. In a fit of desire, Tom and a drunk Lucas act on their mutual attraction—one that’s grown with every passing year of the friendship. Yet no sooner do the flames of passion cool than so do the precious few hints at the old Lucas.
Tom vows to prove he is worthy of Lucas’ love and that their love is worthy of pursuit. Lucas reluctantly agrees to their trysts. While he certainly enjoys the physical connection with his best friend, he is hardly ever able to escape the self-recrimination he feels over the taboo of loving another man. One close call involving the young daughters of his elder brother and Lucas feels he has no choice but to call it quits. Tom is devastated, but nevertheless determined to prove that, with a little caution, he and Lucas can share their lives.
Try as he might, Lucas is tough to convince. He fears being shunned and losing the good opinion of his closest friends and allies…even if quitting his romance with Tom sours their friendship. Just as he’s ready to put the final nail in the coffin of their love, Tom suffers a violent attack. In the aftermath of the event, Lucas suddenly realizes the most important thing. Surprisingly, it’s not that he has to find a way to maintain a romance with Tom despite the constant threat of exposure and ridicule, but that such a threat might indeed be a very implausible thing.
Overall, I found this book very middling. It’s part of the Baleful Godmother series and that might be part of why I had a hard time relating to the characters. On the most basic sense, I felt unattached to Lucas and Tom. It seems they appear in other Baleful Godmother books as supporting characters, so maybe they come across as more rounded if you’ve read other books in the series. As written, we only get enough on page to establish Lucas is drunk and heart broken as he sits alone in the dark on his and his deceased sister’s birthday. Tom enters, resigns himself to putting his drunken best friend to bed, and just…blows Lucas.
If this were a DIFFERENT kind of book, that would be perfectly acceptable. In this situation, however, these are two respectable upper class gentleman in Regency England who are supposed to have been friends for ever and in unrequited love with each other for almost as long. Yet there is NO BUILD UP? That, to me, was unacceptable. I don’t know if this is because the author doesn’t tend to write M/M fiction or if this is just par for the course. I found it impersonal and unsubstantiated, lacking in any emotional intimacy on either man’s part.
I did enjoy the vacillations Lucas goes through. He’s a rather tortured character. The death of his sister has destroyed him and it’s plain that Tom’s return (never mind the blow job) has breathed new life into him. Even their clandestine meetings are something he looks forward to, at least in the heat of their couplings. Yet much on-page time is devoted to watching Lucas beat himself up over the fact that he’s carrying on a tryst with a man. This constant guilt tripping was a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, it obviously builds a strong sense of propriety at the time. On the other hand, it was hard to read Lucas because, apart from mid-deed and the ensuing afterglow, he’s such a downer about the whole damn thing. And Tom’s attitude certainly does not help.
In fact, I rather disliked Tom in general. He’s mercurial and in ways that are unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) cruel. As long as he feels like he will eventually wear Lucas’ defenses down, he’s all hunky dory. When Lucas decides he wants to call it quits, Tom immediately both redoubles his pestering attempts at getting Lucas to change his mind and is easy to overreact when Lucas’ professed wishes don’t align with Tom’s.
Take, for example, the time Tom blurts mid-coitus that he is in love with Lucas and this is his reaction:
“I love you.”
Lucas didn’t say the words back to him. [Lucas] tensed, a flinch, almost a recoil.
And just like that, Tom’s sense of half-drunk pleasure was gone. Hurt and anger came rushing in to take its place. He released Lucas and climbed stiffly to his feet.
Simply put, I just don’t find Tom’s reaction—hurt and anger—on par with someone emotionally ready to be in love. It makes Tom come off as though he is entitled to Lucas’s heart.
This same scene culminates in Lucas deciding to offer some of his deceased sister’s wealth Tom. The obvious purpose is that, with this money, Tom can buy his way out of the army. The less obvious purpose is that, despite however incapable Lucas is of carrying on a love affair with another man, he certainly does not want to see Tom killed in battle. Tom’s refused money before because he doesn’t want charity, Lucas offers it again and brings out a bank note. Tom’s reaction is beyond over the top:
[Tom] looked at the bank draft. Julia’s money….And then he looked at Lucas standing awkwardly on the other side of the table.
“You’d prefer it if I didn’t sell out, wouldn’t you?”
Lucas hesitated again. “No.”
The hesitation last less than a second, but it hurt even more than the flinch had. Tom’s anger flamed to life again. “You’d prefer it if I went away and never came back, wouldn’t you? If we never did that again, wouldn’t you?” He gestured to the bed, at the floor. “Wouldn’t you?”
Again, Lucas hesitated.
“Fuck you,” Tom said fiercely. “And fuck your money.” He threw the bank draft down on the table, wrenched the door open, and flung himself out into the corridor.
That is but a small sample of the…well, histrionics Tom throws up at the slightest provocation. To be honest, the writing left a bit to be desired as well. My biggest complaint is the egregious overuse of adjectives and repetition. As a quick sample:
1. He ate mechanically, smiled mechanically, spoke mechanically..
2. Lucas chewed and swallowed, chewed and swallowed…
3. Tomorrow, he told himself as he lounged…Tomorrow, as he sipped lemonade…Tomorrow, as they all rode back…
4. …gently stroking, stroking, stroking…
5. …the muscular arms, the powerful thighs, the taut buttocks…
6. …thick and suffused and straining…
7. His climax was short, sharp, brutal, close to pain.
8. …reckless and careless and unmindful of danger…
9. …what he was doing was wrong and dangerous and stupid….
10. Lucas pumped again—and again—and again—rough and hard and fast—Tom bucked and panted and uttered incoherent noises…
And the kicker for me as someone who tried to read this as a stand alone, magic crops shortly after the big climax that allows Lucas and Tom to get back on friendly/romantic terms. There was literally nothing at all in the entire book that even alluded to fantasy until it was needed to help Tom out of a rough spot.
Does all this make the book a horrible read? Not really. I just found it decidedly steeped in mediocrity. Tom was a big turn off for me, with his selfish behavior and inability to show much sensitivity to Lucas when Lucas needs it. Lucas was far more interesting, but his damaged goods trope-y-ness is resolved a little too neatly by the “power” of Tom’s love. Still, if you’re a big fan of historical romance, this book delivers an interesting take on forbidden gay love in the Edwardian era.