Hartley Sedgwick had made it as a London gentleman. His fashionable clothes and high social standing were a far cry from his unconventional upbringing. But all that fell apart when gossip exposed the relationship Hartley had with his godfather when he was just a teen. Now Hartley has the house his godfather left him, but he lives mostly as a recluse, shunned by the town and living with the knowledge that he has lost all that he worked for.
Sam Fox is a former boxer and now owner of a pub. As a free black man, Sam works to not only take care of his community, but to provide a gathering place where people can interact and feel comfortable. When Sam learns that his sister-in-law to be once posed for a scandalous painting and is now worried word might get out, he decides to try to destroy it for her. Little does Sam know that the former lord who commissioned the painting is dead and Hartley is living in the house instead.
When Sam explains about the painting, Hartley realizes that this may be his own opportunity for revenge. He was taken advantage of by this same lord, convinced into a relationship with an older man in order to help gain security for his brothers. Now Hartley realizes he can destroy the painting of himself as well, finally giving him a little peace, even if the revenge comes too late.
Sam and Hartley begin to spend more time together, figuring out how to find the paintings and destroy them. But, along the way, the men begin to form a friendship and an attraction builds between them. Hartley has not been able to enjoy male physical contact in years, but Sam’s gentle nature makes Hartley feel safe in ways he hasn’t in a long time. However, despite their strong feelings for one another, a relationship between them will not be easy. Sam knows that as a working class black man, it will not be easy to be with a wealthy gentleman. The class and income disparity will always be between them. And Hartley knows his reputation is destroyed, so if anyone even gets a hint of a connection between him and Sam, Sam’s reputation will suffer as well. The men have fallen for one another, but the realities of their lives may be too much of a hurdle for their relationship to thrive.
A Gentleman Never Keeps Score is the second book in Cat Sebastian’s fabulous Seducing the Sedgewicks series. This story stands alone well and is fairly self contained. However, we do meet Hartley in the first book, and we learn a little about his past with his godfather there, so having read It Takes Two to Tumble will give you a bit more background. Plus it is excellent, so really, you want to read both of these. Trust me!
This is such a lovely story, I was completely captivated. First, Hartley and Sam just stole my heart. They are both such caring, giving people, each going out of their way to help others. Along with running his pub, Sam gives out meals, a place to stay, or whatever else someone might need. He is generous and looks out for his people and is committed to helping others however he can. Hartley is interesting because he actually doesn’t really see what a good guy he is. Hartley isn’t particularly sociable or good at interacting, but deep down he sacrifices for everyone in his life without a thought. It starts young when he sleeps with his godfather to help take care of his brothers, and continues with his friends and servants, for whom he will do just about anything. So these are guys you can’t help but root for as they both give of themselves to others and deserve something good in return.
I really loved Sam and Sebastian does a great job giving us some perspective on the life of a free black man in London at this time. It is nice to get a British historical that gives a leading role to a non-white character and this story give us a great sense of Sam and his life. As much as I loved Sam, however, I found Hartley’s journey really fascinating. Sebastian is masterful at showing us his change over the course of the book, and interestingly, it is highlighted by his dress. When the book starts, Hartley is perfectly groomed, every detail exact, right down to his many shiny buttoned waistcoats. On the outside he is perfect, but inside he is lonely and miserable, hiding in his house and feeling like has nothing left after his secrets were revealed. As the story continues, we see Hartley slowly embrace changes in his life, changes that make him much happier. He starts dropping the trappings of a gentleman, instead dressing more casually, making friends with his servants, running errands, caring for a baby. All things that would be appalling to someone in his old station, but things he realizes make him well and truly happy. I loved seeing his progression over the course of the book from someone who is outwardly perfect but miserable inside, to someone who embraces what he wants without a care for what others think. I love found family stories and I just adored the way these characters all come together to form a bond and make their own family together.
I also just adored the relationship between Sam and Hartley. There are some missteps along the way, but I just loved their interactions and the way they care for each other. In particular, I love the gentle way Sam cares for Hartley in their physical interactions. Hartley is still facing demons from his past and it is hard for him to be comfortable with touch. Sam is so slow and careful with Hartley, letting him have the control and taking things at his pace. The connection between the men is amazing and super sexy and Sebastian is able to make even the smallest of interactions between them feel so passionate.
So I absolutely adored this story and think this is a fabulous series. As with everything I have read from Sebastian, the characters are so layered and well developed that I feel like I know them and totally understand their motivations and actions. The story is fabulous and the series is well worth reading, so I highly recommend them both to you.